The Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) is yet to deliver a major conviction from among the dozens of cases built on its investigations into alleged corrupt practices, and this is not lost on the Coalition Government.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon said yesterday at a post-Cabinet briefing that SOCU’s lack of conviction has engaged the attention of Cabinet.
He stated that SOCU was established in 2015, shortly before the current administration came to power, as a compliance requirement under the Anti-money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism.
He said that the agency was set up without the necessary capacity to be able to undertake its work.
“I believe this is where the entity is being unfairly targeted, because for a small body that was only recently established – investigating matters and then having to take these matters to court – there are two separate issues where this is concerned,” Harmon said.
He stated that for more than two years, Government has undertaken to build the capacity of SOCU. Harmon reminded that SOCU is a part of the Guyana Police Force that focuses on specific crimes.
“What we are seeing here, there are some specialised functions that are performed by SOCU, and what we are looking at is the wider relationship with prosecutors in the Guyana Police Force. I believe that it is putting a lot of pressure on that entity (SOCU) when you see the number of cases that they have to investigate and then take people to court on these matters,” Harmon stated.
He is of the view that SOCU is doing a fair job at investigating. He believes that the agency has faced challenges with some of the quality of judgment and the way some people are getting off on technicalities.
Such cases, Harmon noted, will be tested in the higher courts.
With former Government officials before the courts and others still being investigated, SOCU is under increasing pressure to deliver convictions for its investigations. Government had campaigned on a promise to clean up Government.
The court had also dismissed charges of fraud and misuse of public funds brought by the government against former Minister of Public Service, Dr. Jennifer Westford and her personnel assistant, Margaret Cummings.
The most recent case investigated by SOCU that broke down in the courts occurred earlier this month and involved former officials of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRBD). Fraud charges brought against former General Manager, Jagnarine Singh, and his deputy, Madanlall Ramraj were dismissed by Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman after she cited a number of failures by SOCU to defend its case.
In this case, Head of SOCU, Sydney James believes that a breakdown in communication on the part of the assigned Special Prosecutors resulted in the court’s decision.
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