Lovell heads inquiry into interception, release of private boat

-CANU, GDF to answer for roles

Bruce Lovell is leading a three-member Com-mission of Inquiry (CoI) that has been set up to probe the interception, detention and subsequent release of an unnamed vessel that was in Guyana’s sea space last month.

Brigadier (Ret’d) Lovell, Assistant Commis-sioner of Police (Ret’d) Winston Cosbert and Christine Bailey, who serves as Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Presidency and Economist to the Cabinet, were sworn in by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan at the George-town Magistrate’s Court 1 yesterday.

No specific details were provided as to the nature of the circumstances surrounding the vessel’s detention, or what specifically prompted an investigation on this scale, but according to the 15-point Terms of Reference (ToR), the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) will be made to answer about the course of action taken by both bodies in the matter.

The vessel was reportedly intercepted sometime between February 11th and February 14th. On February 16th, four Guyanese men were intercepted by members of the US and Trinidad and Tobago coastguards in a boat in international waters, about 70 nautical miles north of Suriname, with over four tonnes of cocaine, estimated at a street value of over US$71.7M. The crew members, comprising Mohamed Nazim Hoseain, 64, Richard La Cruz, 49, Neville Jeffrey, 68 and Mark Anthony Williams, 30, were all charged with knowingly and intentionally conspiring to possess, with intent to distribute the drugs and they were remanded to prison in St. Croix.

The newly sworn in commissioners for the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the detention and release of an unnamed private vessel in Guyana’s waters last month. From left are Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ret’d) Winston Cosbert, Ministry of Presidency official Christine Bailey, Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan and Brigadier (Ret’d) Bruce Lovell. (Photo by Keno George)

After the bust was made public, CANU head Guyana’s Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) James Singh had told Stabroek News that the vessel was last in Guyana in 2013. Singh was asked to proceed on accumulated leave at the start of this month.

The ToR require the commissioners to investigate and report on the following:

  1. The circumstances under which the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit received information, including the exact date and time of the receipt of such information, that an unnamed private maritime vessel entered into, was intercepted, detained and searched in the sea space of the territory of Guyana on or between the 11th-14th of February 2017;
  2. The circumstances and authority under which the aforesaid vessel while detained on Guyana’s shore was released;
  3. The instructions issued to the Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit and the role of any foreign law enforcement agencies in the conduct of the operation to intercept, detain and search the said vessel;

Whether the operation to intercept, detain and search the said vessel was approved by any superior authority in Guyana;

Whether there was timely passage of information to the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Minister of Public Security or Minister of State, and whether such passage of information was adequate;

Whether any law(s) of Guyana was/were breached during the operation to intercept, detain and search the aforesaid vessel;

The ownership of the vessel, its capacity, capabilities, and the identities of all persons who were on board at the time of the operation;

Whether the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit had the authority to order the release of the vessel and whether such an order was lawful and/or justifiable in the circumstance;

Whether the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit and the law enforcement agencies of the State of Guyana acted in a manner consistent with their security responsibilities;

Whether there was any narcotic and/or prohibited substance on the vessel immediately before it was intercepted and whether any narcotic and/or prohibited substance was removed before it was intercepted;

Whether any tests were conducted on the vessel, if so when, by whom, and in what manner and to recommend appropriate action(s) to be taken in light of the laws of Guyana governing the handling of such substances;

Whether changes are recommended to be made in relation to the reporting, investigation and prosecution of offences committed at sea and what measures, if any are required, for the prevention of the recurrence of similar incidents in the future;

Whether changes are recommended to be made to the organisation, administration, operations, staffing and management of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit

The blameworthiness of any person(s) who might have acted in a manner contrary to the laws of Guyana and recommend what disciplinary action(s) if any is to be taken against any official of the state of Guyana who was deemed to have been culpable of any act;

And on any other matter which is in the opinion of the Commission is relevant to the fulfillment of its mandate.

Lovell is to serve as Chairman of the CoI. The findings are to be presented to President David Granger.

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