SARA to move to the courts to recover State assets
The State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) is currently in the process of preparing court proceedings to file with the aim of recovering State resources which the body claimed ended up in the hands of persons through “ill-gotten means”.Speaking with reporters on Friday, Director of SARA, Professor Clive Thomas said the Agency intends to file these proceedings in the second half of the year.“The cases are in process of preparation (and) they may not all be held in the courts in Guyana… (but) the court cases will start in the third quarter of this year,”According to Professor Thomas, the overseas cases being pursued by SARA are mostly financial instruments, such as cash and bank accounts, while local casesDirector of SARA, Professor Clive Thomasare related to State lands in addition to cash. However, he noted that with the overseas cases, SARA will have to meet a certain target value before they could start initiate the recovery process.“They have to be above a certain figure for the cases to proceed overseas to make it worthwhile for the (relevant overseas) agencies to pursue the cases…The Act in Guyana says we can only proceed with recovery in cases more than $10 million Guyana dollars but that’s chicken feed overseas. So, we have to get cases that we can at least ask the courts overseas to deal with at least $10 million US dollars,” Professor Thomas said, adding that they are currently working on these cases.He further sought to explain that these proceedings will be just to recover the State assets and not to criminally indict anyone.“We don’t charge individuals but anybody who has unlawful ownership of public assets or where public assets have been transferred to them as a result of misconduct, we go after the property and that is where the (States Assets Recovery) Bill focuses our efforts,” he posited.However, Professor Thomas noted that some of the local cases that SARA is pursuing with the aim of recovering State assets, are also before the criminal court.According to the Director, SARA currently has between 50 to 60 active cases that it is investigating. However, some of these cases, he pointed out, involve multiple individuals who were part of the process.Professor Thomas went on to note that SARA based its investigations on complaints and referrals from other State agencies. “There is no single case that we’ve ever pursued that has not been referred to us either by another criminal agency – let’s say SOCU (Special Organised Crime Unit), the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), the Police or whoever it might be – or a Government department, that’s the mechanism we’ve used so far,” he noted.However, the SARA Director further noted that the agency is also open to reports from the public, but this is being done cautiously. In fact, he added that SARA’s website will soon have the procedure that would be adopted on deciding whether or not to pursue these publicly reported cases and how they will be pursued.“Because we have to also be careful that people don’t make false accusations against others or deliberately seek to create mischief. So we can’t take an allegation of theft as anything more than an allegation. So we have to some preliminary discussions and evaluations of that. But that’s the best practice internationally, and that is what we are doing,” Professor Thomas said. He further outlined that international crime of this sort against State assets is the fastest growing crime globally but is the least crime for which persons are convicted. To this end, he noted that many countries have adopted a collective approach to tackling the issue. In fact, Professor Thomas noted that some nations such as England have put laws in place where private firms can also go after stolen State resources and get a cut from the recovered assets.