-probing vehicle driven by Agri official
Days after Government handed over the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB)’s forensic audit – amongst others – to the Guyana Police Force (GPF), agents of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), descended upon the GRDB Kingston Office to secure documents which may contain potential evidence.
The search was conducted to unearth further evidence in addition to what has already been discovered by the forensic auditors.
SOCU’s inquiries led them to the Ministry of Agriculture, Regent Street and Shiv Chanderpaul Drive where a vehicle, PNN 5632, registered to the GRDB was discovered within the confines of the Ministry’s compound.
Upon inquiring of the vehicle, SOCU was reportedly told that it was being operated by a senior official of the Ministry who is the wife of a former Freedom House operative. The official is said to be in no way, connected to the GRDB.
According to a source, the official was not around when SOCU visited. She would return some time around 15:00hrs before departing some minutes later.
Prior to the visit to the Ministry, the SOCU team – from all indications – was successful in its bid to secure documents that may contain evidence.
UK Advisor to SOCU, Dr. Sam Sittlington, told media operatives that it is important to take action quickly to gather the documentation that is needed for evidence in cases of money laundering, tax evasion, theft etc.
SOCU’s presence created quite a stir as persons came out from neighbouring buildings to get a view of the ranks that were armed with what appeared to be assault rifles, circling the Cowan Street Office.
Dr. Sittlington said that the documents would help them build solid cases to charge and prosecute persons.
He was quizzed if SOCU would have got wind of anyone ditching evidence prior to the search.
He responded, “There is an audit trail for everything and there may be documents missing but you still have an audit trail in terms of financial transactions and there should be projects ongoing.”He said that he was confident that investigators would be able to track down the information required.
Present at the Office also, was the Head of SOCU, Assistant Commissioner Sydney James who was asked if the unit would have found anything or whether anyone was arrested or charged with regards to the GRDB audit. He declined to comment. He then said that the investigations have just begun and assured media operatives that he would provide the necessary updates when developments arise.
GRDB is the authority charged with overseeing the rice industry throughout the country. Upon entering Government in May 2015, the David Granger-led administration immediately ordered a number of forensic audits to determine the health of the state agencies.
Among them were GRDB, the Guyana Energy Agency and the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL). Billions of dollars pass through these entities’ accounts.
Last week, during a post-Cabinet press conference hosted by Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, it was disclosed that in all the cases, there were issues in these audits that warranted further investigations into “financial irregularities”.
With regards to the GRDB report, Trotman noted that over a three to four-year period, more than US$500M from the PetroCaribe proceeds (Venezuela rice-for-oil deal) would have passed through the accounts of the entity.
Among some of the “anomalies” found were loans without proper paperwork or promissory notes.
There were other instances of persons in the agency using GRDB’s money to trade in foreign currency.
The losses for the Government would have been significant, especially if the money was traded for less than it should have been.
The Auditor General and the forensic audit reports have all pointed to severe deficiencies in the manner the monies of the state have been handled by the entities.
Meanwhile, several senior officials have resigned or are no longer working at the entities, Trotman noted.
At GRDB, the former General Manager, Jagnarine Singh, is gone.
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