JAGDEO: U.S. agents asked PS Mae Thomas about Mohameds; dismisses questions about U.S. mistrust of Guyana gov’t

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 June 2024, 19:02 by Writer

Ms. Mae Toussaint Jr.-Thomas

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday said that then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mae Thomas was last year asked by United States law enforcers about wealthy Guyanese businessmen Nazar Mohammed and his son, Azruddin, who were slapped with sanctions for alleged corruption in Guyana.

Ms Thomas’ mobile phone was seized and her United States visa revoked in April, 2023 while she was transiting the Miami International Airport to China to represent her People’s Progressive Party. On her return to Guyana via the United Kingdom, Mr Jagdeo said she informed him that she was questioned by U.S. agents about the Mohameds. “She said they asked her about the Mohameds,” Mr Jagdeo, who is also the PPP’s General Secretary, said when asked by Demerara Waves Online News. He said he had not asked Ms Thomas for details.

Quizzed on whether the U.S.’ interrogation flagged anything in his head, the Vice President said “it was precisely because of that that she moved from the Ministry of Home Affairs to Labour and at that time there was no notification about an investigation,” he said.

Ms Thomas was not shifted to the Labour Ministry until August 2023 – four months after she was detained by U.S. law enforcement agents.

Earlier Thursday, Mr Jagdeo said Ms Thomas resigned from the PPP’s Central Committee because she did not want to bring her party into disrepute, maintained her innocence and would be available for any investigation. He credited her with being a “hard worker in the party”.

The U.S. accused Ms Thomas of, while being Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, using her position to offer benefits to Mohamed’s Enterprise and Azruddin, among others, in exchange for cash payments and high-value gifts. “Thomas misused her position to influence the award of official contract bids and the approval processes for weapons permits and passports on behalf of Mohamed’s Enterprise,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.

Meanwhile, the Vice President said President Irfaan Ali would determine the fate of Mr Nazar “Shell” Mohamed on the Eccles-Ramsburg Neighbourhood Council to which he was elected in the 2023 Local Government Elections.

The Bank of Guyana on Thursday revoked the foreign exchange dealer’s licence to Confidential Cambio, a company controlled by the Mohameds, two days after the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on the Mohameds and their companies. Mr Jagdeo said the decision to revoke the licence was taken to speedily minimise any exposure of the Mohameds to the financial sector.

The Dealers in Foreign Currency Act empowers the Finance Minister to suspend a licence on the ground that the licensee has contravened, or has failed to comply with any of the conditions subject to which the licence was granted or the provisions of this Act or pending any investigation into a complaint that the licensee is guilty of any such act or omission. Further, the Finance Minister shall not revoke or suspend a licence unless the holder of the licence has been given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

On whether the gold trading and exporting licence would also be revoked, he declined to comment on the grounds that individual agencies would be doing their own assessments.

The Vice President added that the Bank of Guyana and the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance would be conducting an assessment on the financial sector implications of the U.S. sanctions on the Mohameds.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) accused the Mohameds of allegedly evading US$50 million in duty taxes to the Guyana government by allegedly omitting more than 10,000 kilogrammes of gold from import and export declarations between 2019 and 2023.

While the Guyana government has since asked the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service for information on alleged gold smuggling and evasion of taxes in Guyana in order to prosecute the suspects and recoup the monies owed, Mr Jagdeo brushed off questions about why the U.S. did not share such information with the administration before. “We are very pleased with the partnership we have had with the United States government. Things work slowly and sometimes in an asymmetric way but we have noticed that, over the last several years, we’ve been getting serious responses from the U.S. government on a whole range of activities and in a timely fashion,” he said.

Pointedly asked whether he thought the U.S. trusts the Guyana government, Mr Jagdeo cited cooperation in the fight against narco-trafficking that had led to seizures as an example of confidential cooperation. “We’ve had joint operations on much more sensitive things, on dug trafficking, joint enforcement actions where we have shared information with the U.S. and they have shared information with us and none of those operations has been compromised,” he said.

The Vice President said the U.S. Ambassador, Nicole Theriot has contacted Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh confirming that she has received the request for information from the U.S. Treasury Department and that she strongly recommended that the information be provided.