Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud was granted autonomy to further withholds some 19.12 ounces of gold jewellery valued approximately $3.9 million, which was seized from goldsmith Richard Ramjit during a Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) raid, but his Attorney Anil Nandlall strongly believes that this is a clear abuse of the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act.
Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud
Attorney Anil Nandlall
The quantity of jewellery can be detained for a period of 90 days from date of seizure for the purpose of investigation to determine whether the said valuables are the proceeds of criminal activities or the subject matter of money laundering.
Ramjit of Better Hope, East Coast Demerara (ECD), filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Government after he was detained at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) for several hours and his jewellery confiscated.
Notably, this incident brought to the fore concerns about how potential travellers will be affected by this new legislation, which allows designated officers to seize jewellery worth in excess of US$10,000.
On Thursday morning, the matter was called for the first time in the Constitutional Court before Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards.
Leave was granted to file Affidavits in Answers and the matter was adjourned to April 14.
Commenting on the outcome of the first hearing, Nandlall said it is rather strange that such an order would have been made in the absence of the other party.
Nandlall contended that his client was not even made aware of the decision until the court hearing.
“So, you have people’s property being detained for several months by a Court Order without offering them an opportunity to be heard. In my considered view, that by itself can constitute deprivation of property without natural justice,” he said.
He pointed out that the jewellery seized – a chain and a wrist band – was in his client’s possession for over five years and that his client has worn them on numerous occasions when travelling in and out of the country to the USA.
“He has never once been questioned before by Customs Officers or indeed anyone else about these pieces of jewellery either at CJIA or JFK International Airport,” Nandlall stated.
On this note, he contended that this case is an obvious abusive and misuse of the AML/CFT Act.
In fact, Nandlall pointed out that the law provides for the SOCU Officer to have had reasonable grounds for suspecting that the jewellery has some connection to proceeds of crime or money laundering before seizing it.
In this case, Nandlall said the SOCU Officer seized the jewellery first and then moved to obtain the Court Order to justify the detention of his client’s property.
“He seized without reasonable grounds for suspicion. In other words, they have turned the law upside down. This entire case is a travesty of justice,” the Attorney asserted.