Legitimate business operations have nothing to fear
UK-based financial crime expert, Dr. Sam Sittlington, has revealed that the Special Organized Crime Unit,
(SOCU) is currently handling 285 investigations for which firms, companies and businesses suspected of financial crimes.
Dr. Sittlington is the Director of an Ireland-based fraud company, which provided training and expert advice to SOCU, a specialised unit tasked with probing financial crimes in Guyana.
Sittlington detailed his work with SOCU during a press briefing held at the residence of the British High Commissioner, Gregory Quinn, yesterday.
According to him, the financial crime unit currently manages 285 investigations, 59 of which are live investigations that require immediate action.
The remaining cases, Dr. Sittlington said, are being monitored closely until further intelligence is required or other information becomes available.
SOCU was established under the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) administration, but the unit was without the essential protocols needed to operate as a specialised unit probing financial crimes.
The Unit which is granted powers under the Anti-money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act AML/CFT (2015) has since embarked on a number of investigations which have resulted in the confiscation of millions worth in assets belonging to local businesses and agencies implicated in investigations of money laundering.
Recently, the Unit was in the news for seizing possessions belonging to a Regent Street businessman and for initiating an investigation which resulted in the death of three persons.
While SOCU’s efforts resulted in some unfortunate incidents and may have caused negative comments from some officials, particularly those in the political opposition, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has on a number of occasions, come to the Unit’s defence.
Even as he expressed gratitude to the UK government for their continued support in area of combating financial crimes yesterday, the Public Security Minister said that the new batch of equipment donated to SOCU will greatly aid its operations.
He said that the assistance from Britain on the Crime situation in Guyana is due to the type of work SOCU has been tasked with.
With assistance from the UK, USA and other overseas governments, Ramjattan said that SOCU can be impacted in the areas of professionalism and legitimacy and recommendations can be made their improvement to deal with public in a manner which is necessary, good and right.
LEGITIMATE BUSINESSES HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR
Meanwhile in response to criticisms leveled against the Unit, the UK-based expert noted his disapproval at the fact that recently in the press “SOCU was kicked about like a political football.”
Dr. Sittlington noted that the comments made can be demoralising to staff and Head of SOCU but the Unit continued their work in a professional manner.
“I would have liked them to respond to some of the comments because I thought if they were attacking SOCU and I am there with SOCU they’re attacking me.
“Even if it was to tell the business community that legitimate businesses have nothing to fear would have been sufficient.” However, Sittlington opined that investigations have taken the course of action necessary to tackle white collar crimes. He advocated for increased investment to be made to SOCU.
He noted the SOCU’s effort can be substantial and have adverse effects on tax evasion, fraud and a list of financial crimes.
According to the Financial Crime expert these include ridding communities of those who ply drugs as a methods of trading, robbing the nation of much need financial proceeds.
Quoting Swedish Politician, Cecilia Malmström, Sittlington noted that “Dirty money has no place in our economy, whether it comes from drug deals, the illegal guns trade or trafficking in human beings.
“We must make sure that organised crime cannot launder its funds through the banking system or the gambling sector. To protect the legal economy, especially in times of crisis, there must be no legal loopholes for organised crime or terrorists to slip through.
“Our banks should never function as laundromats for mafia money, or enable the funding of terrorism.
“Well investigating dirty money from crime is the role of SOCU,” he added
The UK-based fraud expert explained Financial Intelligence Unit, (FIU) Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU) the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the Police are components which are necessary for SOCU’s work to be a success.
WORK WITH SOCU
During the past five weeks, Dr. Sittlington worked closely with the local financial crime unit. His work encompassed conducting training sessions and workshops with officials from key financial agencies including the Bank of Guyana the Director of Public Prosecution, (DPP) and SOCU.
Sittlington also drafted recommendations and guidelines to improve the work of the organisation. He has worked closely with SOCU investigators and monitored their operations during this time.
Dr. Sittlington said that he was specifically delighted with the working relations between the stakeholder agencies particularly the work conducted between SOCU and CANU.
The “good working relations,” between the departments he said has resulted and is integral to the success of the programme.
While he noted that SOCU is doing its best under difficult circumstances, Sittlington advocated for the continued support of the organisation.
He expressed hope that prosecutions of investigations that the Unit is currently working on will be supported by the judiciary in terms of criminal trial and forfeiture.
Among the recommendations made, Sittlington noted the need for increased human resources and better financial directives as it regards SOCU, since the unit’s work is likely to increase in the coming months.
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