Jul 27, 2018 News
A High Court ruling has dealt a big blow to state agencies pursuing financial crimes, as it affects investigators who require access to bank records for money-laundering suspects.
The Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) had appealed to the High Court that Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan has no power to make an order to inspect and take copies of entries in a banker’s book where there is no cause or matter before the court.
Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln ruled on July 12 in favour of GBTI. The ruling sent shockwaves throughout several state agencies, including the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) which is currently investigating dozens of cases of corruption, some involving former Government officials.
Essentially, banking details of customers suspected of money laundering are necessary for the investigation of suspects who have not yet been charged.
In fact, it is upon the production of the banker’s book that police investigators, including SOCU will be able to inspect, take copies, and gather sufficient evidence to institute charges against suspects.
The ruling raises many questions as the Evidence Act, Chapter 5:03 states under Section 12 (1) that on the application of any party to a cause or matter, a court or judge may order that the party is at liberty to inspect and take copies of any entries in a banker’s book for any of the purposes of that cause or matter.
Further, Section 12 (2) states that the order may be made either with or without summoning the bank or any other party, and must be served on the bank three days before it is to be obeyed, unless the court or judge otherwise directs.
Responding to questions posed by Opposition Member, Clement Rohee in the National Assembly last Thursday, Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan informed of the court challenges mounted by GBTI against SOCU investigations.
SOCU has been trying for months to get access to bank records.
He pointed out to the MPs that GBTI has filed several applications contending that Section 24 of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act Chapter 10:11 does not provide for the production of the banker’s book.
“We have had some court rulings at the High Court level that have ruled that the Magistrate has no power to make an order to inspect and take copies of entries in the banker’s book and this is another big challenge. The productions of banker’s books are necessary for the investigation of money laundering offences as you would appreciate,” Ramjattan stated.
Appearing to indicate Government’s plan to appeal the High Court ruling, Ramjattan explained, “We feel there may be need…depending on the Upper Court’s ruling now, whether we can get from the Acts certain amendments. There might be another plan and strategy to ensure that we get money launderers.”
The Minister disclosed that for 2018, there were nine money laundering referrals to SOCU which are being investigated. Additionally, he stated that there were eight referrals from Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) for money laundering investigation with the predicate offence being narcotics trafficking.
SOCU, according to Ramjattan, received no referral for government corruption in 2018.
“The Government corruption we are talking about was as a result of the forensic audits that found corruption. These involved more than 300 separate investigations for which 60 investigations have been completed resulting in 142 criminal charges before the court,” Ramjattan stated.
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