SOCU head denies permitting Sittlington to use home address to register business

-former adviser says concerns over mismanagement were ignored

Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) Sydney James yesterday said he has sought legal advice after denying that he gave permission to sacked adviser Dr. Sam Sittlington to use his Lamaha Springs address for the registration of a local branch of his company.

When contacted by Sunday Stabroek yesterday, James was adamant that he didn’t know where Sittlington got his address from.

According to documents seen by this newspaper late last month, Sittlington incorporated the Fraud Company (Guyana) Inc under the Companies Act of Guyana on September 25th, 2018. Sittlington, a native of Northern Ireland, is listed as the Director, while Orisa Branche is listed as the Secretary. Sittlington and Branche – whose occupation is listed as Manager – on August 26th, 2018, signed consent forms to act in the respective positions. The address of the company’s registered office is Lot 28 George Avenue, Lamaha Springs. Sittlington also used it as his home address.

During an interview last week, Sittlington said it was while having a conversation with James that the idea of setting up a company here materialised. He said James advised him how to set up the company and allowed him to use his address.

Responding to questions from this newspaper, Sittlington said he assumed that the SOCU head was just being helpful. He said that he never sought legal advice prior to registering the company as he felt comfortable with the advice he was given because of James’ knowledge in this area.

Asked if he was comfortable having his office at James’ home, he said that it was only to be used for the registration of the company and that it could be changed at any time. He explained that an address was necessary and that once the business was registered the address could be changed.

In response, James told Sunday Stabroek that Sittlington can say all that he wants to say. He added that he has consulted a lawyer and that is all that he would say at this point.

Sittlington recently broke his silence after the United Kingdom terminated his contract following the publication of an article in this newspaper about the registration of the company. Sittlington remains adamant that there was no conflict of interest on his part and he is planning to take legal action against the UK government with regards to the abrupt termination of his contract.

During an interview with this newspaper last week, he spoke of tensions between himself and James and claimed that he had picked up discrepancies in the management of SOCU’s office.

According to Sittlington, tensions rose between him and James late last year when he began to question the spending of funds set aside for the operation of the unit and requested “certain information.”

He said that from his observations, items such as printers, ink, paper and toiletries, which are essential to the smooth functioning of the office and the comfort of those who work there, were not available. Additionally, he said investigators were not being given credit for their phones and there was no internet available.

He said he managed to procure a printer for the office but added that for three months there was no ink before he eventually managed to the get the required funds from the British High Commission to purchase it.

According to him, investigators on numerous occasions raised concerns with him about the operational funds.

SOCU staff recently shared similar observations with this newspaper. One example that was cited was that of the janitor cleaning with plain water as no cleaning detergent was available for several weeks. They believe there is need for an audit of SOCU’s accounts.

Sittlington also told this newspaper that he also had concerns regarding the process used to keep seized cash. He said that he was assured that the seized cash was being deposited into the Police Force’s finance account but he learnt that this was not the case.

SOCU officials told this newspaper that in violation of anti-money laundering laws, the seized cash is being kept at the unit and in some cases at the Guyana Police Force’s Finance Department. It was explained that the money ought to be in an interest bearing account. The staff said concerns over the state of affairs were raised on numerous occasions but nothing was done.

Sittlington himself said late last year he raised the issue with a senior police officer who promised to take action but nothing was done.

‘No forensic skills or qualifications’

SOCU’s work has come under even more public scrutiny recently in wake of the resignation of Sheronie James, who was serving as a forensic analyst, following questions about her qualifications.

Sittlington recalled first meeting Sheronie James in 2017 when she was being interviewed by the SOCU head at the unit’s Camp Street office. He said that she was appointed a few weeks before he left Guyana and when he returned a year later she was still there.

He said though she was isolated herself from the team and did her work on her own, he wasn’t suspicious because she was appointed with the approval of the Ministry of Public Security. “So I assumed they did their vetting on her and that she had the qualifications. I had no reason at that time not to question her integrity,” he said.

He became concerned when she attempted to put herself over as an expert witness in a court case. He said while he was not in court, he later read the magistrate’s reports, which criticised her, and concluded that she could not be deemed a witness because she was not qualified.

In July last year, 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, ruled that James could not be deemed an expert in the field of forensic analysis as she did not have the academic qualifications.

According to Sittlington, the qualification she required to be a forensic analysis was ACCA, a chartered accountant qualification. “So I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t mentioned—that she didn’t have any forensic skills or qualifications,” he said, before adding that subsequently the ministry asked him about James’ qualifications and said he suggested that her Curriculum Vitae (CV) be examined.

“So, I think her downfall has been because she could not produce the chartered accountant qualifications that were on her CV and …the other qualification she said she had relating to financial management. That means it’s a false CV being used for employment for a position which retains a very high salary…,” he said, before adding that after being told that she would be summarily dismissed, she opted to resign.

Following her resignation, Sheronnie James, who was made a Special Superintendent, issued a press statement in which she insisted that her qualifications, awarded by recognised UK universities, “meet and exceed the requirements” for the work she was undertaking at SOCU. She said that both Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and the head of SOCU had seen original evidence of her academic qualifications before her offer to resign and she had no qualms about their authenticity being verified.

James said that her resignation from SOCU was a carefully considered decision and not related to her refusal to present her academic qualifications as has been alleged. She added that her decision to resign was done to avoid compromising her “commitments to obligations of Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure.”

‘Outside of my control’

Asked to respond to those who may say that he sat on the problems and is only speaking out now because his services have been terminated, he responded, “I thought that with me being there and me being closely tied to investigators that I could control that [the problems]. What I didn’t see was outside of my control but I did raise my concerns with particular people… people were aware of the circumstances at SOCU.”

Asked if he is disappointed at the inaction that met his complaints, he said, “I am more than disappointed. I really don’t understand how things could be left alone and no action taken. I really don’t understand that. I am suspicious of it and I can say no more than that.”

Sittlington, who returns to the UK later this month, nonetheless expressed belief that his work did have a positive impact on SOCU. “I’ve increased the resources. I have increased the capacity in investigators through knowledge, through training. I’ve changed their policies and how they do things. I’ve looked at all the investigations [and] where possible I’ve told them or advised them which direction they should proceed,” he noted.

He defended SOCU from the ongoing criticism of its work, while insisting that there are forces that are stymying the unit’s efforts.

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