Sep 10, 2015 News
The multi-million-dollar scrap metal trade continues to be on hold with Government this week saying it is investigating corruption and possible money laundering.
An audit has been carried on the Scrap Metal Unit by the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) and decisions are to be made shortly on whether charges will be made, says Minister within the Ministry of Communities, Keith Scott.
Shortly after taking office in May, the new administration disclosed that it has found almost $200M lying in an account at a city bank. It belonged to the Scrap Metal Unit, the body which monitors the trade.
There were some suspicious transactions, including fees paid by dealers, sothe bank account was frozen and an audit ordered.
Several containers of scrap metal for export were left in limbo.
On Monday, Minister Scott disclosed that audit and other work are still being wrapped up with a decision on the trade to be made shortly.
“There seems to have been a deep level of corruption. There seems to have been a deep level of money laundering too and some degree of compromise with the management of the trade. We have to regularize the process.”
But the trade has been lucrative for hundreds of entrepreneurs who employed a significant number of persons.
As a matter of fact, in 2012, some 32,000 tons of metal was exported from the country.
It has not been without controversy.
This week, there are reports that US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials cooperated with Greek police to smash a drug ring attempting to smuggle cocaine from South America into Europe.
Authorities arrested three suspects accused of having used a scrap metal import business as a front to disguise their operations. The suspects allegedly first shipped containers with scrap metal from Guyana to a rented warehouse in Aspropyrgos, west of Athens.
During a police raid at a central Athens hotel, Greek authorities arrested a 38-year-old Guyana-born Dutch citizen, who is believed to be the kingpin of the racket. His name has not been made public, but he was reportedly dubbed by police as “fat guy” because of his physical appearance.
Police also arrested two more suspects, a 38-year-old Greek baseball player and a 48-year-old Guyana national, as accomplices. They were arrested at the Aspropyrgos warehouse after they turned up to collect a container. Police found 27 kilos of cocaine hidden inside a metal compartment.
Tapped telephone conversations revealed that the racket was planning to smuggle 50 kilos of cocaine in Greece.
Sources told the newspaper that the 38-year-old Greek had been on the radar of local and international anti-drug agents for about two years. He is said to have first contacted the Dutchman earlier this year before the two of them set up the ring.
A fourth man, who has not been arrested by the authorities, is believed to have played a key role in dismantling the ring.
The Scrap Metal Unit, once controlled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Commerce, was placed under Ministry of Housing during the tenure of the previous administration. It was tasked with collecting fees and monitoring the scrap metal industry.
Former Minister Irfaan Ali and a senior staffer, Taslim Baksh, controlled the trade.
Kaieteur News understands that in December 2012, the Donald Ramotar Cabinet gave instructions for the Scrap Metal Unit to be placed under Ali’s charge.
The instructions were signed by former Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon.
While under the direct control of Ali, the unit’s daily operations were left to CH&PA Director of Finance, Taslim Baksh.
Baksh, in addition to his salary at CH&PA, was supposed to receive a ‘stipend’. The unit was allowed to purchase pickups and pay other expenses and use staffers from CH&PA.
What was strange about the Cabinet’s decision was that it also authorized the transfer of the bank account of the Scrap Metal Unit from Bank of Guyana to a private commercial bank.
It was highly unusual for this to be done, an official close to the investigations said.
The scrap metal trade had been under the jurisdiction of former
Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, but alleged irregularities into the trade saw it being halted after utilities companies and other stakeholders complained that copper was being stolen from telephone cables.
The Scrap Metal Unit had come into existence to address the concerns of Government.
It was collecting up to $35,000 to $60,000 for 20-foot and 40-foot containers being exported by scrap metal dealers. Almost 25 dealers across the country are involved in the trade with some of them shipping scores of containers monthly.
The payment of the fee was critical for the processing of Customs export documents.
According to Scott, who did not want to disclose too many details, auditors will be zeroing in on the spending of that “private” bank account.
Under current arrangements, dealers have to visit CH&PA to pay the fees. He said that an audit is also set to start into the accounts of the CH&PA.
Not many staffers at CH&PA were said to be aware of the workings of the unit which fell directly under the control of the former Minister and Baksh.
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