Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) Sydney James has been questioned in relation to the misuse of funds at the entity but remains at the helm as the probe continues.
Police Commissioner Leslie James on Monday told reporters that James is on the job but did not respond to questions by the media about his contractual period. However, the Commissioner did say that James’ contract will be made public at the relevant time. He added that he is not aware of the SOCU Deputy Head being replaced as yet but said he will pronounce further also at an “appropriate time.”
Amid concerns about possible misuse of funds, Government is unhappy with the Unit’s failure to secure money laundering convictions in court based on the cases SOCU prepares. In an interview on Monday with the media, Attorney General Basil Williams lamented the situation in light of the Caribbean Financial Task Force’s (CFATF) mutual evaluations.
“I’m concerned that we haven’t had any convictions in relation to anti-money laundering offences. We have to strengthen SOCU, which is the enforcement arm,” Williams said. “You know we lost (former adviser) Mr Sittlington, we lost (former financial analyst) Sheronie James. And we’ve been trying to get a qualified prosecutor for them.”
The probe into the operations of the white-collar crime-fighting Unit was triggered when the former British adviser made a number of allegations against the Unit.
Following the allegations, James was subjected to questioning over allegations of improper spending. This is in light of the ongoing investigation and audit which stemmed after the termination of the British adviser.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan had confirmed that an investigation is ongoing into the matter, where he noted that there were allegations of monies not being spent properly and it is now within the jurisdiction of the investigators to understand the spending procedures at SOCU.
Sittlington, after being fired amid a conflict of interest scandal, had revealed that SOCU has not been operating in a manner in which it should and that there are instances of improper spending.
The parliamentary opposition 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 People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had said that Sittlington was going beyond his advisory role and taking on executive functions, pointing out that he was going on operations such as raids and arrests.
SOCU was also under scrutiny after its Deputy Director, Sheronie James, resigned after a local Magistrate disqualified her as an expert witness based on her lack of qualifications.
Ramjattan had said James was recommended by senior officials after she would have indicated her qualifications, which the Ministry thought was genuine.
Questions were previously raised about the police investigating James and whether there could be any bias, however, the Public Security Minister had assured that it is perfectly normal and that in addition to the police’s own internal audits ongoing at SOCU, the auditor general can come in and take control of the proceedings.
He had stated that the police auditors were seeking to understand better, the systems which have been in place for spending at the agency.
This comes even as the parliamentary opposition has expressed concern about SOCU moving away from its original mandate.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has previously said that SOCU’s mandate is not being delivered, especially since it is suspected of taking political directives. He had noted that this was responsible for its failure rate.
SOCU has had several of its cases tossed out of the window by the courts, including a number of charges against former Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) executives and Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI) directors.