More than a dozen completed SOCU probe files with police advisor

The Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), over the last few weeks, has forwarded more than a dozen files, including one on Pradoville 2, to police legal advisor, retired judge Claudette Singh but to date none have been returned.

Sunday Stabroek was reliably informed that the unit sent at least 15 files to Singh with recommendations for charges. It was explained that once an investigation is complete, the unit will put a file together and send it along, with recommendations for charges, to Singh for her to examine. Singh, after looking at the evidence gathered, can make recommendations of her own following which the file is sent to the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The DPP is the only legal authority in Guyana that can advise the police to lay charges against someone. As such with regard to the matters investigated by SOCU, the DPP’s Chambers has the final say.

SOCU was set up in 2014 by the previous administration as part of the requirements for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism legislation. SOCU has its own staff including investigators. Its head is Sydney James an army intelligence officer who was given an Assistant Commissioner rank.

In February, James had told Stabroek News that investigators were looking at many matters including 18 audit reports. The government, shortly after taking office, had ordered audits of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), the Guyana Marketing Corporation, Cricket World Cup, the Sparendaam Housing Project also called Pradoville 2, the Guyana Rice Development Board, Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL), Mahaica Mahaicony Abary-Agriculture Development Authority, Guyana Office for Investment, the Hydrometeorological Office, the National Communications Network (NCN), the Marriott Hotel, the Guyana Energy Agency, GuyOil, the Guyana Gold Board, the National Frequency Management Unit, the One Laptop Per Family project, the E-Governance Project and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. Once the audits were completed and the final reports were submitted to government, the documents were forwarded to SOCU for a criminal probe to be conducted.

James had told Stabroek News that looking at these reports was no easy task since they have resulted over in over 100 smaller investigations.

In attempting to further explain the complexity of the audit investigations, James had said that there were about 86 separate investigations arising out of the NICIL audit and 45 out of the GRDB audit. He explained that the challenge with these matters is that “people might think that if I say NICIL, it is one matter… [but] it has several investigations inside.”

The Pradoville 2 investigation has generated a lot of public interest since the audit revealed that lands were sold way below market prices to a selected few. Those who benefited from the arrangement, which was handled personally by then housing minister Irfaan Ali included former president Bharrat Jagdeo, his cabinet and close affiliates including DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack and former army chief Gary Best.

Jagdeo; former head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon; former natural resources minister Robert Persaud; Lisaveta Ramotar, who is the General Manager of the Guyana Gold Board and daughter of former president Donald Ramotar; Ramesh Dookhoo, former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission; and Dr Ghansham Singh, who were all beneficiaries of house lots in the scheme, were arrested and questioned before being released without charge on March 7. That same day Marcia Nadir-Sharma, former Deputy Director of state holding company NICIL, was also questioned.

The following day, seven others—former prime minister Samuel Hinds, Ali, former home affairs minister Clement Rohee, former education minister Priya Manickchand, former chief executive officer of the Guyana Water Incorporated Shaik Baksh, former labour minister Nanda Gopaul and former public service minister Dr Jennifer Westford—were questioned by SOCU. Subsequently, former presidential press officer Kwame McCoy; former head of the Office for Climate Change Andrew Bishop; Ali-Hack and her husband, Moeen ul-Hack and Best were questioned.

Two weeks ago it was revealed that the file was sent by the unit to Singh with recommendations that a number of those under investigation be charged.

A special investigation of the Sparendaam Housing Project, which was part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) was conducted by accounting firm Ram and McRae.

The investigation revealed that the allocation of the land was a clandestine arrangement that was handled personally by Ali and it was concluded that a criminal case for misfeasance can be made against the PPP/C cabinet members who benefited.

The forensic audit, found that awardees grossly underpaid for the lots by a total of nearly $250 million, while the state-owned NICIL, NCN and GPL were never reimbursed for millions spent to execute preparatory works.

“Our examination leads to the conclusion that the project was done outside of the established procedures and that Minister Ally [sic] piloted every aspect of the transaction without recourse to the Authority. While the minister has considerable powers under the Housing Act, his role in the issue of titles was well outside of his functions and powers,” the final report, which was seen by Stabroek News, said.

The report added that the awardees made payments to the CH&PA but these were significantly lower than the market value. “No files were maintained by CHPA for any of the plots allocated by a process that can be described as lacking transparency at best,” it further said.

Jagdeo at a June 9 press conference had said that the continuous pursuit of this particular matter was nothing but vindictiveness. He made it clear that the setting of prices for the lands bought, among other issues, will be ventilated in and determined by the court.

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