Three face charges over container cocaine

-had fake GRA seal, shipping documents

Charges are likely to be laid soon against three persons who were held over the weekend in connection with the huge cocaine bust made in Jamaica last month on board a ship that left Guyana.

Sources yesterday told Stabroek News that investigators from the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) were looking for more details from the men, who were found in possession of the shipping documents and a fake Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) seal. CANU and GRA are conducting a separate investigation into the fake seal.

This newspaper was reliably informed that the investigators do not believe that the men are the masterminds behind the smuggling of the cocaine, which is said to have a street value of $700 million. According to a source, it is hoped that the three would give the investigators the information needed to arrest the person suspected to be the brains behind the operation. If no information is forthcoming, the three would be taken to court. It is not clear what charges they would face. “These people were found in possession of shipping documents and seal,” a source, however, noted.

On March 16, Jamaican authorities busted 122.65 kilogrammes of cocaine among logs in a container on the MV Vega Azurit, which had left Guyana on March 12. The cocaine was packed in five bags and concealed among the logs. It is believed that the cocaine was destined for China.

When questioned, the owner of Aroaima Forest Producers Association (AFPA), which the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) identified as the company for which it cleared the logs in the container, revealed that he had allowed a Chinese national, who is connected to a well-known restaurant, to use his permit to export timber to China.

The GFC’s investigation has found that the container 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 Customs and Trade Administration (CTA), and the vessel’s name listed on the form was changed from the MV Stadt Rotenburg to the MV Vega Azurit.

Meanwhile, the GRA in a notice published in yesterday’s edition of the Guyana Chronicle said that from today all containers leaving Guyana will be subject to inspection using the newly installed scanning equipment. All inspectors will be done at the Guyana National Shipping Corporation (GNSC) wharf on Lombard Street, where the scanner is installed.

According to the notice, the scanner will reduce the time taken to do an inspection, since the process is non-intrusive and will ultimately increase efficiency. It said too that the scanner will also safeguard against revenue loss. “This new arrangement is part of the GRA’s continued effort to modernise its customs operations and is also one of the trade requirements between Guyana and the United States of America,” the notice said.

Following the bust, GRA’s Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur had told Stabroek News that the ship in which the cocaine was found was not scanned before it left Guyana, since the scanning machine that GRA installed last year was still to be made operational.

He had added that the GRA received the mandate last April to expand its operations to checking exports leaving the country on ships, and according to him the agency has been working effectively to execute the mandate though it has been challenging. He said the GRA cannot be blamed for lapses in the system because all the equipment and the expertise to get the job done were not in place. He pointed out that collaboration with other agencies was also very critical, while noting that as it relates to lumber exports the GFC has to work along with GRA to get the job done.

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