Harmon gets report on probe of vessel on which cocaine was found

The government yesterday received a report on an inquiry into how the anti-narcotics agency, CANU and the GDF handled the interception of a vessel which was later busted on the high seas by US-led forces with a huge amount of cocaine.

Concerns about how the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF)  handled the vessel prompted President David Granger to convene a Commission of Inquiry into the matter and it could lead to a shake-up of CANU. In the wake of questions over the handling of the vessel, the Head of CANU, James Singh was sent on leave due to him. The government had said that there was no link between the probe and Singh’s proceeding on leave.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon (centre) receives the Report from Brigadier (Retired) Bruce Lovell as Lieutenant Colonel Denzel Carmichael (left), former Assistant Commission of Police, . Winston Cosbert (second from left) and Ms. Christine Bailey look on.  (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

A release yesterday from the Ministry of the Presi-dency said that Minister of State,  Joseph Harmon received the Report from the Commissioners of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), which was established by  Granger on March 31, to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the entry into, the interception, detention and subsequent release of an unnamed private maritime vessel in the sea space of the territory of Guyana. The Commission was asked to report the findings and recommendations to the President, who is the Head of the National Security Committee.

Accepting the Report from Head of the Commis-sion, Brigadier (Retired) Bruce Lovell,  Harmon said that the Government takes the issue of national security seriously and, as such, it is committed to examining the findings.

“I trust that the Report that the Commission has presented will assist us in making some important decisions in the security architecture of this country and that it will assist us in making decisions particularly as it relates to the fight against narcotics trafficking,”  Harmon said.

Brigadier Lovell, in an invited comment, said “Inquiries do what any good journalist would do and that is to answer the Five W’s and the one H; the Who, the What, the Where, the Why and the When and it also goes a bit further and seeks to recommend what should be done to prevent any further occurrence. So this inquiry has done just that. In our recommendations we look at a number of systematic issues, doctrine, organisation, training, leadership, personnel, facilities and, of course, policies,” he said.

The other members of the Commission were former Assistant Commis-sioner of Police,  Winston Cosbert and Christine Bailey.

No specific details were provided by the government 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 Cus-toms Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) would have been 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.

After the bust was made public, CANU head 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 April.

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

  1. The circumstances under which the Customs Anti-Narcotic 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 Co-operative 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.

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