GRA fires two officers over Jamaica cocaine bust

-DPP to decide on charges, says Sattaur

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) yesterday announced that two officers were dismissed and another suspended for their role in the Jamaican cocaine bust in March this year and Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur said the relevant authority will determine whether charges will be laid.

The GRA said in a statement that the decision to terminate the officers’ services was made after a thorough investigation was conducted by its Internal Affairs Division. The investigation revealed that there were breaches of several customs laws, policies, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and employees’ conduct codes.

On March 16, 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.

“It is the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) that does the charges,” Sattaur told Stabroek News, when asked whether the police will institute charges against the sacked employees. He noted too that when the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) would have completed its own investigations, then the authorities would decide what action may be taken.

According to the GRA, the incident raised several concerns about the performance of staff members who are assigned to various ports of entry/exit. The body noted that it had reviewed the established SOPs to ensure that more stringent measures are in place to monitor imports and exports.

Sattaur was quoted in the statement as saying that he was “elated that the investigation into the shipment of illicit drugs was conducted without any setbacks.” He was also supportive of the recommendations made by the investigating team, and said all the recommendations have since been implemented.

Additionally, he said that the public can contribute to the smooth operation of the agency by reporting any inappropriate behaviour by officers of the agency through its intelligence hotline: 225-6687. He also assured that all information provided will be held in strict confidence.

Meanwhile, a source within the body noted yesterday that staff members continue to question the actions taken to discipline the officers while another, who was being held accountable for his role in giving the “ok to load” to the container involved,  remains on the job. According to the source, the officer was promoted to another position within the revenue body and while his colleagues were being investigated for their role in the matter, he remained on the job.

Earlier this month, this newspaper had reported that the officers who serve in key positions within the organisation were issued indefinite suspension letters within the first week of this month.

The employees included 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. One of the employees was also being investigated by the GRA over an “unusual” accumulation of wealth over the past two years.

Reliable sources told this newspaper that while the logs were cleared for shipping by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) quite some time before the 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 12 for Jamaica.

GFC Commissioner James Singh, in a letter to 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.