Nov 25, 2015 News
FraudNet (FN) of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which recently held a workshop in Guyana, advised the country’s anti-corruption body to pursue not one but several cases on fraudulent transactions, among other forms of corruption, at a time.
This is according to head of the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), Dr. Clive Thomas.
According to FraudNet, it is an international network of independent lawyers who are the leading civil asset recovery specialists in several countries. Its membership extends to every continent and the world’s major economies, as well as leading offshore wealth havens that have complex bank secrecy laws and institutions where the proceeds of fraud often are hidden.
Using sophisticated investigation and forensic tools and cutting-edge civil procedures, FraudNet members have recovered billions of dollars for victims of some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated global frauds involving insurance, commodities, banking, grand corruption and bankruptcy/insolvency. Its members regularly act for government agencies and regulators in obtaining domestic and international recoveries for fraud victims.
FraudNet members also pursue recoveries against financial institutions, professional advisors and other intermediaries involved in fraud.
Founded in 2004 by the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the world’s business organization, FraudNet operates under the auspices of the ICC’s London-based Commercial Crime Services unit.
The economist informed this newspaper yesterday that the representatives of FN met with him and other members of his team, and discussed several areas upon which they can strengthen their capacity to prosecute cases in fraudulent transaction of state assets.
“The meeting I can say was extremely beneficial to us, because they imparted a lot of useful information, and it is just a matter of seeing how we can be able to better implement it in certain areas. They told us that it is imperative to not just go after one case of corruption at a time, but to pursue several, so as to speed up the process by which justice is achieved. I don’t want to divulge too much at this time, but what I can say, is that it will coincide with the work being done on our draft legislation.”
The economist added, “I can say, too, that we will be working along with FraudNet. They really have imparted information to us that will certainly help to fast track our fight against defaulters and prosecuting those who abused their position under the previous regime and stole the nation’s most invaluable assets such as land and so forth.”
Dr. Thomas revealed that the FN’s principals advised that the legislation of the State Asset Recovery Unit coincides with some of the principles within the Integrity Commission Act, so that it can allow them the scope to prosecute those persons who falsify their documents or freeze assets of persons during the investigation.
The SARU Head also noted that the legislation for the department is also on its way to being finished by the end of the year as planned. The coalition Government had made the move to legally empower the body in mid-September.
Dr. Thomas noted that a “robust piece of legislation” is being prepared, and it promises more than moral suasion with respect to stamping out corruption and prosecuting those who dared to steal the assets of the state.
The draft legislation is currently in the chambers of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. It is expected to be perused and strengthened by a specialist from the United Kingdom before being taken to the National Assembly for passage.
Dr. Thomas said that Mr. Brian Horne, an exceptional advisor on asset recovery, is currently putting the finishing touches on the draft legislation. Mr. Horne, who is a Guyanese by birth, has spent most of his life in the United Kingdom. He has worked in more than 22 countries in the field of the recovery of state assets and the successful prosecution of the defaulters.
Once it receives the blessings of the House and the assent of President David Granger, Dr. Thomas had said that the entity will be renamed the State Asset Recovery Agency, and it will be granted with more powers.
SARU has handled one of the most controversial cases which involves the fraudulent sale of state land under the previous regime otherwise known as the “Pradoville Two scandal.”
The Ministry of Housing had called on the Recovery Unit to investigate the ‘Pradoville Two’ deal. Minister within the Ministry of Communities, Keith Scott, had disclosed that the area situated at Parcel 172 Plantation Sparendaam and Parcel 237 Plantation Goedverwagting, known by citizens as Pradoville 2, was “mutated” and sold, subject to a Cabinet decision.
While he did not say when, from indications, it was done under the last Bharrat Jagdeo administration. Jagdeo’s last term in office ended in 2011.
The state-owned NICIL/Privatisation Unit was authorized to do all acts necessary to ensure the vesting of the new development project in the CH&PA, the body which is tasked with overseeing housing developments in Guyana.
NICIL/Privatisation Unit was headed by Winston Brassington, an executive who oversaw a number of contentious multi-billion-dollar public infrastructure deals.
According to Scott, the allocation of parcels of land to several former ministers, senior Government officials and friends close to the PPP administration, and the method to determine the prices paid, were not assessed by the CH&PA. He said that CH&PA seemed not to have been in the loop. The infrastructural works were contracted to Atlantic Construction by NICIL/Privatisation Unit.
NICIL reportedly also spent tens of millions of dollars to build roads, drainage and culverts, and to lay pipelines and in some cases, underground power cables. The developed house lots, complete with infrastructure, were then sold to Jagdeo, several ministers and Government officials and friends. There is no evidence that the house lots sale was advertised or what procedures were used in the allocations of the parcels of the ocean-front properties.
Jagdeo himself, according to details of allocations, received two parcels equivalent to two acres. On it, he built an imposing mansion, complete with pool and overlooking the seawall and the Atlantic Ocean. He paid a total of $9.8M. He had owned a property along the Ogle Airport Road in the community that was known as ‘Pradoville One’. However, he reportedly sold that property to Trinidadian advertising executive, Ernie Ross.
It was determined that Jagdeo essentially paid three times less than what ordinary citizens in the Diamond and Grove Housing Schemes, East Bank Demerara, would have been required to fork out. Jagdeo’s payment for the Pradoville Two parcels translated to $5M per acre which works out at $114 per square foot; the ordinary man pays $317 per square foot for his plot.
The sale of the Pradoville Two house lots for such a low price would contrast starkly with what remigrants had to pay under the Government’s scheme for returning to Guyana. Remigrants paid more than ten times the price Jagdeo paid for the same size house lot. They paid $1,111 per square foot.
A detailed report on the matter has since been prepared by SARU, handed over to the police, and is still being investigated.
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