September 23 2018
The Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) was last week ordered by the High Court to return more than $7 million and a large quantity of gold and silver jewellery it had seized from gold and diamond dealer Junior Craig Singh.
Declaring the seizure to have been unduly long and noting that no charges were levelled against the applicant, Justice Gino Persaud, who presided over the case, also ordered the state entity to pay over to the applicant $150,000 in court costs.
The items had been seized some eight months ago from Singh’s home.
In his application before the court, Singh was seeking an order for the release of GY$7,379,340, US$870, 15 gold rings, 1 silver and gold ring, 5 gold hand bands, 8 gold chains, 2 gold earrings and 4 gold pendants.
He had also asked the court to award him costs and any further or other order it deemed as being just and appropriate.
In court documents seen by this newspaper, Singh, who is the proprietor of Junior Jack Gold and Diamond Dealer and Luxury Vehicles Rental, said the reason for the seizure of his belongings by SOCU from the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) was unknown.
He argued through his attorney, Everton Singh-Lammy, that no allegation of criminality had been put to him.
He went on to state further that he had never been charged or convicted for any offence under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (Control) Act or any other Act for that matter, which could possibly have rendered him liable to having his assets seized.
Singh deposed that an investigation aimed at determining whether the detained assets were proceeds of criminal activities and/or money laundering required an enquiry being made of him and an explanation as to the source of the items.
He said he then subsequently learnt, only at the time of filing prerogative writs against CANU for the release of other seized items, that SOCU had subsequently detained the currency and jewellery.
Singh, who said he has been dealing in precious minerals since the late 1990s, noted that at the time of the seizure he had provided CANU with “reasonable explanations” for the source of his assets as well as supporting documentation, which it retained.
He said he eventually got back his documents, only after obtaining a court order, while arguing that SOCU’s failure to conduct an efficient investigation had unnecessarily and unreasonably prolonged the seizure.
He said had SOCU requested documents for the source of his assets from him, it would have had no option but to return his belongings, given that he could prove that they lawfully belonged to him.
He said to his detriment, the cash which had been seized had not been deposited into an interest-bearing account as mandated by S.37 (6) of the Summary Offences Act.
Singh said he only became aware that there had been a court order permitting the seizure of his cash sometime after a second 90-day period had been granted by the court. However, he advanced that the procedure set out in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act is not intended to shut out an applicant from being heard regarding detention of his property.
As a result, he contended that SOCU had abused the process of the court by deliberately failing to serve the first court order on him—serving the second one only after protestations from his lawyer.
Singh’s position had been that the process originally invoked by CANU, which purports to authorize the seizure of his articles, “was inherently flawed, deficient and procedurally improper.
Counsel for the applicant had argued, among other things, that that process was flawed because the document labelled “notice of seizure” had not been issued by an authorized person nor was it signed.
Singh-Lammy said this was done by the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) when it should have been done by the Commissioner of Police in accordance with S. 88 of the Narcotic Act.
Referencing S. 37A of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Act 2015, Singh-Lammy said it was unfair for SOCU to have seized his client’s cash, which had not amounted to $10 million.
Section 37A (1) (a) of the Act provides that “a police officer, customs officer or a person authorized by the Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit may seize and detain cash anywhere in Guyana if-the amount is more than ten million dollars.”
Singh said he has been licensed with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission since 2014 to purchase and sell valuable minerals and precious stones. Describing himself as operator of several other legitimate businesses, he said he is also the owner of a valid Guyana Energy Agency petroleum licence for the purchase and sale of fuel.
He said he also operates several farms and he also buys groceries and other commodities which he trades in interior locations and has been a shopkeeper in Mahdia since 2002.
Singh said he was at home on January 19th when his jewelry and money were seized by CANU officials, who informed him that they wanted to search his premises for illegal articles. He said that after allowing the officers in his house, they then informed him that they had received information and were looking for guns and drugs.
He said that after a four-hour search of his entire property, he was made to sign a document that nothing illegal had been found, but was nonetheless arrested and taken to CANU’s headquarters with the items which they would later seize, along with five vehicles, 3 televisions, 1 laptop computer and a number of other electrical devices.
Singh said that after being detained for more than 72 hours, he dutifully returned on January 23rd upon CANU’s request and was at that point given a notice of seizure. He said at no time was any allegation of a criminal offence put to him nor was he given a reason for his detention in spite of his numerous enquiries.
The applicant said in an affidavit supporting his application that he was constrained to always have large amounts of cash in his possession to effect the purchase of gold and diamonds wherever his clients show up with their production. According to him, “in effect, the money is working capital of my gold and diamond trading business.”
He said the cash which was seized had been accumulated from the sale of gold for which he has GGMC receipts and from such things, like the recent sale of a truck.
The man complained that he had accumulated over many years the large amount of the jewellery that had been seized.
The state’s case in the action brought by Singh to recoup his belongings had been presented by attorney Leslyn Noble.