US Ambassador to Guyana Roland Bullen in 2006 considered the Guyana Government so compromised by Roger Khan that he told Washington nothing would be done about him and the envoy cited the drug lord and a former official of the government as being instrumental in the infamous phantom squad.
In a WikiLeaks cable entitled Shaheed `Roger’ Khan: Guyana’s own Escobar?’, Bullen in a cable of February 1st, 2006 commented as follows on the situation: ““Multiple sources have expressed fears to Ambassador that not only has Khan penetrated almost every level of Guyanese government and society, but that he will exert ever greater influence over the political scene beginning with this year’s elections. Most respected commentators believe that Guyana has already become or is well on the way to being a narco-state. If Guyana is a narco-state, then Khan is its leader. Ambassador has spoken with GoG to little avail about Khan’s drug activities and unaccounted wealth. The GoG has adopted a head-in-the-sand approach to Khan and narco-trafficking in general. The GoG asks for hard evidence and pretends not to know how Khan acquires his means.”
The Government of Guyana has refused to comment on WikiLeaks revelations but similar sentiments as Bullen’s have been expressed locally about the government having ignored Khan’s activities and claiming that it was unaware that he was involved in drug trafficking and the phantom squad.
This Bullen cable is the first where the activities of the phantom squad – believed to have murdered dozens of people during the 2002-2006 crime spree has been discussed.
Describing Khan as Guyana’s number one narco-criminal, Bullen told Washington that Khan was a principal in the “Phantom Squad” (aka death squad) that a former government official employed to crack down on crime from 2002 to 2004.
The Guyana Government had come under pressure over the activities of the phantom squad and one of its suspected shadowy figures Axel Williams. Following allegations levelled, the government relented and convened an enquiry into former Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj. He was cleared of the allegations of involvement in the phantom squad as no evidence was presented to the enquiry. Critics had said that the terms of the enquiry were limited and witness protection provisions were not made.
Bullen said that the very government official had told the US Embassy that Khan also regularly travelled to Suriname and Trinidad and “meets with Desi Bouterse. According to RNAS, Khan and Bouterse met at a hotel in Suriname as recently as December 2005.”
Bouterse became President of Suriname last year and previous WikiLeaks cables had referred to this relationship. Neither Bouterse nor his government has commented on these allegations.
Describing Khan’s reach as akin to the control that Pablo Escobar once exerted over Colombia, Bullen said that Khan was then active in drug trafficking, money laundering, and arms smuggling. “His so-called legitimate economic interests include construction and forestry”, Bullen cabled Washington.
The then US envoy referred to a plan to set up a DEA counter-narcotics operation here which was abandoned after Khan made threats against US diplomats including Bullen.
“DEA developed a plan in 2004 to establish a counternarcotics operation in Guyana. An informant leaked details about the plan. After the leak, Khan threatened to blow up the site of the operation and threatened the lives of Ambassador and the then RSO (Ref D). These threats forced the operation’s abandonment.”
Bullen asserted that Khan surrounded himself with “a coterie of former police tactical squad members for security. He reportedly pays his low-level security personnel USD 1,600 per month — at least eight times what they previously earned with the police force.”
He also detailed Khan’s activities in arms smuggling and money laundering.
“According to RNAS, Khan has been active in smuggling arms into Guyana from Suriname, French (Guiana), and possibly France. He exchanges cocaine for the arms. Khan has also established connections with FARC and has acted as a middleman in cocaine for arms transactions. In such
instances, Khan has smuggled guns into Guyana and then exchanged them with the FARC for cocaine. There are strong indications that Khan was deeply involved in a December 2005 shipment of weapons to FARC in Colombia”, Bullen related to Washington.
He added that Khan had a business relationship with the late Farouk Razac as part of a big operation to launder his narco-trafficking proceeds. According to RNAS, Khan’s drug proceeds have also funded mosques and sent Muslims to study abroad.
Bullen said that Khan, who is now serving 15 years in a US prison after a 2009 guilty plea to drug trafficking, rose meteorically in the drug business.
He said Khan had become more powerful than three of the more established people in the business who he named. The US envoy posited that Khan had established connections with Colombian criminals a few years before and had since then become a major trafficker of cocaine from Colombia.
“Khan has risen to the top of Guyana’s narco-criminal class quickly and ostentatiously. His Colombian associates scolded him in September 2004 for his indiscriminate activities and advised him to get out of the Spotlight”, Bullen related.
Local observers had said that Khan was always on the social scene and sometimes in the company of well-known government officials.
In the cable Bullen also addressed Khan’s other business activities and intended acquisitions.
Bullen noted that Khan acquired Kaow Island in the Essequibo River from a local entrepreneur in February 2005 and noted that it has a “wharf for ocean going vessels, an airstrip, access to Guyana’s bush roads that radiate out from Bartica, and a 136,000-acre timber concession.”
Bullen said that Khan was also reportedly in negotiations with a businessman to purchase a 200 square mile ranch in the Southern Rupununi region. The ranch had a large airstrip and Khan was believed to be acting at the behest of Colombian or Panamanian narco-interests.
The US envoy also referred to the well-publicized arrangement with the state for a forest concession.
“In late 2005 the Guyana Forestry Commission granted a State Forest Exploratory Permit for a large tract of land in Guyana’s interior to Aurelius Inc., a company controlled by Khan”, Bullen noted. The permit was reversed when the government came under pressure and the US embassy and others have theorized that it may have been a possible motive for the murder of the forestry minister Satyadeow Sawh.
Bullen noted that Khan was also a director of Classic Development Inc. and Dream Works Developers, both construction concerns. Khan was financing several projects, including a 60-70 unit housing unit development in East Bank Demerara near the new stadium under construction for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, Bullen said. He reported Guyanese bank executives as saying that these ventures were being done without any bank financing.
Bullen also related to Washington the arrest of Khan in 2002 with spying equipment and weapons. That arrest led to belated charges by the police which were eventually dismissed in a magistrate’s court. The interception of Khan had been made by the Guyana Defence Force’s intelligence unit and it was reported that the government was displeased at this and later miniaturized the unit.
Bullen noted “Khan and two other men, one an active duty policeman, were arrested at a Guyana Defence Force roadblock in December 2002 at Good Hope, East Coast Demerara in a bulletproof vehicle. The vehicle contained sophisticated cell phone intercept equipment, satellite phones, and high-powered weapons. All three were found not guilty of illegal possession of arms and ammunition charges.
“A senior functionary in the Office of the President told us that the communications equipment and weapons were handed back over to Khan. Our interlocutor said the arrest had been “a mistake” because Khan was “working with the police” when the arrest was made.”
The government had publicly denied that the equipment had been handed back to Khan and had said that it was with the police. The police had not provided the evidence to show that the equipment was still in its possession.
In terms of political influence, Bullen posited that “Khan has bought off countless people in Guyana. Through this patronage he is able to operate with impunity. It is believed that GoG is compromised to such an extent that it will not pursue Khan, despite paying lip service to the fight against narco-trafficking.
When it became clear to Khan that the US and local security forces were going after him he went underground and from there alleged that he had played an important role in helping the government to fight crime. The government never acknowledged this. He fled to Suriname where he was arrested by the authorities there and later transferred to the US via Trinidad and Tobago.