High Court Judge Gino Persaud last Thursday issued an order directing the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to release a Beechcraft airplane it had seized from gold miner Jerome Parkes, as part of a money laundering probe.
This decision came almost a month after Parkes, who has gold mining operations in Guyana and Venezuela, filed an application in the High Court using the recently enforced Judicial Review Act. SOCU took possession of the aircraft on August 23rd at the Eugene F. Correia international Airport at Ogle.
Parkes was listed as the applicant in the action, while the respondents are the Head of SOCU, the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General of Guyana.
The matter was filed on September 18th while the Affidavit in Support thereof and the Affidavit in Defence were filed on September 26th. Submissions were filed on behalf of both parties on October 1.
In delivering his ruling, Justice Persaud instructed that an Order or Writ of Certiorari be directed to SOCU Head Sydney James quashing his decision or act to detain the aircraft and causing to be enforced measures to prohibit the businessman or the aircraft from leaving the jurisdiction.
The judge also granted an Order or Writ of Mandamus directed to the Commissioner of Police, the Head of SOCU and any other relevant authority 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.
Additionally, a total of $150,000 is to be paid by the respondents.
Parkes, in his application to the court, had challenged SOCU’s decision, which he said was 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.
The businessman, who hails from Charity, Essequibo Coast, requested that his aircraft be immediately released along with all his documents. He also sought damages in excess of $500,000.
Parkes, in his Affidavit, said that the plane, which he acquired in April of this year, would fly domestically within Venezuela and internationally to the Ogle airport, and was vital to his substantial gold mining operations here and in neighbouring Venezuela, where the craft was purchased and registered.
Further, he said that the plane was important to the transport of much needed food for his 40 employees and with vital spare parts for the functioning of his gold mining operations in Venezuela.
“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 had travelled to Guyana from Venezuela on an almost weekly basis to ferry lubricants, spare parts and food, all of which were no longer available in Venezuela, to ensure that his gold mining operations can continue.
He had argued in his affidavit that there was no evidence on which James or any other law enforcement agency could reasonably infer that his aircraft was used in the commission of a criminal offence, was it the proceed of criminal activity or that it was an asset liable to be detained or forfeited.
The applicant said that the detention was disproportionate to the April, 2017 alleged money laundering offence, especially since he was not even in the Guyana at the time of the alleged commission of the offence nor did he own the aircraft in 2017.
The gold miner informed that on each occasion he has landed here, all the relevant paperwork had been supplied.
He also pointed out that no SOCU officer ever informed him of who will pay for the storage and other costs, damages and losses associated with his aircraft’s detention.
Parkes was represented by attorney Glenn Hanoman and Everton Singh-Lammy, while Leslyn Noble was the attorney on record for the respondents.
Stabroek News was informed yesterday that following the release of the aircraft, Parkes left Guyana for Venezuela.