GEORGETOWN, Guyana, March 8, 2017 (CMC) – The Guyana government has brushed aside allegations of political interference in the police investigations into a controversial multi-million dollar land deal, as more former government ministers and officials were being questioned by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Former president, Bharrat Jagdeo, who was among former members of the last People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government arrested and questioned by SOCU, told reporters that the actions of the law enforcement officials were politically motivated.
“In two years of this government, they have not made a single arrest of drug dealers of major note to block the drug trafficking, nor have they brought a case against anyone for smuggling a billion US (dollars) per annum out of the country,” said Jagdeo, who told reporters that he had invoked presidential immunity when being questioned by police.
“I have no doubt, that the staff in SOCU are under tremendous pressure to come after political opponents of this government, rather than to go after the people that they were set up to go after,” he said.
But in a statement, the coalition David Granger administration said that the investigations by SOCU have been “meticulous, fair and independent” and that the accusations against the former ministers and officials are “immensely serious”.
“The government notes spurious allegations of political vendetta and harassment and dismisses same, as SOCU is operating independently and without any interference or direction,” the statement said, adding that the government looks forward to a thorough and comprehensive investigation and for the law to take its course and justice to be served.
The government added, it is also maintaining its position that “the assets of the state belong to the people of Guyana and under no circumstances will it condone or overlook any action which resulted in the improper, illegal or unjust distribution of same”.
Several former members of the last government, including Jagdeo, have sprawling properties in the area that was developed exclusively for them, and media reports here said that other persons who were also offered land in the area and took the offer up, are also to be questioned by SOCU.
A forensic audit into the land deal, found that the recipients underpaid for the seaside lands by more than GUY$250 million (One Guyana dollar =US$0.004 cents).
The audit report also pointed to the subsequent sale of the lots acquired by at least two former ministers for GUY$100 million and GUY$90 million respectively.
The report noted that in 2010, the PPP government, through the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), also spent more than GUY$200 million to develop the area.
Yesterday, several former ministers, including Irfaan Ali, Nanda Gopaul, and Priya Manickchand, were questioned by SOCU. Former head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, was also arrested on Tuesday for the alleged misappropriation of state assets and conspiracy
Jagdeo told reporters following his release on yesterday, that he had been asked several questions relating to the Pradoville transaction “and I made a short statement because they asked me questions in my official capacity and I have immunities on those and so I refused to answer those questions”.
Under the Guyana Constitution, the “holder of the office of President shall not be personally answerable to any court for the performance of the function of his or her office or for any act done in the performance of those functions and no proceedings, whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him or her in his or her personal capacity, in respect thereof, either during his or her term of office or thereafter”.
Former president Donald Ramotar, whose daughter, Lisaveta, was among those questioned, described the police exercise as a “total witch-hunt.
“This is an indication to the Guyanese people of what is to come. This government is degenerating, very rapidly, into a very dictatorial and repressive regime and the fact that they have arrested my daughter, is a clear sign that these people are vindictive and will stop at nothing to drive fear in people’s minds,” said Ramotar.