September 1, 2015

$1.5B in cocaine seized in lumber shipment

– six held, owner of sawmill on the run 

By Bhisham Mohamed

Security officers during the operation on Tuesday

Security officers during the operation on Tuesday

Weeks after operations came to a halt at Guyana Timber Products located at Lot 1 Coverden, East Bank Demerara, drug enforcement officers on Tuesday unearthed close to $1.5 billion worth of cocaine in its consignment of lumber destined for Holland.

The discovery was made around 15:00h by members of the Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) of the Guyana Revenue Authority and Custom Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU) as a result of a tip-off they received. The 314 kilograms of the illicit drug seized would have carried a street value of US$25,000 to US$35,000 per kilo had it reached Holland. The cocaine was concealed in about 20 plastic bags and was hidden in hollowed-out lumber.

Following the bust, six persons were arrested; they are being questioned by drug enforcement officers to ascertain the others involved. Among the six arrested are: an operator, supervisor, foreman and a casual worker. The owner of the company is believed to be in hiding.

This publication understands that the licence of the Guyana Timber Products Inc was suspended by the Guyana Forestry Commission after it was unable to pay $45 million in royalties to the commission.

The company, in trying to keep its head above rough waters, requested that the GFC allow it to continue doing business and promised that after this shipment, it would pay the monies owed to them. Apart from the registered name, the company was also known as Buckingham Sawmill, which was located at the intersection of the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and the East Bank Highway.

In addition, this publication understands that after the operation was closed, workers were forced to solicit job elsewhere, but despite the closure, a shuttle operation was being conducted at the location unknowingly to forestry officials.

Bankrupt company

Further investigation by this newspaper indicated that the executives of the bankrupt company approached several other lumber companies on the East Bank in an attempt to transport lumber under another name, but they were refused primarily because that could have jeopardised their business as well if the relevant authorities found out.

At the facility on Tuesday, the entire perimeter was under guard as CANU and DEU carried out their investigation. The Guyana Police Force was also contacted to assist with investigations. The large amount of cocaine was transported to CANU’s headquarters under heavy security.

It is not the first time such a major cocaine bust has been made and linked to Guyana. Back in 2003 British authorities had seized a vessel and remanded seven men following the discovery of nearly 120 kg (265 pounds) of cocaine among a consignment of lumber from Guyana.

South Wales Argus News, based in South Wales, had described the bust as one of the biggest drugs haul in the history of Gwent’s Police Force.

The arrests were made as a result of a joint operation involving Gwent Police Force, Customs and Excise and the National Crime Squad. Customs and Excise officials in Britain say most of the men charged with attempting to import cocaine into the United Kingdom had addresses in the United Kingdom, while one hails from Jamaica.

The large quantity of cocaine, carrying a street value of almost nine million pounds sterling (US$14.8 million), was found with lumber in a container aboard the MV [Merchant Vessel] EWL Venezuela at the weekend.

Just over a week ago CANU raided a house at Ogle, East Coast Demerara and earthed more than 36 kilograms of cocaine that was being prepared to be shipped. The street price for the cocaine was estimated to be $216 million. CANU head, James Singh had confirmed that the drug was seized after the unit received a tip-off. He said the house was under surveillance. He said during the raid, no one was at home but based on intelligence two persons were subsequently arrested. The CANU head revealed that some of the cocaine was already prepared for shipping while another set was in the open on the ground. The illegal substance was immediately seized and weighed.  Singh said from information received the house is being rented, but at the same time, they are trying to ascertain its ownership.

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