Returning consultant to Guyana’s Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) Dr. Sam Sittlington says that while some persons may want to discredit or politicise his work, he should be judged on his performance.
“I rely on the confidence of the public to see through any undermining of me. I have a track record; it speaks for itself,” Sittlington, the Financial Investigations Mentor/ Advisor to SOCU, told reporters yesterday.
“When someone is convicted and sent to prison, the first thing they tell the prison guard is ‘I didn’t do it.’ The evidence at the end of the day will speak for itself. Criticisms against me, for me… it is water off a duck’s back,” he added.
Sittlington has returned to Guyana on a two-year contract after already working here in 2016 for five weeks and for nine weeks in 2017. The two-year stint would see him working in six-week intervals as SOCU’s Financial Investigations Mentor/ Advisor.
His role at SOCU has been questioned by the opposition following the arrests and questioning last year of former president and current Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and several PPP/C former ministers of government and officials. No charges have followed.
A farewell event, held at the Oasis Café two days before Sittlington’s departure for his home country of Ireland, irked the opposition, which questioned his closeness with SOCU’s members and suggested that he was celebrating the arrests. His scope of works and level of influence at the agency were also questioned, with former attorney-general Anil Nandlall saying that it seemed that he exceeded his official remit and “trespassed into operational matters at SOCU.”
Addressing the Oasis gathering yesterday, Sittlington said he was near the end of his time in Guyana and wanted to show his appreciation to the people he had worked with. “And I paid for myself… for some drinks and some food. I was away two days after that and anyone can make what they want of that,” he said.
Addressing the claim of direct interference in operational matters, he stressed that his Terms of Reference (ToR) were public and that “from a distance” he assessed the day-to-day operations of the agency.
He said that given that he was in a direct evaluative role, he would sometimes be required to see firsthand how operations were undertaken so as to assess them. “I hope I do have influence because I have been doing this a long time. I have got 30 years’ experience, I have over 20 years’ experience in investigating money laundering, I have educated myself in terms of my academic ability in money laundering, ethics and law and I am here to advise based on that experience. If I am making a difference, I am very happy because there is another trail of money, another trail of evidence in relation to cases and Pradoville is no different. You follow the evidence and it is up to the decision-makers, DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions], PLA [Police Legal Adviser] to decide whether there is prosecution or not. That is out of my control. I only advise or give guidance as to how I would do it if I was in the UK,” he said.
“I do regard the people in SOCU as my friends. I have to have a close working relationship with them. I am with them daily watching what they do. If they need some training, I go and I say, ‘Let’s go up to the office, I want to show you something.’ I tell them, ‘You know when you are doing a search you have to look at everything. You can’t go past a box of documents and leave it…’ I want to make a difference because making a difference it is good for Guyana and business. I am not the rule of law king here. The law is the rule of law and that decides who goes to court and then up to judges to decide who is prosecuted or not. That is beyond me. I am in a very low position here and if I make a difference I am happy,” he added.
Asked what he believed can be done to avoid his role being politicised as the opposition may continue to discredit his work and functions here, which in the eyes of the public may have an adverse effect, Sittlington said that he relies solely on the public’s common sense in deciphering truth from lies.
Echoing his views was UK High Commissioner Gregory Quinn, who noted that Sittlington was employed by the UK government following a rigid assessment and interview.
Quinn said that all of Guyana needs to be interested in ensuring that this country meets Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) requirements, lest it be sidelined by other countries.
“It is up to the politicians to criticise what Sam is doing or what we are doing here. The [ToR] are very clear as to what he will be doing, and there is nothing in there that will justify claims of his interference or directions or whatever. As Sam says, [action] ultimately will not be taken by him but by the rule of law, by the process of law here. The people would have to decide for themselves… what they think Sam is doing and why. The politicians will have to decide what they think Sam is doing and why,” Quinn said.
“All we can say: He is here to provide advice, guidance and mentoring to a fundamental part of Guyana’s ability to meet anti-laundering and the countering of financing of terrorism activity and everything he is doing is based on addressing that concern and that issue, which is something everybody should be interested in. Because if Guyana is not seen to be addressing AML/CFT, that has potential, significant broader impact to Guyana’s standing, globally, not just in the financial market but also as to how other countries see Guyana,” he added.
According to Sittlington’s ToR, he is expected to undertake his work in coordination with the Director of SOCU but will be responsible for delivering the requirements to mentor the Head of SOCU during the two-year period.
He is expected to carry out a detailed review of all current investigations being carried out by SOCU, give advice and guidance on each case, including recommendations as to lines of enquiry to be followed.
According to the ToR, he will also give advice/guidance/assistance in relation to liaising with other agencies (both external and internal) in order to push SOCU investigations; practical advice and guidance to the Director of Public Prosecutions/ Attorney General lawyers on proceeds of crime matters, both in general and with respect to specific cases; liaise with the judiciary (including magistrates) in respect of the progress of money laundering and asset recovery cases; and conduct meetings, workshops research and discussions with key stakeholder agencies to assess and evaluate impact of economic crime.
Further, he is expected to “Conduct training needs analysis of SOCU and partner agencies and address gaps in operational requirement through training; review previous recommendations and their implementation/or not; reassess, modify through discussion with partner agencies; review impact of new State Asset Recovery Bill on SOCU investigations through discussions and meetings with the SARA; submit reports after the close of each mission period on the progress made during the mission and recommendations for future training and technical support; and act as a liaison/ coordination point with the Regional Security System based in Barbados.”
Sittlington will be required to provide reporting in four phases; at the initiation of his work, quarterly, annually and upon completion.
The inception report will include a review of the current status of the SOCU, detailing the necessary training requirements for the officers, a review of the structure and resourcing of SOCU, inclusive of personnel and equipment, and a work plan (agreed with the Head of SOCU) setting out the short-term and medium-term goals for the unit to enable it to best focus its efforts. The quarterly report will detail activity over the reporting period and must be submitted for review to the UK National Crime Agency and the British High Commission. The annual report will also be required to provide an end of financial year review to the UK National Crime Agency and the British High Commission, which will give an overview of activity during the year and highlight any problems or concerns.
The UK government believes that upon completion of his work, SOCU should be better equipped to investigate cases under AML/CFT legislation.