Jul 03, 2016 News
Investigators probing the deposits of billions of dollars over time to bank accounts of a senior Government official are looking at the wealth he may have acquired.
According to Government officials close the probe, there is evidence surfacing that investments were made by Omar Shariff in several companies and in properties across the country.
Shariff, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Presidency, was arrested Thursday at his office, by officials of the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
There are records showing that he and his reputed wife purchased shares in companies like Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL), Banks DIH and even the Guyana Bank For Trade and Industry (GBTI).
Investigators are also tracking several properties that may have been purchased by the official, and placed in the name of his reputed wife.
The properties, including lands and homes, are scattered across the country, officials say.
Investigators will question the origin of the monies used to buy the properties and shares.
Shariff is one of the most senior officials to be arrested by the new administration in its anti-corruption crackdown. He is being accused of money laundering and tax evasion.
The case will be one of the biggest and a challenging one for investigators for a number of reasons.
Officials explained that between 2010 and this year, there were hundreds of transactions in several bank accounts. The accounts were held at different commercial banks.
From the bank accounts that investigators managed to track, more than $10B would have been deposited.
What is strange about this case is that not many businesses in Guyana would actually experience a turnover of what was deposited to the accounts.
Worse yet, Shariff appeared to have paid very little taxes despite at least one impressive-looking property he has in a prime Kitty area.
The Guyana Revenue Authority has stepped in and is looking at ways it can recover outstanding taxes.
However, even if that tax issue is settled, it is unlikely that money laundering accusations would go away anytime soon, especially as the country has adopted tough, new regulations to fight dirty money from being washed clean.
Shariff is reportedly claiming that the monies were proceeds from his phone card sales and other businesses. However, investigators are not buying his story.
The Permanent Secretary, who was ordered to proceed on his annual leave from Friday by the Ministry of the Presidency, immediately hired Attorney-at-Law, Sanjeev Datadin, to represent him. He is on $200,000 bail.
Shariff, 43, had worked at Freedom House before being hired by the Bharrat Jagdeo administration in the Press and Publicity Unit of the Office of the President.
Shortly after President Donald Ramotar was sworn in late 2011, he was appointed Permanent Secretary at Office of the President, a position previously held by Dr. Nanda Gopaul, who left the post after becoming a Minister. Before that, he was reportedly at the Ministry of Health, in a key procurement position.
Shariff reportedly fell under the eyes of SARU and SOCU last year during an investigation into the disappearance of $600M. The monies were supposedly to be paid to the Ministry of Public Service. However, there were no traces of it. Investigations later led to the then Minister, Dr. Jennifer Westford, being charged along with her former assistant and placed before the court.
Investigators on that case apparently honed in on Shariff and started tracking his business.
It was then that they noticed unusually large amounts being deposited into his accounts.
Around mid-year last year, one bank reportedly became suspicious after attempts were made to deposit up to $500M at separate times to bank accounts linked to Shariff.
The suspicious transactions were reported to the authorities with the bank halting transactions.
Shariff was a candidate for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic in last year’s General Elections. The new administration kept him in that position, saying they were not in the business of witch-hunting.
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