Jul 01, 2016 News
A senior official of the Ministry of the Presidency was yesterday sent on leave and questioned in connection with allegations related to one of the largest money laundering and tax evasion schemes this country has seen.
Permanent Secretary (PS) Omar Shariff was reportedly questioned by officials from the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) and Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) yesterday.
Government officials yesterday said that from initial reports, Shariff allegedly had billions of dollars in a number of accounts at local banks. It is believed that the monies were deposited during a five-year period. Kaieteur News was told that the total may be more than $10B.
How Shariff ended up with that amount in the accounts is what investigators want to know. From indications, they are not buying a story that Shariff owned a business that raked in almost $100M annually for the last seven years. There seemed to be little evidence that taxes were paid.
Investigators are also looking at several properties that may have been purchased by the government official. There may also be questions for the commercial banks involved. For instance: how long were the accounts in operation? Why were there no red flags? Was Central Bank (Bank of Guyana) as the regulatory body, informed of any unusual transactions?
Investigators are going on the theory that the monies may have been diverted from public funds and channeled to the different accounts.
Yesterday, a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency said that Shariff was sent on his annual leave effective July 1st, by Minister of State Joseph Harmon, to facilitate a major probe into money laundering.
Officials said that investigators met Shariff at his office at the Ministry of the Presidency early yesterday morning where searches were carried out. Kaieteur News was unable to confirm that searches were carried out at his home as well.
In its statement, the Ministry said that Minister Harmon in a letter to the Permanent Secretary yesterday, reminded him that he is now the subject of an investigation by SOCU of the Guyana Police Force.
The Minister informed Shariff that he should proceed on his annual leave from July 1, 2016, to enable him to fully cooperate with the investigation.
Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communities, Abena Moore, will take up the role of Permanent Secretary (ag) at the Ministry of the Presidency.
Shariff reportedly retained attorney-at-law Sanjeev Datadin as his legal counsel and was placed on $200,000 bail.
Shariff was a former Chairperson of the Steering Committee of the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO), an arm of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), the current Opposition, and was a candidate for that party in last year’s general elections.
He was appointed as Permanent Secretary during the last administration shortly after former President Donald Ramotar was sworn in late 2011.
The David Granger-led administration retained him after taking office in May last year.
However, there were questions about his role after a major investigation revealed the Office of the President, under Shariff’s watch, transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to the Ministry of Public Service, headed by then Minister, Dr. Jennifer Westford.
That official is currently before the courts facing charges relating to the disappearance of the hundreds of millions of dollars.
During the last administration, there were several agencies and programmes managed under President’s office, including the E-Government, One Laptop Per Family Programme and various types of funds, including proceeds from Lotto.
In other words, Office of the President handled billions of dollars annually.
In the absence of the Minister, the PS is the most powerful person around.
The job of the Permanent Secretary, a public servant, is to manage the day-to-day operations of the ministry, controlling the purse strings and signing the cheque books.
The previous administration had been accused of rampant corruption, but there has been little progress on prosecution.
A number of forensic audits have found wrongdoing, but one year later, there has been no court case.
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