Breaking his silence after the United Kingdom recently terminated his contract, former Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) adviser Dr. Sam Sittlington yesterday said that the disclosure that he registered a private business here was perfectly timed to divert attention away from the controversy surrounding former forensic analyst Sheronie James and the problems at the unit.
“The very fact that an article appeared about me on the same day as Miss James’ article and resignation was to deflect the media away from her towards me and that worked because the public don’t know the bigger story around her qualification and the false CV… but they see me as an adviser and that’s a more prominent story,” Sittlington told Stabroek News, while insisting that he never imagined that setting up a branch of his company here would be so problematic.
He was adamant that there was no conflict of interest on his part and said that he plans to take legal action against the UK government with regards to the abrupt termination of his contract.
The UK, which first contracted Sittlington in 2016 to work with SOCU, terminated his contract with immediate effect on January 31st following a report in this newspaper that he had registered a local branch of his company.
According to documents seen by this newspaper, the Fraud Company (Guyana) Inc was incorporated under the Companies Act of Guyana on September 25th, 2018. Sittlington, a native of Northern Ireland, is listed as the Director, while the Secretary is Orisa Branche. Sittlington and Branche – whose occupation is listed as Manager – on August 26th, 2018, signed consent forms to act in the respective positions.
Sittlington, a former police investigator, had been working continuously with the unit to strengthen its operational capacity, with a view to increasing the effectiveness of the country’s ability to tackle money laundering, terrorist financing and other serious crimes.
James resigned amidst mounting questions about her professional qualifications. The woman, who is said to be a UK national, was not deemed an expert by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan upon the completion of a voir dire in the trial of eight members of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) Board of Directors. An Associa-tion of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification was needed for her to be deemed an expert.
After James’ resignation, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan disclosed that two persons, both holders of the ACCA qualifications, were hired, ensuring that James’ exit was not detrimental to the cases she handled.
“I was very well received by investigators at SOCU… I was not well received by the head of SOCU because of what I knew, what I had the potential to do and there are other reasons now for that deflection and that relates to the resignation of Ms. James,” Sittlington told Stabroek News, when asked if he felt he was being used as a “scapegoat.” He said that because of everything that transpired leading to his termination, he could no longer stay silent. “To be highlighted in Google Search in a negative way is not good for my particular business and I have to try and explain the bigger picture here and not just [that] this was because of setting up a company. This is much bigger, much more than that and its just upsetting,” he said.
He recalled that he received a call from the British High Commission on January 31st – the day the Stabroek News article appeared – to attend a meeting with the Deputy High Commissioner; High Commissioner Greg Quinn was abroad at the time.
Sittlington said while he was not told what the meeting was about, he was aware of the Stabroek News report but he did not get a chance to read it through prior to the meeting.
He declined to say what transpired at that meeting. “All I can say is that I think it [the termination] was dealt with very badly and I have taken legal advice. This matter will be proceeded with in the UK courts or UK tribunal at a later date when I return home,” he said. He is scheduled to return to the UK later this month.
He said that he received an email from his employer, Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas Ltd (NI-CO) which is located in Belfast, stating that following discussions with the High Commission, his contract was terminated with immediate effect. His contract was due to expire in March 2020.
According to Sittlington, prior to the termination, he was not given an opportunity to defend himself or to exercise any available option in an effort to reach an amicable solution.
“There was no structured communication or effort of informing me of my rights even to resign or the actual reasons for my termination other than the British High Commission had received information and I am supposing they are referring to the article. So in essence they are believing the newspaper before they believe me. I have never been able to defend myself in the press in Guyana because of the role that I played with SOCU…I have never discussed anything about investigations even in media conversations and that is the way I kept it and up until now I just felt gagged in relation to my termination and I thought that now is the time for me to tell my side of the story,” he said, while fighting back tears.
He added that what has transpired has “far reaching effects” for his business, integrity and family.
‘Company wasn’t active’
Explaining how he came to register the company here, Sittlington said that he decided to set up a branch here to make it easier to pay bills and for future work here.
“When I work here for six weeks, I go home and I still operate from my company in the UK. So I am only here six weeks at a time [and] I have other work in various projects around the world which I do when I am there [in the UK],” he said.
Sittlington said that given this situation, he decided that he would register a company here with a similar name to the one in the UK. “The purpose of that was for future events here, maybe future investigations or training in a private capacity for banks or individuals who have miscarriages of justice or some fraud related matter or some of the other institutions that need some sort of training which is what I do with my company in the UK. Also, the company was to facilitate payments for my current work in Guyana so that I can pay my bills here, rather than trying to transfer funds,” he said.
Further, he explained that he did not even set up a bank account for the company and “had actually forgotten about the company because I was so busy with SOCU’s work…The company wasn’t active and it wasn’t intended to be active at any time during the course of my contract with SOCU.”
Sittlington stressed that there was a confidentiality clause in his SOCU contract that any information he received from work there would remain there. He indicated that in any event it would be difficult to utilise SOCU’s information since the entity does not have electronic data. “Everything is retained… in a physical form. They have hundreds of investigations and the idea that I could use that information for private enterprise could never happen because I would never, as a private individual, be involved in investigations at that scope …so that could never overlap in any business that I do,” he said.
He stressed that the company that was set up in Guyana “is lying dormant, sitting on the shelf as they say and was never used….”
Asked if he had sought legal advice before setting up the company, he responded, “No, because I already have an active company. So, if they are saying it is a conflict of interest in Guyana having a company, would it not be a conflict of interest having a company in the UK?”
He further noted that it was a SOCU official who advised him how to go about registering the company and he even allowed him to use his address as the registered address for the company.
Sittlington stressed, “I am a professional. I have my integrity. I actually teach anti-corruption [so] I know how things work and I know how things look but I didn’t actually think there was anything wrong with what I did because I knew the company wasn’t active and to be perceived as something is not actual. So it would have been different if I [were] operating the company and taking on cases and I have to point out that I was asked to do a private investigation in Guyana last year from an individual and I said to that person that I cannot do it because it would be a conflict of interest and I passed that investigation to an individual in the UK who did it…So that shows that I do take my role seriously and that I would not put myself in a position where information or intelligence will be used for any other practice.”
He added, “It’s is only a conflict of interest if I am actually doing something and I wasn’t and my integrity in terms of my contact would not allow me to do that and I would never put myself in that position.”
He insisted that the company was only establish to facilitate the payment of bills and in the future to be a benefit to Guyana.
In retrospect, he said opening a bank account may have been a better option. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if I thought setting up the company would interfere in any way with what I was doing at SOCU I never would have done it. I never would have even entered that ’cause that is not the way I work,” he noted.
Since his termination, he said that he has had lots of offers from various enterprises of work and he wants to make an informed assessment of what is available before deciding on the way forward. He indicated too that Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has been very supportive and wants him to remain in Guyana. “I have reservations [about] returning to SOCU in its current form…but I would not rule out in the future some role in advising on investigations again in that capacity,” he said, before adding that such a consultancy would have to be done through government.
Asked if the company will remain on the books, he said after the January 31st meeting he was contemplating scrapping it. “I said if it’s so damning and it is not operating, I’ll strike it out and I was going to do that but then I thought it’s no harm,” he added.
He added that he has been inundated with calls from people who want his services and is mulling the idea of employing people here through the company. “Guyana is going to always need training on money laundering, fraud and corruption. It doesn’t matter from what quarter it comes from, whether it is a private individual or from a government entity. There are lots of frauds in Guyana, where people have been deceived out of funds and I want to help people. That’s what I do in the UK…private investigation. I want to do it here in the future and help people because there doesn’t seem to be that outlet here,” he said.
According to Sittlington, he was invited to participate in an international conference but because of the newspaper article, the invite was withdrawn.