The Government has spent almost the entire first two years of its term to bring charges of one sort or another against the members of past PPP administrations and their associates. Towards this end they ordered a score of “forensic audits” into the operations of several agencies so as to identify specific transgressions for the said charges to be filed. They even assigned a Minister to coordinate this task. However, in several instances where there were even more pronounced calls for such audits – such as at City Hall or GECOM in the wake of well publicised revelations of financial improprieties, there were no audits ordered. And of course, no prosecutions.
But as the audits were completed and six handed over to the police for further investigations and possible criminal prosecutions, it became clear the government was honing in on transactions in what has been dubbed the “Pradoville II” housing development. The investigation into this project, which was conducted by the accounting firm of Ram & McRae, was purportedly part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA).
And it also became clear that even though lots were allocated to former president Bharat Jagdeo, six Cabinet members and others such as Compton Bourne, former Head of the Caribbean Development Bank and UG Chancellor, the inquiry was honing in on Jagdeo, even though he is constitutionally immune from prosecutions for actions taken while he filled the office of the President of Guyana.
The gist of the allegations by the audit was that the allocation of the lots was not done in a transparent manner, the values of the lots were “grossly: undervalued, and that the procedures followed by the Housing Minister in making the allocations varied from the norm. But what made the inquiry into the Pradoville II scheme suspicious was its handing over to the Police “Special Organised Crime Unit” ( SOCU). It would appear the police was assuming that the Pradoville II scheme was an undertaking of organised crime.
Over a year ago, there were widespread concerns about SOCU exceeding its mandate which was to investigate crimes emanating from the AML/CFT legislation, when it was involved in a high speed chase in which two persons perished. Reacting to these concerns, the Minister of Public Security introduced an amendment to the GPF’s Standing Order No. 62, which concretised the expansion of SOCU’s mandate.
The criminal activities outside of terrorism and money laundering which were outlined in the amendment were: participation in an organised criminal group and racketeering; trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling; sexual exploitation, including the sexual exploitation of children; illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; illicit arms and ammunition trafficking; corruption and bribery; fraud; counterfeiting and piracy of products; environmental crimes; murder; grievous bodily harm; kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage taking; robbery or theft; smuggling; extortion; forgery; piracy; insider trading and market manipulation; tax evasion; and gold smuggling.
But there was no indication that it was authorised to investigate the “misfeasance” which the forensic audit claimed had been committed by the allotees of Pradoville II. And yet SOCU was given the job even though it was aided by a supposed British “expert” who was brought in. The suspicion that SOCU was a special unit to intimidate the PPP in general and Jagdeo in particular was brought out when SOCU claimed it was gathering evidence to lay charges. Experts asked at that point why were the Cabinet members and other individuals not being questioned. Today we have the answer: in very dramatic fashion they were arrested in a manner designed to make it a public spectacle and to humiliate them.
Another significant revelation was made when Asst Commissioner David Ramnarine, who is supposed to be overseeing SOCU, admitted he did not know the arrests were being made, even though last week Minister of Public Security revealed that arrests were imminent.
Why is SOCU still exceeding its mandate under political direction?