The country’s former head of the Guyana Rice Board and a prominent Essequibo miller were both
pulled in for questioning yesterday as investigators of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) continued its probe into the spending of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).
Both former General Manager, Jagnarine Singh, and miller, Wazeer Hussein, were reportedly up to late last evening being grilled at SOCU’s headquarters, Camp Road.
SOCU’s head, Assistant Commissioner, Sydney James, yesterday gave little details. He would only admit that a number of persons were being questioned in relation to the GRDB forensic audit report which had been handed over by Government to the police for further investigations.
Yesterday, significant activities were observed at SOCU’s office with James and his investigators present. A number of private vehicles were seen outside the compound.
Hussein is a prominent rice miller who has taken over the Kayman Sankar mills on the Essequibo Coast and in Berbice. He is said to be one of the largest purchasers from rice farmers in Region Two.
Singh headed GRDB until the Coalition Government took office in May 2015.
At that time, the David Granger administration ordered a number of forensic audits into several state agencies, including GRDB, the entity that regulates the rice industry.
Billions of dollars were handled by GRDB annually under the previous administration.
GRDB also overlooked the lucrative Venezuela oil-for-rice deal which saw billions of dollars being passed through the accounts of the entity over a five year period to pay rice farmers who were supplying that market.
Venezuela scrapped the deal in 2015 after it was announced that Guyana had struck oil in waters that the neighbouring country later claimed.
It was alleged that the forensic audit report found a number of alarming transactions that the administration said warranted further investigation from the police for possible criminal charges.
In early February, SOCU, an arm of the police, descended upon the GRDB, Kingston office, to secure documents.
SOCU’s inquiries led them to the Ministry of Agriculture, Regent Street where a vehicle, PNN 5632, was reportedly seized. It was unclear what exactly SOCU had seized from the GRDB head office.
Earlier this year, during a post-Cabinet press conference hosted by Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, it was disclosed that in all the cases of the forensic audits ordered, there were issues that necessitated 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.
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