Gold miner asks court to order SOCU to release plane

Gold miner Jerome Parkes has moved to the High Court to challenge the decision of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to detain his Beechcraft plane, which he said is vital to his operations in Venezuela.

In an application filed on Thursday, using the recently enforced Judicial Review Act, his attorney Everton Singh-Lammy sought an Order or Writ of Certiorari directed to SOCU Head Sydney James to quash his decision or act to detain the aircraft as well as the measures enforced to prohibit him or the aircraft from leaving the jurisdiction, saying the actions are in excess of jurisdiction, a breach of the principles of natural justice, unreasonable, irregular, an abuse of power and made in the absence of evidence upon which a finding of fact could reasonably be based.

He also wants the court to grant an Order or Writ of Mandamus directed to the Commissioner of Police, the Head of SOCU and any other relevant authority in relation to this matter compelling them to immediately order the release of the aircraft and all the documents pertaining to the aircraft, to immediately remove the wheel locks placed on the aircraft and to not prevent it from leaving the jurisdiction.

The businessman, who hails from Charity, Essequibo Coast, is also seeking damages in excess of $500,000 along with whatever costs and other appropriate orders that the court deems fit in the circumstances.

Parkes is listed as the applicant, while the respondents are the Head of SOCU, the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General of Guyana.

The matter was heard yesterday by Justice Gino Persaud and the respondents were given a timeframe within which they must file their Affidavit in Defence.

It is being argued that there is an “absence of evidence” on which the SOCU Head or any other law enforcement agency could reasonably infer that the aircraft was used in the commission of a criminal offence, that it is the proceed of criminal activity or that it is an asset liable to be detained or forfeited.

The aircraft was detained at the Eugene F. Correia Inter-national Airport, Ogle on August 23rd as part of a money laundering investigation.

It is also being argued that having been provided with all relevant documentation pertaining to the legitimate registration and use of the aircraft, the SOCU head is acting in excess of the jurisdiction to detain an aircraft, which was purchased in Venezuela.

Further it is being contended that though no formal reason has been given to the Applicant for the detention of the aircraft, “an allegation in reference to an investigation of an incident in April, 2017 was the only allegation put to the Applicant; this being the case, the current detention is disproportionate to the April, 2017 alleged money laundering offence especially since the Applicant was not even in the jurisdiction at the time of the alleged commission of the offence nor did the Applicant own the aircraft in 2017.”

‘Nothing of evidential value’

In his affidavit, Parkes explained that he is the owner of substantial gold mining operations in Guyana and Venezuela and he informed that he became the owner of the six-seater aircraft in April this year. The aircraft, he said, is registered in Venezuela and he would use it to fly domestically within Venezuela and internationally to the airport located at Ogle.

He explained that on August 22nd, having provided all necessary documents to the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority and other relevant authorities, he was granted permission and departed from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, with his relatives.

He said on arriving at Ogle, officials from the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), as is customary, “thoroughly” search-ed his aircraft as well as the personal belongs of all the passengers, who were then permitted to leave.

According to the businessman, the following day he was informed that SOCU was interested in conducting their own search of the aircraft and interviewing him. As a result, he contacted his attorney and immediately proceeded to Ogle, where he met SOCU officers and members of the Police Crime Laboratory. The officials, he said, conducted another search of the aircraft in his presence.

Despite being told that “nothing of evidential value was found,” he was arrested and taken to SOCU’s headquarters, where he was informed that he was being investigated for a money laundering offence which allegedly took place in April, 2017.

Parkes made it clear that he was not in Guyana during that period, and that his passport is proof of this.

He said that he provided the investigators with comprehensive documentation relating to the aircraft, the flight, his personal documents and all tax returns and gold declarations dating back in excess of ten years.

According to the businessman, he was released on August 26th. He was then instructed to return the following day. When he did so, he said he was told to return on September 3rd and thereafter on September 5th.

Parkes said that during his several interactions with the SOCU officers, he was never questioned or interviewed about the original allegation nor was he informed of any court order pertaining to the detention of his aircraft.

He said that on September 5th, he enquired about the plane and was informed by the airport’s Chief Security Officer George Vyphuis that James had instructed that no one was permitted access to it and that SOCU had caused physical wheel locks to be placed on the back wheels.

He charged that the aircraft is presently being detained in an open environment on an apron of the airport, as opposed to a proper hanger and he is “fearful that constant exposure to the elements and the salt air will cause damage and deterioration.”

Further, he said that had it not been detained, he would have returned to Venezuela on August 24th with much needed food for his 40 employees and with vital spare parts for the functioning of his gold mining operations there. “As a result of the aircraft’s detention, I have been forced to cease operations in Venezuela,” he said, while adding that it is logistically impractical and expensive for him, as a result of an absence of direct transportation links between Guyana and Venezuela, to travel and transport goods other than by private plane.

He explained that since purchasing the plane, he has travelled to Guyana from Venezuela on an almost weekly basis to ferry lubricants, spare parts and food, all of which are no longer available in Venezuela, to ensure that his gold mining operations can continue.

He informed that on each occasion he has landed here, all the relevant paperwork has been supplied. He also pointed out that no SOCU officer has informed who will pay for the storage and other costs, damages and losses associated with his aircraft’s detention and he fears that “the prolonged detention will result in my financial ruin.”

Parkes stressed that to date, in spite of his enquiries, no one at SOCU has been able to explain the legal and/or evidential basis for the detention of the aircraft.  

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