Government has terminated the services of Omar Shariff, Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of the Presidency, who is under investigation for suspected money laundering.
The news would come one day after Shariff, who was sent on leave since June, appeared in a city magistrate’s court to face a charge relating to his alleged refusal to cooperate with investigators.
With regards to Shariff’s termination, the ministry disclosed that it took effect as of December 31, 2016.
“Abena Moore has been appointed to the position of substantive Permanent Secretary as of January 3, 2017.”
On June 30, 2016, Shariff was sent on leave by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, pending an investigation by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) of the Guyana Police Force.
Shariff has been part of an investigation where over $500M could not be accounted for in payment to the Public Service Ministry.
Investigators found several large sums passing through bank accounts and launched a separate probe.
The matter saw the Guyana Revenue Authority also becoming involved as Shariff and his legal team insisted that the monies were from sales of phone credits. It amounted to billions of dollars passing through his accounts. At worst, the issue was one where taxes were not fully paid and not one of money laundering, the PS had insisted.
Since being sent on leave last June, SOCU had been busy looking into the affairs of Shariff and his wife, Sabeita Hardeo.
In October, Chief Justice (acting), Yonette Cummings-Edwards, granted a production order, which compels individuals or organizations to produce information to help assist in an investigation.
The order was for both the former PS and his wife. The two apparently did not comply, despite being reminded and written to by SOCU to provide requested information.
A charge – Failing to Comply with a Production Order – under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, was filed.
On Thursday, the two appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts where the charge was not read after uncertainty whether the matter could be handled there, as the Production Order had been granted by the High Court.
Charges under the amended Anti-Money Laundering Act have not been very prevalent.
The matter has since been cleared up and Shariff and his wife are expected to appear Monday afternoon in the same magistrate’s court to answer the charge.
However, more charges can come if SOCU finds that Shariff and his wife broke the laws.
Shariff, who was a candidate for the People Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) at the last national election, remained Permanent Secretary of the Presidential Secretariat even after the new government took office in May 2015.
The investigation was probing how billions of dollars passed through his bank accounts from as far back as 2010, following records showing that he and his reputed wife purchased shares in companies which were placed in her name. There were hundreds of transactions in several bank accounts which were held at different commercial banks.
From the bank accounts, investigators were able to ascertain that several billion dollars would have been deposited.
In 2010, Shariff and his reputed wife acquired thousands of shares in three major companies across Guyana. These companies are Banks DIH, Republic Bank, and Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI).
In March 2010, Shariff and Hardeo bought 10,000 shares in GBTI and another 10,000 shares in Banks DIH. The very next month the duo bought 7,500 shares in Republic Bank.
When the media got word about Shariff’s billions there was no detailed information on the amounts in his various accounts.
Kaieteur News found out that Shariff had more than 10 accounts at five different banks.
He had nine accounts at GBTI. The combined amount in those accounts was just over $14.9B in deposits – he reportedly withdrew $14.6B.
The former public servant reportedly had nine properties across Guyana. Some of these are registered in his name while others are registered in the name of his reputed wife, Sabeita.
Shariff has six motor vehicles in his name including a tractor and a trailer. All properties and vehicles were acquired before 2015.
In addition to being questioned, Shariff also had his home searched by Law Enforcement officers.
From all indications, investigators were not buying Shariff’s contention that he owned a business that raked in almost $100M annually for the last seven years. There seemed to be little evidence that taxes were paid.
In addition, there were questions about his role after a major investigation revealed that 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.
Westford, a sitting PPP Member of Parliament and her assistant Margaret Cummings, are currently before the courts facing simple larceny charges. The charges allege that between August 2011 and April 2015, while being employed in the Public Service of the Government of Guyana, they stole the sum of $639.4M belonging to the state.
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