November 30 ,2020
The US$1M payment made to prominent PNCR member James Bond for leased NICIL lands at Peters Hall, East Bank Demerara was never flagged by the city commercial bank that undertook the transaction, Bank of Guyana sources say.
The Bank of Guyana learned of the transaction, which occurred in October of 2019, through press reports, sources told Stabroek News.
Guyana’s Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) is currently analyzing files sent to it from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on the land deals to determine if laws were transgressed, sources close to that investigation also told this newspaper.
“The file has been passed by the CID for SOCU to conduct the money laundering aspect of the investigations. In this regard, court orders have been applied for and obtained, in relation to all the directors of ARKEN, and James Bond and served on the bank requesting bank account information among other things,” a SOCU source said.
The SOCU source informed that “nothing came to SOCU from FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) prior to now” on the said transaction.
When FIU Head Matthew Langevine was contacted yesterday, he told this newspaper that the law of this country prohibits his agency from speaking publicly on active investigations. “We can’t, according to law,” he said.
However, he said that his agency shares information with SOCU and has been doing so since its creation as they both collaborate on active investigations.
And with daily complaints by citizens of the red tape and questioning they endure over small sums at commercial banks, Attorney General Anil Nandall says he sees negligence in how the large transaction was handled.
“In my view, there was negligence by the operators in the AML/CFT (Anti-Money Laundering/ Countering the Financing of Terrorism) machinery to not have red-flagged that transaction,” Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday when contacted.
As the Minister who holds responsibility for AML /CFT oversight, Nandlall says that he was flummoxed over how the transaction did not trigger a single red flag.
He said that as the transaction occurred since 2019 while the APNU+AFC was in government, the way that the AML/ CFT is structured he could not give an insight into transactions during that period.
“I would not be able to explain or account for what transpired. However, having worked closely in establishing Guyana’s AML/CFT machinery, the way it is structured and the manner in which it ought to function, that transaction should have been flagged as a suspicious transaction by the respective bank and that bank ought to have reported it to its supervisory authority which is the Central Bank. The Central Bank in turn had a duty to transmit that report to the FIU for investigations,” he said.
He continued, “The FIU then determines if to send to SOCU which is the investigative arm of the structure. The reason why the transaction should have been flagged would have been because of the sums of monies involved and it could not have been a regular type of transaction, having regard to previous transactions done by that customer. That is unless that customer regularly receives such large amounts in their account. In my view there was negligence by the operators in the AML/CFT machinery; to not have red- flagged that transaction,” he added.
Nandlall said that there seemed to be a lack of communication between the operators of the AML/CFT machinery here and “that by itself warrants investigation”.
After a 72-hour stay in the lockups, Bond was on Friday released from police custody after being questioned on the award of state lands at Peters Hall. He is on $200,000 station bail.
One of Bond’s attorneys, Patrice Henry, told Stabroek News that his client is required report to the Criminal Investigation Department Headquarters, at Eve Leary, this morning. Henry said there has been no indication of charges but noted that the investigation is still ongoing.
Bond is alleged to have been a key financial beneficiary of the deals which did not comply with the traditional terms of such land leases.
Bond has declined to speak to Stabroek News on these matters saying that he will not be speaking to the press. “I am not going to speak to the press” he had told this newspaper three weeks ago. Asked then who would he be speaking to, he replied, “The court, the police, SOCU”.
The transaction which saw the monies deposited into Bond’s account pertains to a Caribbean joint-venture for a chemical storage facility between GLASS Holdings and Trinidadian Lennox Petroleum. Bond, it is alleged, was the recipient of some US$952,800 for the sale of lease rights for the Peters Hall lands.
In the case of Arken Group Inc., located at 34 Third Street, Alberttown, it was leased 20.8 acres in four plots by National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL); three at 5.0 acres and the other at 5.8 acres. The lands were not advertised and as such there was no Board or Cabinet approval of the deal. The date of execution of the lease was stated as 9th May 2018 and the company agreed to a 20-year lease.
The annual cost for the lease was US$16,224. For the 20-year period, it would mean that the company would have been required to pay US$324,480.
No restrictions applied and the business sold its leasehold rights of 10 acres to GLASS Holdings Inc., on October 10th 2019 for $200 million. GLASS Holdings paid the sum in two installments of US$195,000 and US$757,000 and according to the terms of their agreement with ARKEN, was given an irrevocable Power of Attorney. They were required to continue payments and meet the terms of the lease.
However, according to Managing Director of GLASS Holdings Inc., Glenn Low-A-Chee, when he went to pay his lease fee he was shocked to learn that the deal had come under scrutiny.
“The Lease Agreement and all documents and procedures to effect the transfer of the Leasehold/ Lessee rights from ARKEN to GLASS Holdings were prepared and processed in compliance with the lease (number provided) and the general rules governing the lease transfer,” Low-A-Chee wrote to new NICIL Chairman Radha Krishna Sharma, as he enquired about the purchase of the lease.
“Pending the completion of the documentation process, we had visited NICIL in early March and again in August 2020 in an attempt to pay our lease fees as the new Lessee and we were advised by Mr. Winston Mingo, Accounts Receivable Clerk in the Accounts Department, NICIL, that there was a pending jurisdictional/ restructuring issue between NICIL and Ministry of Business regarding the collection of lease fees, and as such our payment was not accepted/processed. We were advised to follow up at a later date regarding the payments,” he explained to Sharma.
The company had said that it would make a statement on the deal but to date has not done so.