Lethem men charged with illegal airstrip conspiracy

Two men were yesterday remanded to prison after they were read a conspiracy charge for allegedly helping to build the recently discovered illegal airstrip in the North Rupununi, for the landing of an aircraft suspected to have been used to traffic drugs and guns.

Wasim King, 37, of 222 Kumaka Drive, Lethem, and Nathan Hamilton, 21, of 107 Beverly Hills, Drive, Lethem, were read a joint charge when they appeared before Magistrate Judy Latchman in Georgetown.

The charge stated that King and Hamilton, between August 10 and August 13, in the North Rupununi, conspired with Hutashan Ram Singh, also known as Seon Singh, to facilitate the illegal landing of an aircraft, suspected to be involved in the trafficking of narcotics and firearms in an unauthorised port of entry.

Neither of the accused, who are both drivers, was required to enter a plea to the indictable charge.

Singh is one of the two businessmen who were previously arrested by police and then released on station bail. He is wanted for further questioning but has since gone into hiding.

The twin-engine Beechcraft that was found on the illegal airstrip in the North Rupununi on August 13.

Acting Commissioner of Police David Ramnarine yesterday said that although six persons, including a woman, were arrested as part of the investigation into the discovery of the airstrip and an illegal twin-engine Beechcraft on August 13, they were only advised to charge King and Hamilton. The others were released on station bail.

Attorney Michael Somersall, who appeared on behalf of King, requested that his client be granted reasonable bail. Somersall stated that his client was hired by Singh to build a road and was just a worker. He further told the court that his client has been cooperating with the police and had given them all the information that he had.

Hamilton’s attorney, Jerome Khan, also said that his client, who works as a Bobcat operator, was hired by Singh as a worker and had no knowledge that an illegal airstrip was being constructed. Khan also requested that his client be granted reasonable bail.

However, Police Prosecutor Vishnu Hunt objected to either man being released on bail.

Hunt noted that the men gave statements implicating themselves in the crime, by stating that they had knowledge that they were participating in the building of an illegal airstrip.

Hunt added that since a Preliminary Inquiry has to be conducted into the charge, he feared that if the two men are granted bail they may not return.

Subsequently, King and Hamilton were remanded to prison until September 18, when they will appear before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan.

A Region Nine contractor, believed to be Singh, had been arrested on August 21, while the other businessman 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.

Reported collusion between police ranks and the persons who escaped from the aircraft shortly after it landed on the illegal airstrip has also been brought to the attention of the authorities.

When asked if any disciplinary action is being taken in respect to any police rank in relation to the investigations, Ramnarine yesterday said that the investigation had a particular focus.

“That focus has received legal advice. I have not yet seen the file; that is, the detailed document. As soon as we receive it, we are going to look at it because we believe that there may be some further actions that need to be taken,” he added, without going into details.

The Guyana Police Force had said that the discovery of the plane had followed almost a month of reports of a foreign aircraft frequenting the North Rupununi area.

Sources had told this newspaper that the plane, bearing registration PR-IMG, was linked to Riwa S.A Incorporacoes, Investimentos e Participacoes, a Brazilian company which had leased it from Banco Bradesco, one of Brazil’s  largest banking companies.

It was suspected that two foreign nationals, a Colombian and a Brazilian, were connected to the find based on the discovery of two passports and corresponding ID cards on the aircraft. According to the police, a quantity of dry rations, medical supplies, men’s clothing and footwear, two hand-held radios, flashlights, and cellular phones were among the items found on the aircraft.

Following the discovery of the airstrip and aircraft, President David Granger visited the region and called for cooperation by all to see the security of Region Nine as a priority in light of the threat posed by transnational criminal syndicates.

“We have, collectively, to do everything possible to protect our Guyanese way of life… These criminal syndicates are rich enough to corrupt public officials, rich enough to get young, impressionable people to get involved in criminal activities. I see our borders, therefore, as the first line of defence against transnational crime. If our borders are not secure we could become a lawless state in which people bring huge criminal syndicates into our country and actually resist the law enforcement authorities,” Granger was quoted as saying by the Ministry of the Presidency at a community meeting in Lethem, Region Nine, where he spoke to security forces and other stakeholders.

“Drug gangs will come into our country; illegal migrants will come into our country. These elements are not friendly to us. They will jeopardise the safety of your own women and children and of your own communities. They will bring guns, violence and drugs into our society, they will change our way of life and that is why border security is so important to protect our way of life,” he added.

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