Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 April 2023, 8:07 by Denis Chabrol
A Washington DC-based lobbying firm on Tuesday said the United State Department and the American Embassy here have been told that there was no evidence to support allegations of gold smuggling, terrorism or homicide against well-known city businessman, Nazar ‘Shell’ Mohammed and so he should be granted an American visa, but said no one locally with potentially adverse views were contacted.
“I can only dispel the concerns about the allegations and if they want to refuse Mr Mohamed’s visa then they will give another reason why. We are saying that the reason because he is not getting his visa yet is because of these allegations,” Managing Director of BGR Group Tom Locke told Demerara Waves Online News.
He said BGR was contacted by Guyana’s Ambassador t0 the United States about Mr Mohamed’s visa difficulties.
Mr Locke said his client, who last travelled to the US in about 10 or 12 years, has had visas in the past but they have expired and his latest application about two or three months ago had gone into “administrative processing”, amounting to a delay because the consular officer at the US Embassy here does not want to make the decision but opts to leave the decision to the US State Department. “For many years, Mr Mohamed went back and forth to the United States and has always obeyed the laws, never overstayed his visas and so forth but there had been allegations about him with terrorism, gun-running, drugs and so on and so forth and so we wanted to get that out of the way and see what happens,” he added.
The BGR official presented an almost one and half page document to Demerara Waves of what he said was a sort of an executive summary of the report that was filed with the State Department. However, that document made no reference to alleged smuggling of 10,000 ounces of gold worth US$11.5 million that were stolen from a boat in Curacao in 2012 or alleged trade of gold that ends up in the hands of Hezbollah, Lebanese Shia political party and militant group.
Mr Locke said those two allegations have been addressed in the “larger report” to the State Department but a number of the persons who had knowledge about that occurrence were either dead, retired or employed elsewhere.
BGR Principal, Joseph Lai said the report could be used by Mr Mohamed’s Immigration Lawyer- Carl Risch, an Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs at the State Department- in the US to challenge the status of his visa application. “We believe that this report provides the substance that would have for Mr Mohamed’s attorney to engage in the administrative conversations with the State Department,” Mr Lai said.
Mr Locke said he had asked the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration whether they wanted to speak with Mr Mohamed but they had said they were not. He said he was yet to contact the Department of Treasury.
The BGR official said his team did not conduct a forensic examination of Mr Mohamed’s business operations to ascertain whether he was telling the truth but was convinced that they were above board. “I never saw the need to based on his willingness to be so transparent” but brushed aside a suggestion that Mr Mohamed might be faking him. “I don’t think so…There are a lot of things that you can tell about a person when you talk to him,” said Mr Locke, a retired agent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said.
Mr Locke said he had no concrete information about why Mr Mohamed was no longer being allowed to travel to the US. “I didn’t get any inside information from the State Department. I can only surmise that it is because of the allegations and as people who talk to people who talk to the State Department; attorneys and so on and so forth who were actually working on the visa case said a lot of these allegations were up in the air and that they were not comfortable with making the decision in Guyana,” he said.
The one and half page document presented to the media sought to exonerate Mr Mohamed from any role in the gunning down of Ricardo ‘Paper Shorts’ Fagundes in March, 2021. “An independent investigation by the Regional Security System confirmed that there was no evidence of corrupt practices or attempt to cover up the probe,” BGR said in its statement. Policeman Dion Bascom, shortly after he was arrested with several other persons during a cocaine seizure, had alleged that a senior police officer had been paid GY$30 million to cover up the killing of Fagundes, a close associate of convicted Guyanese drug kingpin, Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan.
Like Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s recent news release on the subject, BGR referred to an “investigation” that was conducted by the Regional Security System (RSS), though President Irfaan Ali had in August 2022 said that regional body would have conducted a “review” of the Police Force investigation into the incident. Questioned repeatedly about whether the RSS conducted an investigation, he said “yes” and added that “I saw a copy of the summary”, not the entire file. Concerning the President’s talk of a “review”, he conceded that, “I’m not aware of that specific statement.”
He also relied on a time-stamped video that showed that the specific employee of Mr Mohamed being elsewhere at the time of the murder, some comments by acquaintances and business partners of Mr Mohamed.
Mr Locke confirmed hearing that the allegations implicating Mr Mohamed in that incident had been made by a business competitor but said he did not speak with anyone associated that with that person. “No, because I felt very comfortable with the investigation that had been done by the Regional Security Service and they looked into the murder and the accounts by Detective Bascom,” he said.
BGR appeared to rely on several background checks that it said had been conducted on Mr Mohamed by foreign oil sector companies such as ExxonMobil, Haliburton, Champion X, Stena Drilling, Peterson Energy Logistics, Aronco and Baker Hughes. “Mr Mohamed has been vetted by all of the groups and businesses with whom he has done business,” the statement says. Mr Locke said he knew that those companies had conducted background checks on Mr Mohamed “because I’ve talked to them” as late as one month ago and specifically about his client and “a lot of them have said they have heard the allegations but when they looked into it, they didn’t find anything of substance.”
BGR, in its summary of the report, said that “all relatives, friends, employees, business associated an government officials interviewed lauded Mr Mohamed as a person and as an executive. None believed the allegations against him.” Asked whether he really expected those people not to laud him, Mr Locke restated that, “I would expect them, based on my conversation with them, they would give me an honest and fair evaluation.” “As I told you, I am not looking to whitewash Mr Mohamed. I am looking to get the truth… What I have found is that there has been no real official investigation of Mr Mohamed. He has never been arrested. He has never even received a citation and a lot of the allegations are really fantastical,” he said.
But Mr Locke said he did not find anyone in Guyana with potentially opposing views that he wanted to speak with because he did not have a reasonable expectation that the view would be true. “I found several that I didn’t think that I needed to talk to for other reasons and that would be the due diligence that I did on those individuals,” he said. He claimed that there were specific investigations about those persons who had issues but he declined to provide examples. “No examples,” he said.
The BGR official admitted hearing that Mr Mohamed has a cozy relationship with the People’s Progressive Party Civic-led administration but said that that was “kind of strange” because the businessman has contributed to both political parties, stayed out of the political fray and supports whichever government that is in power. “You’ll never see him promoting one party over the other. He is very pragmatic and he is not affiliated with either party,” he said.
When told that Mr Mohamed is a candidate for the PPPC in the June 12, 2023 Local Government Elections, Mr Locke defended that, saying that the businessman “has taken on a greater role in government” being the head of his home-owners association.
Mr Lai said the background check on Mr Mohamed was not aimed to make him out to be a perfect individual but to illustrate that all of the allegations have “enough weaknesses in them that it’s not enough to deny Mr Mohamed a visa to the United States.”
On the issue of the trade in illegal gold from Venezuela, Mr Locke said Mr Mohamed did not have any offices in the area where those alleged transactions took place. “His books are open as far as the daily and the weekly and the monthly reportings at the Gold Board…He complies with all of the regulations. He has always been transparent which gives me a little bit of confidence, too, that he is always willing to open up his books and say ‘you look’,” he said. The document states that his reports are also required by the Bank of Guyana, Financial Intelligence Unit and the Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
BGR said Mr Mohamed has accounts with all banks in Guyana and he was required to pass Know Your Customer (KYC) enquiries to comply with American KYC guidance and guidelines.
Months ahead, Mr Mohamed and his son had been handing out donations and other goodies to mostly underprivileged Guyanese.