By Kiana Wilburg
When it comes to the Omar Shariff probe, Head of the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU),
Dr. Clive Thomas opines that it exposes a weakness in the financial oversight system.
“It should not have taken the work of the Unit to expose what seem to be irregular transactions,” Professor Thomas asserted.
He said that this investigation should have been done by Central Bank or even the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). Both entities are empowered to exercise oversight over the financial system.
Expounding further, Professor Thomas said, “The Omar Shariff (issue) shows the lack of clear oversight and monitoring by the relevant authorities…They have certain responsibilities that they are supposed to fulfill under the existing legislations.”
“If you have someone coming into your bank whose apparent income from your view does not warrant the size of the funds passing through the account, you should do some inquiries and due diligence to ensure it’s all lawful funds. In this regard, I feel the banking system has a responsibility to be to be stricter and to be more careful.”
At the moment, the Omar Shariff issue is still at the stage of investigation. The SARU Head reiterated that it should not have taken the department to be established for an inquiry to commence. He stressed that this should have been exposed a long time ago by a regulatory system that is more than equipped for the job.
Former Head of the FIU, Paul Geer, yesterday declined to speak on the Shariff issue. Geer said that it is an offence to provide any details on suspicious transaction reports which are prepared by the Unit. Due to the implications of existing laws in this regard, Geer was unable to say whether he received a Suspicious Transaction Report on Omar Shariff from local banks at
“The bank or the FIU cannot tell you that by virtue of the law. We can only say how many suspicious transactions in total were received in the annual report, but neither banks nor the FIU can reveal whether it is John Smith or Tom Stone etc. It carries a two-year jail penalty,” Geer emphasised.
BANK OF GUYANA
Central Bank Governor, Dr. Gobind Ganga, confirmed that local banks, once they detect an irregular transaction, have a right to report it to the FIU. He said that they are not necessarily obligated to inform Central Bank of their findings in this regard.
“They don’t have to. Because all transactions we do pick it up…When we do our onsite supervision we do pick up these things. Even if we go to the bank and we find something and it is not reported then we do that. It is a risk-based supervision that we do,” said Dr. Ganga.
He confirmed that on-site supervisions involve a wide cross-section. He said that the process allows for the scrutiny of entities, but particular focus is placed on individuals instead of firms.
As for the criticism expressed by the SARU Head, the Central Bank Head declined to give a comment.
OMAR SHARIFF CASE
It was last year that Omar Shariff, a senior official of the Ministry of the Presidency was sent on leave and questioned by officials from the State Assets Recovery Unit and Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) in connection with allegations of money laundering and tax evasion schemes.
It is said that Shariff allegedly had passed billions of dollars in a number of accounts through local banks.
How Shariff ended up with that amount in the accounts is what investigators want to know. Shariff reportedly claimed that the money represented proceeds from the sale of phone cards and other credit to mobile phones, but investigators did not buy his story.
Kaieteur News was told that contrary to initial reports, commercial banks did little, in spite of questionable transactions. This newspaper was also informed by reliable sources that at least one local bank blocked Shariff after he made attempts to deposit several hundred million dollars into accounts, shortly after the May General Elections. The sum amounted to almost half billion dollars.
It was around that time that investigators of both SARU and SOCU got together with officials of Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to start investigating Shariff. They zeroed in on his bank accounts and assets.
Shariff was a former Chairperson of the Steering Committee of the Progressive Youth Organization (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 Permanent Secretary during the last administration shortly after former President Donald Ramotar was sworn in as President.
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