US sanctions on Guyanese trio: 2-and-a-half-year investigation kept under wraps to avoid “compromise” – US Ambassador

The sanctions recently imposed by the United States on three prominent Guyanese citizens were a result of an investigation spanning more than two and a half years; and according to US Ambassador to Guyana, Nicole Theriot, the probe was kept under wraps from local authorities to prevent it from being compromised.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Treasury issued sanctions against businessman Nazar Mohamed and his son Azruddin Mohamed, along with Permanent Secretary Mae Thomas, over gold-smuggling and corruption allegations.
Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that the Guyana Government was completely unaware of this investigation by the US authorities.

US Ambassador to Guyana, Nicole Theriot

Back in July 2023, a Reuters article was published about the US Government probing the Mohameds on “…suspicions of money laundering, drug trafficking and gold smuggling…” Jagdeo recalled that at the time the Guyana Government was questioned about that investigation, and had indicated, even President Dr Irfaan Ali, that it was not aware of any such probe.
“There was no formal notification from then even to now [about investigation by the US] until the sanctions were done. There was no formal notification… Now, clearly, this investigation took place and the law enforcement agencies in the United States collaborated, and obviously they have information and they instituted these sanctions,” the VP stated at Thursday’s press conference.
However, the US envoy, when questioned by local reporters on Friday, surmised that this investigation was kept from Guyanese authorities to avoid any attempt to thwart the probe.
“I don’t work for the Department of Treasury, but my understanding is: having dealt with these in Haiti as well in my previous position, that they have to keep these investigations very close hold, because they can be compromised by anyone. So, we tend to not share a lot of information, until the investigation reaches a certain stage. And so I regret that [Guyanese authorities] feel that they’ve been left in the dark…,” she explained.

Nazar Mohamed

“In the United States, it would be exactly the same way. If we were conducting an investigation against someone accused of corruption in the United States, we would not share that information until the investigation [is] at a stage where that was possible,” she explained.
The US Ambassador further told reporters that the United States does not take the issuance of sanctions lightly. She explained it is usually reserved for “very serious” crimes.
“These sanctions were two-and-a-half-plus years of investigations ongoing in the United States. We reserve these types of sanctions for gross levels of corruption and human rights abuses… It was a whole US Government investigation… And it’s a very high bar. We do not do this lightly. This is something that we ensure that we have a preponderance of evidence before we’re ready to levy the sanctions. And we had that in this case against the three individuals who were sanctioned,” the US diplomat noted.
Not only were sanctions imposed on the two prominent Mohameds, but their companies have also been sanctioned: Mohamed’s Enterprise; its subsidiary Hadi’s World; and Team Mohamed’s Racing Team, for their alleged roles in gold smuggling and public corruption in Guyana.

Azruddin Mohamed

Mohamed’s Enterprise has also been accused of smuggling some 10,000 kilogrammes of gold out of the country between 2019 and 2023, thus avoiding paying more than US$50 million in duty taxes to the Government of Guyana.
In regard to PS Thomas, who was previously at the Home Affairs Ministry and has been sent on leave from her current position at the Labour Ministry, the OFAC has alleged that she used her position to offer benefits to Mohamed’s Enterprise and the Mohameds in exchange for cash payments and high-value gifts.
She has also been accused of misusing her position to influence the award of official contract bids and the approval processes for weapons permits and passports on behalf of Mohamed’s Enterprise.
When asked, the US Ambassador hinted at the possibility of criminal charges against the trio, although she said there is no indication that steps are currently being taken in this direction.
“I think that is always possible. I’m not aware of it at this time, but that is a possibility,” she told reporters.
Ambassador Theriot has also dispelled concerns that other Guyanese are under investigation by the US by stating, “The investigation was specific to these three individuals. I’m not aware of any additional investigations at this time.”
VP Jagdeo on Thursday said the Guyana Government is focused on getting details of the alleged corruption cited by the US authorities, and has since requested this information. He warned too that “strong actions” would be taken against those found culpable.
The US Ambassador confirmed on Thursday that she has passed on the information requests by the Guyana Government, and has also recommended that action be expedited.
“I strongly recommended to our partners back in Washington that they provide as much of that information as possible, because I understand that the Government here wants to do their own investigation and follow-up on this. They’re also incredibly concerned about this corruption…So, I did ask [the Treasury Department] though, to expedite it, because I think it’s very important for the Government of Guyana to have that information, so that they can take the next steps,” Theriot noted.
However, while the US diplomat has said that US authorities want to assist the Guyanese Government to conduct its own investigations, she has indicated that not all of the documentation used to build the case for the sanctions against these three persons would be handed over.
“[In addition to sharing information that is] unclassified, there’s also a level of classification called ‘sensitive but unclassified.’ We could share that as well. And then there is classified information that we can request be declassified that we can be allowed to share, and that goes back to…intelligence-sharing. When we want to be able to share something with [other] governments, we have to request permission from the source agency. And unfortunately, we’re a very big bureaucracy in the United States, so sometimes that takes a little bit of time,” she explained.
“But I’ve absolutely requested that, and I was very clear in my request that we want to be able to share as much as humanly possible, because we want to be very transparent. The Government of Guyana has been very transparent with us, and we want to do the same in return,” the US Ambassador has posited.
In light of these sanctions imposed by the US, the Guyana Government has announced a series of steps taken to protect the country’s financial systems, including the revocation of the cambio licence issued to the Mohameds.