Investigating signing bonus complaint is going down ‘fool’s alley’

-Thomas says money never left state’s possession

Clive Thomas

Given that the controversial US$18 million signing bonus is in the state’s possession, the complaint made by PPP executive member Gail Teixeira cannot be investigated, Director of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) Professor Clive Thomas says.

“We are going down a fool’s alley because we know where the money is deposited. There is no claim that somebody misappropriated the money and the law requires us to recover the assets of the state. So if the state is in possession of it, we don’t have a premise to work on,” he told Stabroek News yesterday, while emphasising that there is no evidence that suggests that the money is not in the state’s possession.

Thomas was clarifying statements made by his deputy Aubrey Heath-Retmeyer earlier this month that the agency was awaiting additional information from Teixeira. Teixeira, in a subsequent letter to Stabroek News said that this made no sense as the letter from the Ministry of Finance to the Bank of Guyana advising it to deposit the US$18 million in an interest-bearing foreign currency account was published in the media in December 2017, a year after the government received the money.

Thomas repeatedly emphasised that this is not a matter to be investigated and expressed the view that the state should have been more open and upfront and not hide anything. He said initially everybody assumed that the money went into one of the ministers’ private accounts but it turned out that it was passing through government accounts and had never left the possession of the state.

“I think the government handled it badly by keeping it away from the public…but nobody had put it in their private account so it never left the possession of the state so we never had a ground for acting,” he explained.

He added that as far as the agency is concerned, the deposit never left the possession of the state and “therefore we have no premise on which to argue for its recovery.” Based on whose possession the money is in, Thomas said that the agency doesn’t believe Teixeira “makes sense. She is confusing information with evidence. We will have to find evidence that it left the state and somebody other than the state…has had possession and ownership of it and that has never happened.”

US oil major ExxonMobil paid the signing bonus to government in June of 2016 but there was no official acknowledgement of this by the David Granger administration until the information was leaked to the media in December 2017. Government’s decision to deposit the US$18 million signing bonus received from ExxonMobil’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited, and its partners CNOOC Nexen Petroleum Guyana Limited and Hess Guyana Exploration Limited, into a Bank of Guyana account, has been criticised as unlawful, with critics saying that the funds should have been placed into the Consolidated Fund as it is public money.

Following criticism, government said that the money, which would in part be used to pay Guyana’s legal fees for the border controversy case with Venezuela, would be deposited into the Consolidated Fund before being released. The administration’s handling of the signing bonus was also challenged in court.

Teixeira and anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc, early last year, lodged separate complaints with SARA over government’s handling of the signing bonus.

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