The large quantity of cocaine which was busted by Jamaican officials recently on a ship out of Guyana may have been headed for China, investigators have revealed.
While Customs and Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU) have so far found no evidence implicating anyone and are still awaiting a report from the preliminary investigation conducted by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), sources have told Stabroek News that the logs among which the cocaine was found were shipped by a Chinese national.
CANU sources have told Stabroek News that when questioned the owner of Aroaima Forest Producers Association (AFPA), which according to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) was the company for which it cleared the logs that were in the container with the cocaine, revealed that he has allowed the Chinese national, who is connected to a well-known restaurant, to use his permit to export timber to China.
Both the exporter and the broker, a customs officer, have been questioned by CANU investigators, but so far there is no evidence incriminating them, and a senior CANU officer said that it is important for the investigators to get their hands on the GRA’s report. The exporter has since told investigators that the container was sealed in his presence and as far as he knows nothing illegal was inside.
Meanwhile, a CANU official said that CANU investigators have found that that contrary to reports that the container in which the cocaine was discovered was not sealed, the Jamaican authorities reported that the container arrived on the island with seals.
One week after the Jamaican authorities busted the 122.65 kgs of cocaine with a street value of $700 million among logs in a container on the MV Vega Azurit the investigation was handed over to CANU, and officials were not optimistic that their investigation would yield any success because too much time had already elapsed. Just the shipping documents were handed over to CANU authorities with nothing else for investigators to lead off with.
Just one day after the bust, Commissioner of the GRA Khurshid Sattaur said preliminary investigations had revealed that the Customs and Trade Administration (CTA) officers were vigilant and diligent in the execution of their duties, but that the container with the cocaine had not been subjected to a customs search. He had stated that customs procedures in this case were well tested and questioned how the container could enter a ship when it was not booked on the shipping record.
But sources last week said it was highly unlikely that a container would have been allowed to leave Guyana on a ship without someone from customs being aware of it, and it was pointed out that if there was no record of the container then there needed to be an investigation as to why this is so. “CANU has just been handed the shipping documents… nothing else. One week after the drugs were busted just the bare shipping documents, no record of what customs has been doing since the bust was made,” one source had told this newspaper.
Stabroek News was told that while the GFC – whose officers would have cleared that logs that were in the container before they were packed – handed over a report of its investigation since the bust to CANU officials, but there had been none from the GRA, even though Sattaur had said a preliminary investigation had been launched.
This recent drug bust and the seeming bungling of the investigation, sources said, begs the question as to why CANU ranks were removed from the wharves and why the checking of incoming and outgoing vessels became the responsibility of customs officers.
Reports are that the vessel on which the drugs were found left from the John Fernandes Wharf. It had arrived in Guyana on March 11 and left the following day.
The GFC’s investigation has since found that the container in which the drugs were found was switched to the MV Vega Azurit, after being originally booked to leave these shores on another ship.The GFC checked the documents, which were then submitted to the shipping company and the CTA, and the vessel’s name listed on the form was changed from the MV Stadt Rotenburg to the MV Vega Azurit. Since the bust, the GFC learnt from the Jamaican authorities that the cocaine was found in the container carrying the number ZCSU 8316084, which was then traced to the John Fernandes Wharf and which had been shipped by ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. It was confirmed as having been shipped on the MV Vega Azurit on March 12. “This container number was listed on export documents covering a shipment of logs by the Aroaima Forest Producers Association (AFAPA) Export Licence BER 05602011 which was slated for shipment via the MV Stadt Rotenburg,” the GFC’s head James Singh had said in a letter last weekend.
The letter had added that the produce was graded and inspected in Aroaima and a GFC Grading Inspector had signed off the Timber Marketing Certificate (TMC) document on February 18, stating that 180 pieces of logs had been inspected. The Aroaima Company on February 25 applied to the GFC for an export certificate to export 130 pieces of the already inspected 180 logs.