There is nothing criminal about the SARA bill says AG; forensic audits to be used for recovery of state assets
Attorney General Basil Williams has made it clear that the State Assets Recovery Agency Bill would give effect to the recommendations included in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and involves a civil recovery proceeding, not a criminal proceeding.
The Attorney General speaking at a press conference today dispelled the notion that persons would be charged when the SARA Bill is passed in the National Assembly. According to the AG, there is nothing criminal about the provisions in that Bill which will give investigative powers to the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) which is being headed by Professor Clive Thomas.
He further explained that the process though driven by the SARU requires the intervention of the High Court before effect is given to the investigations.
Meantime, Head of SARU, Professor Thomas while echoing similar sentiments said the entity proceeds with its investigations based on the assumption that a crime has been committed, but does not have to prove the crime.
“The Bill only assumes that a criminal offense has taken place as a condition for the investigation of the possibilities of civil recovery. A criminal offense must involve the theft of Government property, we define what we mean by that kind of crime…any crime that is stated in the legislation or is based on administrative direction by the state. So for example if you don’t pay your taxes, if you’ve evaded it, you have committed a crime, so on the basis of that we can investigate it,” said Thomas.
Professor Thomas stated that it is a non-conviction based framework but the anti-corruption aspect still remains. He said the legislation and by extension, SARU is seeking to recover funds that can be otherwise used for development projects. The SARU Head told the media when asked about the possibility of the Opposition challenging the legislation in court, that they are free to do so and SARU would be willing to defend the legislation.
Also present at Wednesday’s press conference was Chief Executive of SARU Aubrey Retemyer, who claimed that there is no vendetta against any particular individual and cited that Guyana was losing vast sums of money over the years,” some of the figures when they were released four or five years ago people refused to believe them but they were not fictitious figures …and if my memory serves me correct, the question of procurement fraud alone you had between 28 and 35 billion dollars loss from this country, in the case of illicit capital flight 90 billion every year, in the case of the underground economy …was about 188 billion dollars per year,” he noted.
Retemyer committed that the unit would do anything within its power and the law to ensure that the stolen state assets are repossessed, citing that Forensic Audits conducted have pointed to a number of individuals who would be pursued following the SARA Bill’s passage.
Additionally, SARU’s Legal Adviser, Brian Horn in response to a question raised noted that Civil Proceedings and criminal charges instituted by the state, as in the case of Former Minister, Jennifer Westford could run simultaneously, however, the state asset recovery aspect would be suspended pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
The SARA Bill would be read for the second time during Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly.