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Ramjattan split on calls for changes to SOCU

Guyana’s Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan on Friday said he is willing to limit the responsibilities of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to probe financial crimes, but he is opposed to separating it from the Guyana Police Force.

“We are going to listen to the voices of the opposition too and if they feel that, OK, if this thing is long or if another person in Cabinet feels that it is not the appropriate thing, well fine we are going to narrow it down back but at least we did well in that we have a Standing Order for SOCU,” he told a news conference.

Ramjattan made known his position after Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams and  Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo expressed their displeasure in the SOCU Protocol, which is now part of the police force’s standing orders, handing responsibilities for investigating a range of other non-financial crimes to that unit.

The Public Security Minister acknowledged that SOCU’s powers are very “expansive” but he questioned the wisdom of having a unit that might have little or no financial investigations lying idle.

On the Attorney General’s position that SOCU should be de-linked from the Guyana Police Force and put under the umbrella of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in keeping with the global architecture to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, Ramjattan argued that SOCU should be responsible to the police force under its rule,  regulations and reporting procedures to and through the Police Commissioner. “There are going to be disagreements and differences but that will have to be done collegially in a Cabinet.

I would like it to be in the police force. There must be an institution. I don’t want ‘mini-police force’ all over the place so it is important to understand my argument that indeed if at Cabinet level the argument of Mr. Williams holds true, fine, but at this stage I would like SOCU to come under the police force so it can be scrutinized under the protocols of the police force and not be a one-unit kind of scenario acting and doing all kinds of things,” he said.

Intense calls for SOCU to be governed by protocol emerged after last December’s road collision that resulted in the death of a Guyana Defence Force intelligence agent, his wife and a truck driver.  At that time, the agent was acting on an informal request by SOCU to GDF intelligence agents for assistance in staking out the Cowan Street, Kingston, Georgetown residence of the then Head of the Privatisation Unit and the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).

It turned out that the GDF intelligence agent, who was in a car with his wife, had been focusing on the wrong house and when the occupants left, he sped off behind them and crashed into a truck on Carifesta Avenue, Georgetown.