It will not be long before the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) takes its first set of cases to court to recover stolen state assets, according to its Director Professor Clive Thomas, who is confident that the evidence gathered and the strong local and international legal support that is being given will ensure successful prosecutions.
Thomas told Sunday Stabroek that in the third quarter SARA would take six cases to court but he did not want to go into the details of the cases, only saying that they involve money, land and buildings, belonging to the state and in some instances involve multiple people.
“We are now working in collaboration with the Caribbean Institute of Forensic Accounting with support from international agencies to deliver within 90 days starting Monday [tomorrow]… the completion of the investigative cases that we have identified in preparation for them to go to court,” he told Sunday Stabroek during a recent interview.
“We are investigating and we are going to go to court certainly within the third quarter of this year,” he stressed, while noting that litigation is a certainty.
The State Assets Recovery Act, which was enacted last year, established SARA to combat unlawful conduct and corrupt practices in relation to property and other assets owned by the state, or in which the state has an interest. SARA is specifically mandated to recover state property or benefits obtained through unlawful conduct by public officials or other persons. This will be done through civil litigation.
While Thomas declined to identify or speak in detail about the six cases to be prepared for court, he did say that SARA has been only dealing with the cases that have been reported to the entity. He also pointed out that the entity’s statute mandates that it can only deal with matters involving a net monetary value of more than $10 million.
“Remember, we are a civil recovery agency, so we have had to focus on those cases that meet the criteria set by the law,” he said, while stressing that although SARA does not deal with criminal responsibility, if any evidence is found to suggest such “we have a responsibility to report it. That is why we cooperate with these agencies, including SOCU, they are part of our monthly cooperation.”
Thomas said that given all collaboration and assistance given to the entity, he believes it is prepared to successfully defend any case taken before the court.
Apart from three local attorneys, he noted that SARA has external help from persons who have dealt with asset recovery cases multiple times, including ones who can be considered the “best in the world.”
“Of course I don’t want to underemphasise the domestic legal talent that we have,” Thomas said, while informing that the entity has recruited a Guyanese who resides in England. He joined SARA at the beginning of February and according to Thomas, he will strengthen the local team. Additionally, he said that the agency has a legal advisor who is financed by the external support being given by international agencies and who assisted in drafting the State Assets Recovery Bill.
At least one law firm considered to be among the best in the world, Thomas said, has also expressed the willingness to offer support and to “come in and to help us to win the cases.” He added that a number of the six cases to be prepared involve money outside of Guyana and explained that it is in this regard that international legal assistance will be needed since SARA cannot operate internationally. He stressed that it is for this reason that SARA is also working closely with the Caribbean Institute of Forensic Accounting, which is a member of a national fraud agency.
The other cases, Thomas added, involve the theft of state assets in Georgetown and other geographical areas of the country.
“Some of the cases involve money, some buildings and some land. Some contain multiple investigations… that is why we have international help because you see some of the investigations will be very costly for us to do,” he said, while noting that local lawyers would not be able to do legal work outside of Guyana. Paying lawyers in those countries, he said will be costly, which SARA cannot afford.
Thomas explained that according to the law, part of the funding for the agency’s operations is to be financed by recoveries but in the absence of this it has to make do with the budgetary allocation for 2018.
“We have a budget for this year. We have to work with that and we have international support, [so] it is very important the help that we are getting,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Thomas indicated that if SARA were not confidence of success in the court, it would make no attempt to take cases there.
“I wouldn’t take a case to court which I feel was not ready for court. That is what I am confident of. I think they [the six cases] are ready for court,” he said.
This newspaper was previously told that SARA will be looking at the theft of state assets during the PPP/C’s reign as well as under the present administration.
Asked about investigations done after the change in government in 2015, Thomas said that none is being done as no reports were made to the agency.
“Nobody has reported any case to us but we are open to any reports. People have found ways to report [to us]. Because we have so many cases, most of the people will write us and indicate that they have evidence. They have to provide the evidence to us, we have to research it and establish that the evidence has a foundation, [that] it can be taken to court as genuine evidence. We don’t encourage people to be frivolous or vindictive against others, so we have to shift all of that through,” he said.
Thomas noted that SARA at the start of the year has worked out a memorandum to guide the decision-making process.
SARA, which was once housed within the Ministry of the Presidency compound, is now located at 55 ‘A’ Main and New Market streets, where it has been based since December 1st, 2017. Following the passage of the SARA Bill, the Agency’s priority was the rental of a building to house its operations, thereby cementing its independence and the filling of 23 vacancies that were advertised.
Anyone desirous of lodging a report with the agency can visit its offices or call telephone number 227-7017 during business hours or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.