Customs officer sacked, three suspended over cocaine in container

-probe into ‘unusual’ assets ongoing

The Guyana Revenue Autho-rity (GRA) has dismissed a customs officer and suspended three others, following the discovery of $700M in cocaine in a container shipped from here to Jamaica.

Three officers who serve in key positions within the organisation were issued indefinite suspension letters last week, Stabroek News was told. Another officer, who was attached to Customs Boat House, was dismissed from the organisation last month.

According to a source within the GRA, the manager of the wharves and warehouse section, the officer who served as officer-in-charge of the John Fernandes Wharf in the city at the time of the bust and another officer who oversaw the final moments of the container being loaded before it was shipped to Jamaica, all received their suspension letters on Friday afternoon. The latter is also being investigated by the GRA over an “unusual” accumulation of wealth over the past two years.

Reports are that the dismissed employee, who was attached to Customs Boat House, was dismissed on July 13 last month. He was responsible for the container seals which he reportedly left in the possession of the broker, when the container was being loaded with logs at the Carib-bean Resources Ltd (CRL) establishment in Houston, on the East Bank of Demerara.

The suspension of the employees was done to facilitate investigations which are on-going and a final decision on their fate will be made when such investigations are completed, a source noted.

Jamaican customs authorities discovered the five bags containing 122.65 kilogrammes of cocaine, with a street value of $700 million among timber in a container, on the MV Vega Azurit. Reports had indicated that the vessel, which left from the John Fernandes Limited Wharf, is one that frequents Guyana almost twice weekly. It had arrived in Guyana on March 11 and left the following day.
Reliable sources told this newspaper that while the logs were cleared for shipping by the Guyana Forestry Commis-sion (GFC) quite some time before the March 16th bust, it was only on March 11th that the logs were loaded into the container at the CRL facility. The container was then taken to the John Fernandes wharf the same day and it left on March 12th for Jamaica.

GFC Commissioner James Singh, in a letter to GRA boss Khurshid Sattaur, had said that documentation provided clearly showed that customs received the customs declaration (C72) forms on March 1 and gave the “ok to load” on March 2 to the examining officer who then examined and sealed containers, including the cocaine container – ZCSU 8316084 – on March 11.

Singh also revealed that the container was switched to the MV Vega Azurit, after being originally booked to leave these shores on another ship. He said some time after the GFC checked the documents, which were then submitted to the shipping company and the Customs and Trade Administration (CTA), the name of the vessel listed on the form was changed from the MV Stadt Rotenburg to the MV Vega Azurit. He added that since the bust, the GFC learnt from the Jamaican authorities that the cocaine was found in the container with number ZCSU 8316084, which was then traced to the John Fernandes Wharf and which was shipped by ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd and confirmed as being shipped on 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 MV Stadt Rotenburg,” Singh said in the letter.

He added that the lumber was graded and inspected in Aroaima and a GFC Grading Inspector signed off the Timber Marketing Certificate (TMC) document on February 18, stating that 180 logs were 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.

Singh said based on the fact that the produce was independently verified and checked by the GFC grading inspector, the GFC approved the export certificate. The GFC’s investigation also discovered that while CTA checked and sealed seven containers on February 28, eight containers were stated on the C72 form.

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