By Abena Rockcliffe Campbell
All may not be lost for those individuals who can show the court that they did not conspire to defraud the State, when the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) moves to recover stolen assets. This is according to the Chairman of SARA Board of Directors, Professor Clive Thomas.
He said this during a recent interview with Kaieteur News.
Dr. Thomas indicated that SARA is working with a tight schedule to ensure that it is ready with cases for the courts by the third quarter of this year. Thomas said that some of the cases being prepared may be taken before the local courts, while the agency may opt to take others abroad, “where justice is said to be more certain. It comes back to how we are advised by Fraud Net.”
Dr. Thomas said that many of the cases being pursued by SARA involve land, buildings and money.
The SARA official acknowledged that there may be certain implications in going after properties that were sold to unwitting buyers.
He said that the law provides for instances where “an individual can establish to the court that you in all honesty did not involve yourself in a conspiracy to defraud the state. In such cases, I have the powers to pursue a settlement with you so that you do not lose all the money. But you must be able to show that you are bona fide”.
Dr. Thomas continued, “Persons will have to establish that they acquired this in all honesty. There cannot be a trace of conspiracy.”
The SARA official indicated that affected persons can themselves take the matter before the courts “and say, ‘look, I acquired this property in good faith.’”
Dr. Thomas said that while the law makes such provisions, the case may not be as straightforward as it may seem “because you cannot in good faith make a crime legal. For example, you cannot in good faith buy the Public Buildings for a dollar, then 10 or 20 years later come to tell me that you acquired it in good faith or it is bona fide; that cannot happen. You see, the law provides for a balance of these needs. It recognizes that an individual may have bought a property not knowing that the property has been stolen.”
Dr. Thomas said that SARA is looking at over 50 cases – more than half of which involve land and buildings and all of which were reported to the agency. “Remember, we can only pursue a case after it has been reported to us.”
He emphasised that while the agency relies on citizens to report cases, it is careful not to just follow wild or baseless accusations.
Dr. Thomas said that corruption is the fastest growing crime in the world, yet it attracts the least sentencing. “We are seeking to do our part to fight corruption in Guyana, but we want to make sure we approach it the right way.”
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