SOCU Head testifies in Omar Shariff matter

By Paula Gomes

Magistrate Leron Daly heard the testimony of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ASP) and Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Sydney James, when he appeared before the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday afternoon.

SOCU Head, Sydney James

In the witness box after taking the oath, James commenced his testimony by stating that relative to the alleged incident, he conducted investigations over a period of time and he requested information from the Commercial Registry related to businesses owned and registered to Omar Shariff, Savitri Hardeo, and Bibi Khan.
He recounted that after he received relevant information on June 30, 2016, a superintendent was handed a search warrant and given certain instructions. According to James, later that day, he and a party of SOCU officials conducted a search at the office of the Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of the Presidency, belonging to the defendant.
Upon arrival, James noted that he spoke to the then PS, and informed him of the search warrant to search the office for materials and documents to assist in money laundering investigations. Shariff reportedly indicated that he had “no problem” with the search, which was subsequently conducted in the presence of the defendant.
The accused was also informed that officers from SOCU were conducting a search at his Dowding Street, Kitty residence, and he responded that he wished to be present. James relayed that he accompanied Shariff to his home, where a rank handed him (James) a box containing documents, two laptops, an external hard drive, and a digital tablet. These articles were listed, marked as SJ1 160630 and lodged at the ASP’s office at SOCU Headquarters to which only he had access.
James further testified that on September 7, 2016, he uttered to a superintendent, instructions to prepare a search warrant to conduct searches on the home of one Hemwattie Dairam. Later that day, the officer handed him a box containing documents retrieved during the search which were listed and marked as SJ2 160907 and lodged in a safe in his office.
An affidavit was prepared for a production order under Section 24 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, requesting documents related to the businesses operated by the trio on September 30, 2016. It was filed at the High Court and granted by then acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards on the same day.
As he continued to reveal events during the course of the investigations, James uttered that on October 7, 2016, certain instructions were given to a superintendent with respect to the service of the production orders, and a Marshall of the High Court returned these documents and disclosed that there was an endorsement service of production order 727 (related to Shariff and his reputed wife), which stipulated that documents were to be produced within seven days.

A week had since lapsed and after receiving no feedback from the defendants, SOCU wrote to them, indicating that they were not in compliance with the production order (on October 28, 2016) to which Shariff responded (on November 1, 2016) that the delay was owed to the volume of documents requested.
The witness further testified under oath to receiving on November 4, several sealed envelopes and six carton boxes from Shariff in response to production order 727, all of which were listed and lodged.
An examination of the contents of the envelopes and boxes revealed that not all requirements as stipulated in the production order were complied with. Subsequent and complete analysis of all documents obtained during the course of the investigations revealed that Shariff and Hardeo were non-compliant with respect to several obligations contained in paragraphs eight and nine of the production order.
At this point in James’ testimony, the Magistrate halted court proceedings and the matter was adjourned to July 31, 2017.
Shariff was arrested in June last after some $10 billion was allegedly uncovered in his personal bank accounts; he was subsequently released on bail, but SOCU continued investigations into the former Permanent Secretary’s allegedly extraordinary accumulation of wealth as well as allegations of tax evasion and money laundering.
Earlier this year, Shariff was arraigned before Magistrate Fabayo Azore for failure to comply with a production order contrary to Section 26 of the Money Laundering Act, an order issued by the High Court.
The former PS was sent on leave by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon on December 31, 2016, pending investigations by SOCU in relation to some $500 million, which allegedly could not be accounted for in payment to the Public Service Ministry. It is reported that there were several large transactions between several bank accounts and a separate investigation was launched to determine how billions of dollars passed through Shariff’s bank account dating as far back as 2010, following records showing that he and his reputed wife purchased shares in companies which were placed in her name. According to media reports, there were hundreds of transactions using several bank accounts in different city commercial banks. Shariff, however, has always maintained he is innocent of any wrongdoing.