Launching investigations in allegations of misfeasance goes far beyond the mandate of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) of the Guyana Police Force (GPF).
Persons who were instrumental in the establishment of the investigative arm of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) under the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation are fraught with concerns over the apparent misuse of the entity.
SOCU was established in 2014 on the recommendation of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and was intended to be a Police unit operating under the authority of the Police Commissioner but with a close relationship to the FIU.
Head of the Presidential Secretariat at the time, Dr Roger Luncheon, had disclosed that SOCU was tasked with investigating suspected financial transactions suggestive of money laundering and financing of terrorism.
Amid widespread concerns of SOCU exceeding its mandate following a high-speed chase in which two persons perished, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan 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 allottees of Pradoville 2.
In fact, legal luminaries have contended that the grounds upon which SOCU is conducting its investigations are not even criminal.
Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall explained, during his weekly column “The Unruly Horse”, that the purchase of house lots from the Government of Guyana at Pradoville 2 by residents could never yield any causal nexus to the offences which the officers claim they were investigating.
“Hence, I am of the firm view that every single arrest was unlawful and the consequent detention amounted to false imprisonment and the deprivation of those people’s liberty, as guaranteed to them as a fundamental right and freedom by the Constitution of Guyana. In the context of the Government’s housing policy, the fact that these lands were sold and bought below the market value can never lend itself to the establishment of criminal liability,” he stated.
Nandlall continued to point out that these exercises had nothing to do with law and the administration of justice.
He noted that SOCU was created for the exclusive purpose of investigating organised crimes under AML/CFT, and Pradoville 2 had nothing to do with that law.
“Since this Government has assumed office, SOCU’s mandate has been transformed into something radically different. It takes instruction directly from Ministers of the Government. In fact, it is Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who first announced two weeks ago that former Ministers of the PPP Government will be arrested and charged for Pradoville 2 shortly,” he outlined.
The parliamentarian noted too that SOCU was being funded out of the Ministry of the Presidency, as admitted by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon in the National Assembly.
He observed also that the Government has already made it clear that if or when these criminal charges are filed, they would be prosecuted by Special Prosecutors, whom the Government has already identified. Some are practising out of Attorney General Basil Williams’ former law office; some out of Harmon’s former law office; another is the brother of a Minister of Government; and another was on the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) list of candidates for the 2015 General Elections.
“To compound this political incest, the Attorney General has boldly disclosed in the National Assembly during the 2017 Budget debates that one hundred million dollars ($100,000,000) has been budgeted to hire Special Prosecutors to prosecute Pradoville 2. In this diabolic political plot, there is no role etched out for the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which the Constitution invests with the exclusive mandate to prosecute criminal offences,” Nandlall stated.
However, Minister of State Joseph Harmon has defended the A Partnership for National Unity/ Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Government in the ongoing probe into Pradoville 2, by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), saying that the administration does not have its hand in the “independent” investigation.
Harmon’s defense was in response to claims made by the opposition People’s Progressive Party, that the investigation being carried out by the Special Organised Crime Unit into the misappropriation of state assets that is obtaining state lands at a cost below the market price, has been sanctioned by Government.
According to Harmon, the suggestion is an absurd one, since SOCU is an arm of the Guyana Police Force and has been carrying out its functions under the laws of Guyana. He said it is the organisation’s duty to carry out its functions in a professional manner. He assured that there has been no intervention by the Administration to influence the work of the Crime Unit.
“There is no political vendetta. SOCU was not established by this administration. It was established by the previous administration, organized by Dr Roger Luncheon, (then Head of the Presidential Secretariat) in response to Guyana’s responsibility to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism legislation. “It is not something that we created; they are doing the work which they were created to do”, he told reporters on Wednesday.
However, former President Donald Ramotar, under whose tenure SOCU was established, also expressed major concerns over the new role of the entity.
“It is certainly not carrying out its functions. It is unfortunate that the executive is using SOCU to carry out harassment on its political opponents,” he said in an invited comment to the Guyana Times.
Over the last few days, SOCU has arrested and detained several former prominent government officials including former President and now Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, former Prime Minister and President Samuel Hinds, Dr Luncheon, former ministers Priya Manickchand, Irfaan Ali, Clement Rohee, and Jennifer Westford, among others in connection to their role in the Pradoville 2 scheme.
The reason these persons are being questioned is because they purchased property at the Sparendaam seawall area commonly known as “Pradoville II”.
The current Administration contends the transaction is a criminal act because of the belief that it was sold below market value.
But Nandlall had argued that subsidised housing has always been a part of the legacy of the People’s Progressive Party and that countless Guyanese have benefited from lands sold below market value.
“Every single house lot in this country was distributed way below the market price; $50,000 for a land in Mon Repos, $200,000 in Eccles, is that the value of the house lot? So let us not get carried away and become victims of the propaganda,” he pointed out. (Guyana Times)