CANU corruption allegations
– prefers integrity testing of ranks
The Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on Thursday criticised President Granger’s decision to establish a Board of Inquiry (BoI) to probe a series of damning revelations by self-confessed drug lord Barry Dataram, implicating top agents of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU).
Dataram, during an interview with Television Journalist Travis Chase last weekend, alleged that senior officials of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) are involved in illegal drug trafficking activities and even alleged that one of the agents bagged some $10 million in exchange for allowing cocaine to leave the country. He also made allegations against the fairly new Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, President David Granger revealed that the National Security Committee (NSC), which he currently heads, decided during their weekly meeting on Tuesday to establish a Board of Inquiry to look into the allegations.
“Yes we’re convening an inquiry to investigate the allegations which were made… Yesterday (Tuesday), this matter came up before the Committee and we have decided that a Board of Injury will be convened… that inquiry will determine the veracity of the information which was published in the newspapers,” the Head of State stated.
The PPP in a statement said that while it supports any effort to ensure that CANU maintains its integrity and professionalism, it was dismayed at Granger’s haste to probe allegations made by a known drug trafficker who is seeking to bring into disrepute the whole of CANU.
The PPP criticised President Granger’s decision to quickly set up a Board of Inquiry to probe Dataram’s claims, when only a few days ago, he described Robert Gates, a key witness at the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry as a “convict”.
“It is indeed ironic that President Granger while rubbishing the testimony of Gates whom he described as a “convict” vis-a-vis the Rodney Commission of Inquiry Report, at the same time quickly and instantly accepts a newspaper report of a self-confessed drug trafficker and proceeds post haste to set up a Board of Inquiry, thus, legitimising the spurious claim seeking to tarnish the image of CANU as a whole,” the PPP said.
The PPP reminded that while in office, it had initiated annual integrity testing of CANU operatives with the aim of identifying and cleaning the anti-drug unit of corrupt elements or disreputable individuals who may have penetrated the organisation to pursue their nefarious agenda.
The Opposition, which was unseated just over nine months ago, said it is cognisant of the challenges that CANU faces on a daily basis, but is also aware of the many successes of the Unit over the years in tackling drug trafficking and successfully prosecuting those involved.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan on Thursday said while he supports the probe as instructed by President Granger, he is confident CANU would be exonerated.
He also rubbished Dataram’s claims, stating that “I disbelieve all of them but that’s my opinion. It’s like Pablo Escobar saying that the Drug Enforcement Agency is not a good thing because of course he has interests but indeed we have to pay attention to what was said to clear it up and I want to believe that an inquiry would be the best way to deal with it.”
In a statement on Monday evening, CANU Head James Singh said Dataram’s “savagery” against CANU may be as a result of his uneasiness owing to the commencement of his trial for possession of 129.230kg of cocaine that was found in shrimp at his Lot 661 Fourth Avenue, Block X, Diamond, East Bank Demerara residence on April 16, 2015.
Singh said that CANU welcomed the “frank confessions” of Dataram as to his involvement in the narcotics trade, and urged him and “others” like himself who are connected to the narcotics trade; both small and large, mules and traffickers alike, to go to the nearest court, Police station and/or the CANU headquarters in Georgetown to provide useful intelligence on past and ongoing investigations and operations.
Dataram gained notoriety in 2007 following the kidnapping of his wife Sheleza and their three-year-old daughter by two Venezuelans, one of whom was later shot dead in a confrontation with Police.
He was then arrested and detained by Police beyond the 72-hour constitutional detention period. His lawyers subsequently approached the court with a Habeas Corpus Writ, but the Police asked for an extension to conclude their investigation into the kidnapping, which they said was drug-related. What followed was a series of court appearances during which Dataram was twice set free and rearrested.
He was finally set free in December 2008. Then, in July 2015, Dataram, his 19-year-old reputed wife Anjanie Boodnarine, as well as Trevor Gouveia and Komal Charan were jointly charged for 129.230kg of cocaine that was found in the frozen seafood on April 16, 2015.
He was also found to be in possession of a quantity of firearms and ammunition. He subsequently secured $4 million bail from the High Court and another $400,000 in bail for the weapons charge.
His 19-year-old reputed wife was also granted bail in the High Court in the sum of $1.5 million, along with the two other accused.