The High Court has ordered the release of a Venezuelan registered aircraft, which was detained by the Special Organized Crime Unit, (SOCU) last August, as part of its investigations into allegations of money laundering.
The Venezuelan registered Beech Baron Aircraft YV2377 is owned by Guyanese gold miner, Jerome Parkes.
Last August, SOCU detained a Beechcraft BE 58 aircraft after it landed at the Eugene F. Correia International Airport.
Also detained was the Guyanese owner who has been living in the neighbouring Spanish-speaking country of Venezuela for several years.
The flight originated from the town of Puerto Ordaz.
According to reports, the SOCU was investigating allegations of money laundering.
Reports stipulated, too, that during a search, SOCU officials confiscated more than 20 ounces of gold, about 50,000 real in Brazilian currency and $1.2M in local currency.
However, following successful arguments presented before Justice Gino Persaud in the High Court, the Court quashed the decision of SOCU to detain the aircraft and ordered its release to the owner.
During the hearing in the High Court, the businessman/miner through his attorneys explained the plane was used to facilitate transport of commodities for mining operations in both Venezuela and Guyana.
Court documents revealed that Parkes has been making almost weekly trips with the aircraft between the two countries via the Eugene Correia International Airport, Ogle, Guyana.
According to the documents, Parkes had outlined that on each occasion, prior to landing at the said airport, all required documentation (including the identity of the Applicant and other passengers) were supplied to and verified by the Civil Aviation Authority of Guyana and advance approval would usually be granted.
He claimed however, “on 23rd August, 2018, one day after being permitted at the said airport to land, members of the SOCU, without reason, arrested the miner and impounded his aircraft.”
Some days thereafter, the only allegation put to the Applicant is that he was being “investigated for a money laundering offence, which took place in Guyana in April, 2017,”
The information highlighted that there was a mix up with the identity of the applicant and another person named Henry De Freitas who is said to be the person behind the transport of the cash.
Lawyers representing Parkes pointed out that there was no evidence to suggest that their client was responsible for the cash found on the plane.
Additionally, the lawyers argued that the restraining, freezing and forfeiture of assets in relation to money laundering offences is provided for in PART IV of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act, Cap 10:11
The Act stipulates that the only person statutorily empowered to apply to the Court for a restraining order against property is the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
However, the businessman’s attorney pointed out that lawyers representing SOCU by their own admission noted that the DPP by her inaction, decided not to initiate proceedings to restrain the aircraft.
“In the face of this, without an Order of Court and without statutory authority, SOCU has arrogated unto itself the power to continue to restrain the Applicant’s property for in excess of one month,” the lawyers argued.
These were amongst the submission, which formed the basis for which, basis of the court decision to overturn SOCU seizure of the plane.
Last week, in addition to ordering the immediate release of the detained aircraft, Justice Gino Persaud ordered respondents (SOCU) to pay $150,000 in costs.
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