The Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) was set up under the previous administration to fight against money laundering and drug trafficking. Those two crimes seem to go together. This initiative was to put Guyana in compliance with the international community. Other countries had set up similar organisations to fight those two serious crimes. The idea was to deny criminals any loophole in a country’s system.
Since the change of government in May 2015, the main purpose of SOCU has changed. The focus is no longer on money laundering and drug trafficking. It has become a political tool of the parties that compose the government, APNU/AFC. Its main purpose, from all its actions, is to harass the opposition PPP/C and officials in various government departments and agencies whom they want to remove. These are mainly Indian Guyanese. The organization has become the main instrument in the regime’s witch-hunting campaign.
All the cases that SOCU has investigated and is investigating are cases that normally should have been sent to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Guyana Police Force. None has anything to do with what SOCU has been established for, that is, money laundering. The CID is the place most competent with those.
Under the PPP/C administration, SOCU was a part of the Guyana Police Force (GPF). It was to take its instructions from the Commissioner of Police and financed through budget of the GPF.
All of that has changed.
In the National Assembly, Minister Harmon admitted during a questioning period that the Ministry of the Presidency finances SOCU operations. The old saying ‘he who pays the piper call the tune’ seems applicable here. It is clear that instructions to that body emanate from the Ministry of the Presidency and not the Commissioner of Police. Those directions are fundamentally political. The Constitutional body to fight all crimes has been completely side-lined.
Indeed, at one time the Commissioner of Police said clearly that he was unaware of SOCU’s actions. Later, that statement was changed, no doubt due to pressure from the Ministry of the Presidency.
It was also pellucid as to who were giving the instructions when the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said that SOCU must prepare cases based on facts and evidence. She complained that all they were doing were recommending that charges be laid.
That statement evoked a sharp reaction from no other than Minister Harmon himself. He strongly and publicly disagreed with what the DPP said and that the government noted her comments. That sounded like a threat.
SOCU has also been behaving above the law. In Court, they, through prosecutors, are refusing to give defence lawyers the forensic reports from which charges were made. Recently, a Magistrate had to summon the Head of SOCU to find out why that body was not providing those reports to the defence lawyers.
This is a great violation of the rights of the accused. It is a total departure from the long laid down procedures in all trials.
It is very interesting to also see who the prosecutors are. That tells another story, a story of nepotism, ‘jobs for the boys’.
One of the prosecutors is the sibling of a Minister of Government. Two of them have taken over the private legal office of the Attorney General, Mr. Basil Williams, and two others are lawyers who have taken over the legal office of Minister Harmon. Another was a candidate on the APNU list for the last elections.
In the National Assembly, Mr. Williams had admitted that his office was paying the special prosecutors. One hundred million dollars was budgeted for them. The way this regime spends money on jobs for the boys it is not unlikely that this sum can go up even further.
While this great misuse of power is taking place, leading to extravagance, some small and medium scale miners have been complaining about SOCU’s behaviour at another level. They are saying that SOCU officials are directed by a certain young aggressive gold trader to search and harass persons they want to harass, mainly his/her competitors. Money speaks.
It is also said that some SOCU officers have those ‘big boys’ paying for them to spend weekends at the Marriott Hotel, among other perks.
By transforming SOCU to perform the functions of the gendarme of the APNU/AFC, to harass its political opponents, this regime has created fertile ground for further abuse of power. It has already led to political harassment and violation of people’s constitutional rights.
The new ruling elite, in cahoots with some of their very rich friends, are using the state apparatus to destroy competitors and persons they want out of the government.
For them the Constitution is just a piece of paper that they throw in the waste basket.