‘Stringent measures’ to return following cocaine-in-rice find – Sattaur

Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Khurshid Sattaur says that he will be forced to reinstitute the “stringent measures” in place to facilitate the examination of exports, including rice shipments.

This statement comes weeks after a shipment of rice which originated from Guyana was intercepted in the Dominican Republic with a large quantity of cocaine with a scheduled stop in Jamaica. Questions have been raised as to whether the drugs were placed in the bags of rice before it left Guyana.

Speaking to this newspaper on Tuesday, Sattaur said that pressure from the business community had led to the GRA removing the mandatory Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) inspection from shipments. He said that following that change in the Standard Operations Procedure, the GRA would first profile potential “risky shippers” and identify them for physical examination in the presence of the DEU.

Khurshid Sattaur
Khurshid Sattaur

“All documents will now have to go to the DEU to see if they have an interest. If it is that they do have an interest then they will ask to be there for the examination,” said Sattaur.

He said that in the past the GRA tried to facilitate businessmen in easing the difficulties which involved shipping their rice and other commodities overseas by removing the requirement for more stringent inspections. “We are now forced to bring them back in,” said Sattaur, referring to the Drug Enforcement Unit.

“I am glad that it happened,” he said, referring to the August 13 bust. “I was justified in the steps I took. I now have to put back,” he said.

It was reported in the Dominican Republic press on August 13 that that country’s National Drugs Control Agency (DNCD) had seized 69 packages of cocaine or heroin from a Liberian-flagged container ship, from Jamaica. Laboratory tests later confirmed that the packages contained cocaine.

Dominican law enforcement officials have since arrested three persons. Guyana, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are the three possible places at which the drugs were stowed aboard the vessel.

The GRA earlier this week issued a press release to clarify reports that have been carried in the media on the shipment and the GRA’s role. The press release said that there was no breach of the standard operating procedure regarding the examination of a container of rice which was found with cocaine inside. It said that its systems are constantly reviewed. The release said that investigations are still being conducted at an inter-agency level and the findings will be made available at the end of it.

“Recently there have been a number of publications in the print media in relation to the seizure of drugs concealed in a shipment of rice destined for Venezuela. In order to provide clarification on the issue, the GRA wishes to state categorically that all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were followed by its officers in the processing of documents for examination of goods prior to the said export,” the GRA statement said.

“It should be noted that based on request from the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), rice shipments coming through the GRDB are granted via Prior to Processing (PTP), a system which is utilised under specially defined circumstances,” the release said.

The release said that in accordance with the SOPs the GRDB would apply to ship rice on behalf of an exporter prior to processing of the customs declaration form C72. “The GRDB would then supply the covering letter regarding the PTP along with the C72 form, the invoice and the Caricom Certificate of Origin. These documents are subject to our risk profiling system,” the release said.

The GRA said that its risk profiling system was used for the shipment since it allows for exporters to be profiled based on several criteria, including their reputation, shipping history, destination country and type of goods. “As such, the shipment was not profiled for scanning but for physical examination,” the statement said.

“Hence, based on the risk assessment, the Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) was not required to be present during the examination of the rice shipped. However, physical examination was conducted by the Customs Officer assigned …prior to the sealing of the container. This entailed the observation of the packing or stuffing of the container with bags of rice,” the release said.
“It must be noted that the bags would have already been sealed via a process from which the GRA is excluded,” the release said. It said that its systems are periodically reviewed and internal controls strengthened to ensure the integrity of all consignments shipped from Guyana. “The Organisation remains committed to such reviews and to ensuring that SOPs are followed by officials,” it said.

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