Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo and Attorney General, Basil Williams have agreed that the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) should be allowed to fight financial crimes only, but Jagdeo prefers to see that unit remain a part of the Guyana Police Force or it may be used to harass political opponents.
“You don’t know how they will act and they will be influenced to take political action against opponents and so we believe that the unit was set up under the police to support the FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit). The FIU doesn’t need a policing arm,” he told a news conference.
The former Guyanese leader explained that he does not support the separation because the Police Force is bound by rules and largely prevents unaccountable behaviour by its members. “The police force, even though you may have capricious action, are governed by laws, protocols, regulations, SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) so you can almost ninety percent of the time anticipate how they will act because they are predictable since theyt have to follow rules,” he said.
Jagdeo made his position known less than one week after Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams announced that SOCU would most likely be removed from the law enforcement agency and transferred to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). “When you transfer these bodies that report to ministers or Office of the President, that’s when it become a black hole, it become amorphous,” he said.
Currently, according to the SOCU Protocol, that has been released through the National Assembly that unit is responsible directly to Police Commissioner for a range of financial and other crimes including counterfeiting and piracy of products, racketeering, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, murder, environmental crimes, kidnapping, piracy, insider trading and market manipulation. In that regard, Jagdeo said SOCU has to return to its core functions of fighting money laundering and terrorist financing.
Jagdeo remarked that SOCU and the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) have been “politicized” to go after political opponents.
Asked about the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) that is part of the Ministry of Public Security, Jagdeo said that entity works with the Guyana Police Force’s narcotics department and has a protocol that governs its operations.
The Attorney General said SOCU, being part of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act, should not be tasked with other police functions. “It is very important for Guyana that SOCU actually performs its core functions, that is the functions related to AML/CFT, and that it is not burdened with other police work because we don’t want to be accused that it’s an attempt for us to really stymie the work of SOCU and so hamstring any progress under the AML/CFT regime,” he said.
Williams said nothing about SOCU’s core functions has so far gone to Cabinet, but based on the views at international meetings that unit should be removed from the police force. “We will have to look at the entire arrangement because from what I have been receiving at these meetings, they expect these agencies to be independent, do their investigations when they receive reports without any real interference,” he said.