Two Guyanese opposition lawmakers are among six former high ranking officials charged as the week ended with misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars from a special fund linked to Venezuela’s PetroCaribe concession oil agreement with Caribbean trade bloc countries and Guyana in which rice was bartered for oil.
Dharamkumar Seeraj, head of the opposition-controlled Rice Producers Association and Nigel Dharamlall, former chief executive at the local government ministry and Jagnarine Singh, former head of the rice development board were indicted for allegedly stealing and or mismanaging most of about $500M in money from the fund. Three other lower ranking officials are also charged with the three and are listed to appear before a magistrate later on Friday.
They could face five years in jail if tried at the lower court or much longer sentences if the case is sent to judge and jury.
The state is alleging a large portion of the millions which passed through the rice board since the PetroCaribe rice for oil deal was launched back in 2005 cannot be accounted for because some were given as unsecured loans or grants to rice farmers without proper authority. The money has not been repaid.
Venezuela cancelled the barter arrangement in 2015 after tensions over its longstanding border claim to Guyana escalated after ExxonMobil had announced a major offshore oil find.
The discovery was made after the state ordered forensic audits into dozens of state agencies after the governing People’s Progressive Party lost power two years ago after 23 years in office.
The administration of President David Granger has said that dozens of former officials will be charged as most of the audits have been completed. These include former President Bharrat Jagdeo for allegedly underpricing the value of prime coastal state lands and converting it into a sub division with palatial homes.
Several state agencies are investigating operations of the previous government including the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) which has said it is arranging with a slew of foreign firms to recover nearly $1B in cash hidden overseas by several former ministers and other ranking officials.