-US State Department report says
Guyana’s law enforcement agencies seized more than 100 kilogrammes (kg) less cocaine last year than in 2007, while money laundering continued to be a problem and drug trafficking organisations eluded the law through bribes and coercion.
The US State Department’s 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) released yesterday, pointed also to minimal cooperation among local law enforcement agencies, and said this coupled with weak border controls and limited resources for law enforcement allowed traffickers to move shipments via river, air and land without meaningful resistance.
Guyana’s National Drug Strategy Master Plan (NDSMP) for 2005-2009 ends this year, but government has achieved few of the plan’s original goals. Last year the report had also criticised Guyana for not effectively implementing the NDSMP two years after it was launched.
Local law enforcement seized just 48 kg of cocaine last year compared to the 167 kg seized in 2007. The report said the decrease was largely due to the lack of any seizures of more than a few kgs as well as the recent personnel shifts within the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU).
However, while the seizure of cocaine was low the eradication of domestically-grown marijuana increased sharply. Some 34,000 kg was destroyed last year, compared to 15,280 kg the previous year. A very high-grade of cannabis is said to be grown in Guyana primarily for domestic use with some being exported to other Caribbean countries.
Criminal charges were filed against 473 individuals for activities related to trafficking or distribution of illicit drugs.
The report said government’s move last year to have a major shake-up at CANU, which saw not only the acting head of the organisation being removed but several other officers after they failed polygraph tests, offers some promise of improved coordination and interdiction. It noted that the unit’s new director has promised regularisation of its operations; improved efficiency, and enhanced collaboration among the law agencies.
In December last year, following the seizure in St Croix and Canada of cartons of Guyana pepper sauce with cocaine stashed in dividers, CANU mounted a series of raids and interrogated around a dozen of the prime suspects in the exports. It believes it has disrupted this particular trafficking ring but no charges have been laid as evidence has to be provided by the US and Canada.
Volume one of the INCSR report, which deals with narcotics, noted government’s passing of laws that allow for plea bargaining, wiretapping and the collection of cell phone ownership data in order to modernize Guyana’s legal system and augment the tools available to law enforcement authorities. It was also noted that in April of last year Guyana acceded to the UN Convention Against Corruption and in June it acceded to the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.
Government counternarcotics efforts remain hampered by inadequate resources for, and poor coordination among, law enforcement agencies; an overburdened and inefficient judiciary; and the lack of a coherent and prioritised national security strategy. “Murders, kidnappings, and other violent crimes commonly believed to be linked with narcotics trafficking are regularly reported in the Guyanese media,” the report said.
And as it did last year, the report noted that Guyana’s narcotics fight had long been encumbered by a British colonial-era legal system that does not reflect the needs of modern-day law enforcement. However, it said, the recently passed laws collectively enhance both the investigative capability of law enforcement authorities, as well as the tools available to prosecutors in drug-related and other criminal matters.
The procurement of surveillance cameras for the airport and the fact that the footage will be shared with law enforcement bodies was noted as a positive step.
However, the report also noted that government has not identified or confronted major drug traffickers and their organisations as the efforts of law agencies have been limited to arresting low-level drug couriers at the airport.
Guyana’s law enforcement agencies, the report said, are hamstrung by insufficient personnel budgets, and there are no routine patrols of the numerous land entry points on the 1,800 miles of border with Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname.
On the issue of corruption the report said that as a matter of policy the government does not encourage or facilitate the illicit production or distribution of narcotic or psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances or the laundering of proceeds from illegal transactions.
However, it added that the media routinely report on instances of corruption reaching to high levels of government that are not investigated and thus go unpunished. And it said the US government analysts believe drug trafficking organisations in Guyana continue to elude law enforcement agencies through bribes and coercion.
While Guyana is a party to the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (IACAC), the report said the country is yet to fully implement its provisions, such as seizure of property obtained through corruption.
Among the treaties and conventions Guyana is party to is the 1931 Extradition Treaty between the US and the UK, which is applicable to the US and Guyana.
However, the report said, recent case law in the Barry Dataram extradition matter has “eviscerated the treaty.”
The report pointed out that Dataram is being sought by the Eastern District of New York for cocaine-smuggling offences, but the local court has made it difficult, if not impossible, to request a fugitive’s provisional arrest.
In December last year, it said, a local court ordered Dataram’s release, holding that the treaty was invalid because, in essence, it lacked a re-extradition clause (although such a provision was not relevant to the case); such a provision is required under Guyana’s domestic extradition law. The report pointed out that former attorney-general Doodnauth Singh had confirmed that Guyana will not extradite fugitives to the US unless the extradition treaty changes.
Guyana had signed a bilateral agreement with the US on maritime counternarcotics cooperation in 2001; however, it has not yet taken the necessary domestic actions to bring the agreement to force.
The report said many ways were used to traffic cocaine with the country’s uncontrolled borders and coastline allowing unfettered drug transit. Smugglers take direct routes, such as driving or boating across the borders with Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela. The Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard, the report said, did not have any seaworthy vessels; its lone patrol boat was in dry dock awaiting repairs.
Volume two of the report which deals with money laundering and financial crimes, noted that money laundering is perceived as a serious problem and has been linked to trafficking in drugs and firearms, as well as corruption and fraud. “Guyana has a large informal economy that is vulnerable to money laundering,” the report said. It added that no arrests or prosecutions for money laundering were made last year. Guyana currently has inadequate legal and enforcement mechanisms to combat money laundering, lacks enabling legislation to combat terrorist financing and its Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) does not meet the membership requirements to join the Egmont Group, the report said.
The Organisation of American States, the report said, has stated that Guyana received 15 Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) in 2004, 53 in 2005 and 110 in 2006.
But the government has reportedly not released statistics on the number of STRs received in 2007 or in 2008 by the FIU, despite suggestions that the FIU should make these statistics available to the relevant authorities as recommended by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The anti-money laundering regime is rendered ineffective by other major structural weaknesses of the Money Laundering Prevention Act (MLPA) of 2000, which lists the Guyana Revenue Authority, CANU, the Attorney-general, the DPP and the FUI as the authorities responsible for investigating financial crimes.
The report said while the MLPA provides for seizure of assets derived as proceeds of crime, guidelines for implementing seizures and forfeitures have never been established. The FIU can request additional information from obligated entities but it does not have access to law enforcement information or the authority to exchange information with foreign counterparts. The unit is staffed by one person and as such the limitations collectively stifle the analytical and investigative capabilities of the unit and the law enforcement agencies.
“As a result of these weaknesses, there have been no money laundering prosecutions or convictions,” the report said.
However, the report said, the government and the Bank of Guyana (BoG) continue to assist the US efforts to combat terrorist financing by working toward compliance with relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs).
The report suggested that government pass the draft legislation on money laundering and terrorist financing that is currently before the Parliament. It was stated that the enactment of the legislation would extend preventive measures to a wider range of reporting entities, including casinos and designated nonfinancial businesses and professions.
The legislation would also provide greater resources and critical autonomy for the FIU, enable the FIU to access law enforcement data, and ensure that the FIU has operational capacity to meet the membership requirements of the Egmont Group.
“In short, the passage of this legislation is essential in enhancing [Guyana’s] compliance with international standards and ensuing that its anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regime is operational and effective,” the report said.
In the interim, it suggested that the country provide appropriate resources and awareness training to its regulatory, law enforcement and prosecutorial personnel, and establish procedures for asset seizure and forfeiture.
Meanwhile, the report noted that government continued its implementation of the $5 million multi-year Security Sector Reform Project funded by the UK, though it had made little progress on some of the plan’s key provisions. It is still to establish a parliamentary committee to oversee national security and a comprehensive national security policy is yet to be developed.
US policy focuses on cooperating with Guyana’s law enforcement agencies, promoting good governance, and facilitating demand reduction programmes, the report said. The US will continue to encourage the Guyana government to organise an effective counternarcotics programme, especially within the context of the British-funded overhaul of the security sector. The report therefore urged that government pass and implement the proposed anti-money laundering legislation and draft implementing regulations for its new plea bargaining and telecommunications intercept laws while the US works with it to try and resolve the extradition difficulties.
The INCSR is an annual report to the US congress and it was its mention several years ago of businessman Roger Khan as an alleged drug trafficker which triggered a series of events that led to his capture in Trinidad and Tobago and subsequent indictment in New York.