With revelations of widespread fraud and financial irregularities within the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) coming out of an audit, the People’s Progressive Party is calling for the unit to be closed down.
According to the party on Friday, the revelations vindicate its many warnings about SOCU deviating from its mandate. In fact, the party noted that the revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, and that a forensic audit from an outside impartial auditor is needed.
“The materials”, the party said, “disclosed by the audit have confirmed our worst fears. But we are convinced that it is only the tip of the iceberg.
“This Unit has rendered itself absolutely unfit to function as a law enforcement agency and as part of the prosecutorial arm of the State. There is no doubt that both investigations and prosecutions are being compromised by this diabolical outfit, who takes political instructions directly from Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, the Attorney General, and Ministry of the Presidency”, the party said.
The party also called for Ramjattan, who is the subject minister responsible for SOCU, to immediately resign. It noted that the unit has for some time been giving appearances of unethical behaviour.
“The public was made aware of the unholy relationship between Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, Attorney General Basil Williams, British consultant Dr. Sam Sittlington, and senior functionaries at SOCU, who were sighted jovially sipping wine and champagne at public places after arresting a number of PPP leaders.”
“The public”, the PPP added, “would well remember a former Commissioner of Police publicly distancing himself from the operations of this Unit. Recently, the Director of Public Prosecutions, in a sworn affidavit in a High Court proceeding, made it clear that the Office of the DPP did not advise on a series of criminal charges instituted by this Unit.”
According to the PPP, complaints have been made against the unit by various business persons. The party related that businessmen have been shaken down by the unit and have had their valuables seized.
“Over the years, we have received multiple reports from businessmen that SOCU officers have extracted from them huge sums of monies as bribes, and seized large caches of jewellery, monies and other personal valuables, including quantities of foreign currencies, from their premises without due process, and have converted these assets to their own use.
“We have also received reports of falsification of evidence in prosecutions, and the refusal to disclose materials which the law requires them to do, in order to ensure a fair trial of persons charged,” the party said. “This contamination of the criminal justice system strikes at the very foundation of the rule of law.”
According to information leaked to the media, a probe being conducted by the Guyana Police Force (GPF) has unearthed irregularities that included falsified records and missing documents.
According to reports, there was even a case of an official who alleged his signature was forged. In addition, there are reports of listed expenditure being concocted and receipts being backdated.
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, Ramjattan had 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.