SOCU’s head to be replaced

Police Commissioner Leslie James has made known the administration’s intention to replace Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Sydney James.

SOCU’s embattled head,
Sydney James
Police Commissioner
Leslie James

Speaking on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Police Awards Ceremony held at the Tactical Services Unit’s Drill Square at Eve Leary, the top cop said the Guyana Police Force (GPF) will soon issue a release naming the replacement of Sydney James.
“I can say to you that, a little later today, I will make an announcement as regards the replacement of the head of SOCU,” Commissioner James said.
The SOCU Head was recently sent on administrative leave amidst allegations of mismanagement of funds at the unit. The decision came months after a special audit had unearthed several instances of mismanagement of funds and falsification of documents at the entity. The audit had also found some unaccounted-for expenditure, which could not be verified by a paper trail.
The audit was ordered by the Police Commissioner in February; and although the Top Cop has not commented on the findings of that audit, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan had described the revelations as “damning”.
The probe into the operations of the white-collar crime-fighting unit was triggered after the former British adviser Dr Sam Sittlington had made a number of allegations against the Unit.
Following those allegations, James was questioned over allegations of improper spending. This is in light of the ongoing investigation and audit which was conducted after termination of the British adviser’s services.
The Public Security Minister had confirmed that an investigation was ongoing into the matter, and he had noted that there were allegations of monies not being spent properly and had said it is now within the jurisdiction of the investigators to understand the spending procedures at SOCU.
After being fired amidst a conflict-of-interest scandal, Sittlington had revealed that SOCU had not been operating in the manner in which it should, and he had said there are instances of improper spending.
The parliamentary Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has maintained that SOCU, which was set up to fight money-laundering and other white-collar crimes, has become a political unit under the APNU/AFC regime.
The PPP had said that Sittlington was going beyond his advisory role and was taking on executive functions. It was pointed out that Sittlington was going on operations such as raids and arrests.
SOCU, also, was under scrutiny after its Deputy Director, Sheronie James, had resigned following a local Magistrate disqualifying her as an expert witness based on her lack of qualifications.
Ramjattan had said James was recommended by senior officials after she had indicated her qualifications, which the Public Security Ministry had thought were genuine.
Questions were previously raised about the Police investigating James, and whether there could be any bias involved; however, the Public Security Minister had assured that the investigation was perfectly normal, and that in addition to the Police’s own internal audits ongoing at SOCU, the Auditor General could come in and take control of the proceedings.
He had said the Police auditors were seeking to better understand the systems which had been in place for spending at the agency.
This comes even as the parliamentary Opposition had expressed concern about SOCU moving away from its original mandate.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had previously charged that SOCU’s mandate was not being delivered, especially since it was suspected of taking political directives. He had noted that that was responsible for its failure rate.
SOCU has had several of its cases tossed out of the courts, including a number of charges against former Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) executives and Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI) directors.
The Opposition has since called for the Unit to be dismantled, but President David Granger has contended that Government would instead work to restore public confidence in SOCU.