November 23, 2017

External interference

In January of this year, the British Government claimed to have financed the return services of Dr Sam Sittlington to advise the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) in a five-week stint. The Unit had already been enmeshed in a swirling controversy brought about when an operative, engaged in a cloak and dagger surveillance operation, segued into a hot pursuit that ended tragically when the operative and his wife – who was not supposed to be there – perished.

More generally, a raft of organisations and individuals expressed grave concerns about “mission creep” of the organisation that had been established in 2014 on the recommendation of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF). It was specifically designated as a Police unit operating under the authority of the Police Commissioner but with a close relationship with the Financial Intelligence Unity (FIU), established under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act. In the surveillance and chase operation, the subjects were not even later accused of violating those laws.

More recently, SOCU was involved in a very highly publicised operation in which former President BharratJagdeo, six of his former Ministers and several other individuals who had purchased house lots at a new development at Sparendaam – dubbed “Pradoville 2” – were brought in to SOCU’s headquarters and arrested. The State-owned Chronicle blared in banner headlines, “Jagdeo hauled in” and several commentators saw the action as being politically motivated to embarrass and humiliate the Opposition Leader. Even President Granger was forced to concede the matter could have been handled more appropriately.

But his comment precipitated concerns as to who exactly was behind the political move. When questioned, the two Police top-brass admitted they had no prior knowledge of the operation. However, the week before, Public Security Minister KhemrajRamjattan had boasted that arrests of People’s Progressive Party (PPP) officials in the “Pradoville” matter were imminent. Concerns were raised then about the Minister becoming involved in operational matters of the Police Force, something he is statutorily forbidden to do.

But Sittlington, putatively an “advisor” to SOCU, was also getting involved in operational matters. After his five-week stint was completed, on February 22, at a press conference at the British High Commission he commented about the domestic reaction to SOCU’s operational role: “Recently in the press we have all seen SOCU being kicked about like a political football.”

However, and possibly because no one objected to his intervention into local politics, during the last SOCU operation of interrogating and arresting Jagdeo and other Pradoville house lots purchasers two weeks later on March 7, Sillington was still very visible with the SOCU team. No one up to today has explained whether his contract was extended and who was paying for his very high priced charges.

In fact, Sittlington was more than just “visible”; he now took an overtly operational role to “explain” to reporters the reason for the Police specific action that Granger later decried: “This is a Police investigation, this is not a PPP investigation. The Police dictate where they interview the suspects, not the individuals.” He also gave numbers of who were arrested and assured reporters there were more arrests pending. The British High Commissioner later denied Sillington was exceeding his remit but later was caught in an unsavoury exchange when he also claimed Sittlington had not been “celebrating” with Ramjattan on the night of the publicised arrests that Ramjattan had predicted. But Ramjattan has now confessed that indeed he was and contradicted the British High Commissioner.

This newspaper believes Sam Sittlington and his British paymaster’s role in the operations of the already controversial SOCU is unacceptable; especially in light of our troubled history with external interferences into our domestic affairs, we call upon the Government to investigate this role and its cover-up. We also call upon the entire international community – the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Caribbean Community, the diplomatic community to condemn this interference in our national sovereignty.