-President flew to Brazil on plane
The aircraft on which US$620,000 was found in Puerto Rico last week was registered in the United States but it was based here in a private hangar at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Timehri owned by the businessman/pilot implicated in the haul, Kem Khamraj Lall.
Security sources say the arrest of Lall in Puerto Rico on November 22 with the huge amount of cash would be deeply embarrassing to the government here and would raise a host of security questions. Sources say the administration was likely to do an immediate review of the permission for Lall to have a private hangar at Timehri and it was likely that it would be revoked.
The source say the million-dollar question is what would have happened to the US$620,000 if the plane had landed at Timehri as intended by Lall after transiting the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico where federal agents intercepted the flight. Money-sniffing dogs would have been required here to detect the money.
Lall had been given the go ahead to build by Cabinet in 2012 after he had submitted a business proposal in which he stated that there were plans to have an air ambulance service among others. This permission seems to have been quietly given. The CJIA is in the midst of a major Chinese-funded expansion and one of the proposals that had been floated was for there to be a private airstrip for planes such as Lall’s. This had been frowned upon by security experts and it was unclear yesterday if this is still in the works.
Minister of Transport Robeson Benn, who is currently overseas on duty, told Stabroek News last night that all the necessary documentation and permits were granted for the building of the pre-fabricated hangar, said to cost near US$1M, at CJIA.
He stated that the hangar is not yet completed and as such is not yet operational. However, since the main frame is built, the plane parks there as protection from the weather.
Chairman of the CJIA board Ramesh Dookhoo told Stabroek News yesterday he was not on the CJIA board when approval for the hangar was granted and as such did not know the specifics. Dookhoo said that he has requested some information and will share same with this newspaper today when he receives it.
Manager of CJIA Ramesh Ghir said that no red flags had been raised on Lall’s proposal as it seemed sound and complemented plans CJIA has. “He made a good case and it was approved by Cabinet…In his case he stated that he wanted to operate an air ambulance service stationed in Guyana and we don’t have one here so that among other things was taken into consideration,” he said.
Ghir explained that Lall’s private hangar would have been one of over five others at CJIA and said that for persons to own one at CJIA they would have to meet necessary requirements.
However, he stressed that as with all aircraft entering or leaving Guyana, security requirements have to be met and Lall’s craft would have been subjected to these at all times. “I can tell you all procedures are carried out in and out of this country by CANU, police, immigration GCAA and so forth,” he said.
Dookhoo said that since the story broke it has been of great concern to the CJIA board and speaks to the issue of all agencies operating at CJIA to be more vigilant.
“It is of great concern to the board. If you are coming to Guyana with that kind of money we would want to find out what else you are doing in Guyana. We have to approach with a lot more scrutiny, and when I say we I mean CANU, police, immigration, everybody,” he stated.
This newspaper understands that Lall obtained the lease to the land with help from the CJIA and the Guyana Lands and Survey Department. In his agreement he would have stated that his private jet service would be based in Guyana and he needed a place to park his aircraft.
After permission was granted, Lall imported the modern prefabricated hangar and had it set up at a location not far from where the old Guyana Airways Corporation hangar was situated.
The jet has operated from its base several times before on trips both to the United States and countries in South America.
President Donald Ramotar used the service for travel to neighbouring Brazil but Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon yesterday said that to ascertain if the flight was paid for by the state the date of travel was needed. He said when this information was given he would have to cross-check to verify cost.
However questions have been raised about the propriety of the President’s charter since the trip would have been illegal given that Lall’s service is registered as a Private Jet Club and not for charter.
“It implicates the President and I think that GCAA (Guyana Civil Aviation Authority) has failed him in notifying him beforehand that this plane could only be used for private flights…only people who are part of the club can use the plane. This itself is another issue,” one source explained.
The source said that it is now an embarrassment for the president who may have chartered the aircraft without knowledge of civil aviation legalities.
The United States’ Federal Aviation Administration is said to also be investigating to determine whether its regulations have been breached.
Minister of Transport Benn said that he was not sure of the legality of the charter aspect but he was sure that this will be cleared up by the GCAA.
Observers have raised question in the past about the ability of the Financial Intelligence Unit to pick up the movement of large amounts of cash like in this case. The observers say it was ironic that the government has been playing up its credentials in this area when major incidents such as Lall’s are not being detected. The opposition has been pressing for law amendments to pick up the movement of large amounts of cash. The government has been baulking at these provisions.
Lall, who is also a businessman and owns a gas station in Guyana, is now detained in a Puerto Rican jail following his initial court appearance before Magistrate Judge Marcos E. Lopez. During the hearing he was provided with a copy of the complaint and another hearing is set for December 1st where it would be determined whether Lall, a US citizen, will remain in custody.
The charge against Lall reads that he knowingly concealed more than US$10, 000 in currency; to wit over US$600,000 and other monetary instruments in a plastic trash bag covered with a blanket under an exit seat of the plane and in an article of luggage, and attempted to transport and transfer such currency and monetary instruments from San Juan, Puerto Rico, a place within the US, to Guyana.
According to court documents seen by this newspaper, on November 22 at 6pm, Lall and two other persons arrived at Luis Munoz International Airport, San Juan on a private aircraft. He was the co-pilot of the aircraft and the other persons were the pilot and Lall’s father. When approached by customs officials the occupants informed that they had stopped for refuelling purposes and would be departing immediately for Guyana. However, it was explained that an outbound inspection of the aircraft would be performed.
The trio was told of the currency reporting requirements and Lall and his father declared US$5,000 and the pilot declared US$60. However, while searching the aircraft with the assistance of a sniffer dog officials found that there were some discrepancies regarding the maintenance with the aircraft, in violation of aviation regulations and the aircraft was grounded. Lall then informed that he would have flown in his mechanic to take care of the mechanical issues and the following day he informed officials that the problems had been rectified and the aircraft could be re-inspected.
Before the search continued, Lall varied his declaration. He declared US$7,000, his father US$5,000 and the pilot US$60. However, as officials continued the search, a sniffer dog alerted them to the presence of money and a further inspection revealed a bundle of currency, wrapped in plastic bags and a blanket under the exit row seat. Approached, Lall immediately claimed ownership of the money and said that it was approximately US$150,000 which constituted proceeds from his business. He said that he had forgotten he had the money in the plane and gave such reason for not declaring it. Officials continued to search the aircraft and later discovered a black suitcase inside a compartment next to the engines which contained several black garbage bags containing bundles of currency totalling US$470,000. Lall again accepted responsibility and ownership for the money and informed that his pilot and his father had nothing to with the monies and that all belonged to him.
He was then arrested and charged.
Lall’s profile on http://execjetclub.com says “Mr. Kem Lall migrated to the United States of America 30 years ago in pursuit of his dreams in aviation. He graduated from the College of Aeronautics with a Bachelors Degree in Technology and Engineering, and later obtained his pilot license. He has been flying since 1994 and holds a PIC ( Pilot-In-Command) type rating approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He has worked for Pan American airlines as an engineer for five (5) year until they closed their operation in 1991 and for the past 15 years he has been freelancing with Ringwood Airport in New Jersey as a flight instructor.
In 1992, Mr. Lall started his own business “K.L.X Logistics Inc” located at 13 Edward Hart Drive, Jersey City which offered trucking and warehouse services, and was operational from 1995 to 2010.
In 2007, he purchased a gas station now known as the Kaylee’ Service Station located at Coverden, East Bank Demerara as part of his investment plans in Guyana and later expanded his venture when he introduced Quin’s Special Events & Services compose(d) of two limousines.
In pursuit of his dreams, Mr. Lall acquired a Westwind 1 Aircraft, which is a light executive jet that will be operating an international private service from Guyana to the North America, South America and the Caribbean. This service is the first of its kind in Guyana and Mr. Lall has many more plans that will surely boost the aviation and tourism sector in our economy.”