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AG hints at plans to split SOCU from Police

By on January 17, 2020

first_img– observers question “ulterior motive”Eyebrows are being raised over a recent indication by Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams that the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) could very well be separated from the Guyana Police Force (GPF) despite his Cabinet colleague, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan’s recent announcement that the Unit would be governed by the Standing Orders of the Force and its head would report to the Police Commissioner.Williams, during a Tuesday morning press conference at his Chambers, said that he sought to assure that Government would ensure SOCU did only what it was established to do, that is fight financial crimes in keeping with globally-established Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) laws, which Guyana also enacted.SOCUThe AG said although the Unit was under the purview of the Public Security Ministry, it was a creature of the country’s AML/CFT laws and, therefore, it should not be considered to be performing Police work.“It is important for us, because SOCU has been very busy, very up and about and it’s very important for it to perform its core functions related to AML/CFT and not be burdened with other Police work. Because we don’t want to be accused of doing other things… or that it is an attempt for us to stymie the operations of the agency and strain any progress,” he told the press.SOCU independentWilliams said that the idea was to have SOCU operate in a similar manner to the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), as a specialised agency.“So SOCU is a specialised agency and we have to work out – nothing has come to Cabinet yet – to determine its core. Being in the FATF [Financial Action Task Force] world, CFATF world, the impression I have is that SOCU really is to be independent, just like in the manner of CANU. Right now, it is embedded in the Police Force and we have to look at that entire arrangement,” Williams said.SOCU was established in 2013 as a law enforcement agency to investigate, exclusively, allegations and reports relating to money laundering and terrorism as part of Guyana’s international obligations to strengthen its AML/CFT apparatus and only recently, Ramjattan declared that the protocols for SOCU were embedded in the rules of the GPF.As a matter of fact, he had stated that the protocols would be numbered 54 (a) of the Standing Orders of the GPF. Ever since its establishment, the Unit was placed under the Police Commissioner and was expected to have a strong working relationship with the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).It is for these reasons observers are now questioning the real reason behind the movement of the Unit from under the GPF and whether the body will now be used to fulfil “narrow political interests”.Witch huntingIn July 2016, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition accused the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government of using SOCU for the witch hunting of People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) members.In a statement, it said that SOCU, which was created to investigate money laundering and the financing of terrorism under the AML/CFT Act, had been transformed into the operational arm being used to target PPP/C officials.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo noted that his office was “aware” of the existence of a “list” containing the names of political leaders of the PPP/ C and non- PPP/C individuals who were to be targeted by SOCU. This list originated from no other than the Ministry of the Presidency.It is important to note that $40 million was budgeted for SOCU under the Ministry of the Presidency 2016 Budget, which had already raised a number of suspicions in the National Assembly, prompting PPP/C Member of Parliament (MP) Juan Edghill to ask why SOCU, which was established under the Guyana Police Force, was funded under the Ministry of the Presidency’s Defence and National Security programme.At the time, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, in response, told the House that it was a temporary arrangement. SOCU has been under heavy scrutiny from the political Opposition and rights groups after a botched operation on December 30, 2015, involving a high-speed chase down Carifesta Avenue, Georgetown, which left three persons dead – GDF Sergeant Robert Pyle; his wife, Stacy, and the driver of a Canter truck, Linden Eastman.Sergeant Pyle and a team from SOCU were supposed to have been conducting surveillance on the home of the former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington at Cowan Street, Kingston, Georgetown. They became engaged in the high-speed chase down Carifesta Avenue with a vehicle occupied by Opposition parliamentarian Charles Ramson Jr; his wife, Alana Seebarran, and her brother.During the chase, Pyle slammed into the truck that was travelling in the opposite direction, resulting in the deaths.While the GDF claimed Pyle had been on an official operation, there were reports that he was never instructed to get involved in any chase.The Government has since refused to launch a Commission of Inquiry into the incident, prompting condemnation from politicians and rights groups. SOCU has also been involved in a number of financial probes and has seized millions of dollars in cash and jewellery as part of its investigations.However, at least one of the seizures involving jewellery at a local airport has since attracted a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.last_img read more

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