Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday confirmed that there are reports of collusion between police ranks and the persons who escaped from a Brazilian aircraft shortly after it landed on an illegal airstrip in Region Nine last month.
“There is some information available to the authorities which is suggesting a certain level of collusion and that information we take very seriously and it will inform the way in which we deal with the actual deployment of ranks,” Harmon told a post-Cabinet press briefing held in the Commission of Inquiry Boardroom, at the Department of the Public Service on Waterloo Street.
On August 14, the police reported the seizure of a twin-engine Beechcraft, which followed almost a month of reports of a foreign aircraft frequenting the Santa Fe, North Rupununi area. It was also reported that three men were seen fleeing the aircraft.
According to the police, a quantity of dry rations, medical supplies, men’s clothing and footwear, two hand-held radios, flashlights, cellular phones and an identification card were among the items found on the aircraft.
Reports reaching this newspaper indicated that the plane was linked to Riwa S.A Incorporacoes e Participacoes, a Brazilian company, on lease from Banco Bradesco. Banco Bradesco is one of the biggest banking and financial companies in Brazil.
Harmon was yesterday asked about reports that the persons who escaped had paid the police to assist them. In response, he said that the investigation is still ongoing. He said that it is better if the investigation is completed so that the information received can be properly analysed and given some weight as far as accuracy.
He said that he does not know about the ranks being paid but was told that there was some collusion between them and the persons who escaped from the plane.
Acting Commissioner of Police David Ramnarine said earlier this week that two passports and ID cards were found on the aircraft and they correspond with the identification of a Colombian and a Brazilian. “The two passports that were found relates to two persons (a Colombian and a Brazilian) because their IDs were also found there and it corresponds with what was in the passports,” he said.
The aircraft was subsequently flown to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, where it was handed over to the security forces.
Two local businessmen were held for questioning and were subsequently released on bail. One of the men, a contractor of Region Nine, was arrested on August 21 by ranks from the Lethem Police Station, while the other was taken into custody on August 24. Several pieces of heavy-duty equipment, including a front end loader belonging to the contractor, were also impounded. It is suspected that the equipment may have been used in the construction of the airstrip.
The men were flown out from Lethem on August 23 and were taken to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Eve Leary, in Georgetown, where they were questioned.
The discovery of the plane and illegal airstrip have triggered concerns about the present security arrangements in the interior regions, particularly the border locations.
Asked yesterday about government’s plans to effectively secure these locations, Harmon revealed that the establishment of a drone unit is being actively explored. “…Drone technology is basically the way the world is going right now and we will be utilising some commercial ones for certain limited use currently but we are exploring the harder type drones that can actually stay in the air for longer periods of time and that can give you more accurate readings,” he said, while adding that government anticipates that it is going to be part of the budgetary approach for 2018 for the Guyana Defence Force.
According to Harmon, “Clearly drones… allow you to cover greater ground which reduces the number of troops or personnel that you may have to use on the ground. It also gives coverage of areas that are inaccessible otherwise and so the use of drones …is something that we are actively considering and we have some proposals that were made to us.”
He also noted that companies have been coming forward and making proposals about the quality and type of drones that can be used. “And I can say to you that this is something that we are actively considering,” he further stressed.