…US Ambassador says ‘Big Head’, others were under surveillance
…DEA, CANU, police hail for successful collaboration
THE fact that businessman Shervington Lovell aka “Big Head” and two others were arrested in Jamaica on drug trafficking charges, having been on law enforcement’s radar for years, was no coincidence but the fruit of strategic planning to catch them all at once.
This is according to outgoing United States (US) Ambassador Perry Holloway who, at the time, was providing an assessment of the involvement of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which set up an office here years ago.
On October 26, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) confirmed that Lovell, said to be part-owner of the Tower Suites Hotel and a posh facility in Berbice, was arrested along with Surinamese Steven Antonius and Venezuelan Agimero Castro. According to court documents, the businessman was part of a ring of drug traffickers who were conspiring to ship 624 kilos of cocaine to the Netherlands via the Azores Islands, an operation US investigators said was planned and partly funded with money from South Africa.
They were hauled in by the authorities in Jamaica for violating US maritime drug enforcement laws in Guyana, Jamaica, Colombia and elsewhere.
The men were later extradited to the US from Jamaica at the end of November for trial and it is reported that Lovell has since pleaded not guilty to charges brought before him. He is now in a US jail pending the outcome of the trial.
Speaking on the case, Ambassador Holloway said: “That came about as information developed here between the DEA, CANU, the Guyana Police Force [and] it just so happens that he was arrested in Jamaica, but there was a lot of reasons for that. It was also because he was meeting up with some other guys who were arrested and extradited. So, it was a way to get everybody at one place at one time; so that worked out quite well.”
The DEA office in Guyana was officially declared open by Ambassador Holloway in 2016. In assessing its contributions over the years, Holloway said: “The DEA, I think, has done a great job here, remember they’re not policemen in Guyana, they’re just liaison; they’re here to share information, develop information, talk to people.” “It’s hard to gauge the success in a really concrete, analytic way, it’s still very early. One of the things I said when I got here is the investigation of narcotics crime and the related crime of money laundering; these investigations take years, not weeks or months. So, if you’re going to bring down an organisation or a kingpin-type person, you don’t do that in a week or two weeks.”
He added that nabbing certain criminals in Guyana often requires a large amount of resources and time, considering the country’s size, population and porous borders. “I have seen no evidence that trans-shipment has gotten worse since I got here…but I will also tell you that it hasn’t ended of course, there’s still drugs going through Guyana, there’s still drugs going through every country in South America. Guyana is not alone in being a trans-shipment point; most countries in the region are. But I do think that government, the police and some of the other forces here have worked hard and are trying to do what they can with their resources, but there’s always more to be done,” the Ambassador said.
Noting the improvements further, he said: “In some ways Guyana was a black hole. No one really had any clue what was going through, where it was going, how it was going, who was moving it. So now, after three years of the DEA here, we’re beginning to develop some ideas, but I think in the next two or three years you’re going to see a lot more positive actions coming from your law enforcement entities and them cooperating with international law enforcement.”
Also, with the recent development of persons being extradited from the US to Guyana, Ambassador Holloway spoke on this change whereby it is less challenging for those accused or convicted of a crime to be returned to the country. “Extradition is normally done through a bilateral treaty which we had with the United Kingdom before Guyana became a country and when a new country is formed, it takes on the treaty obligations of its mother country — for lack of a better word,” he said.
“We’ve certainly made our effort. These treaties take a long time; you’ve noticed how many appeals, both to the United States, Mr. Bisram has had and I think Troy Thomas has had a lot of appeals. They may still have a few more left but I think they’re both getting to the end of their appeal process.”
“I think it sends a message to everyone that not everyone gets away with it…it is true that they are people that regularly try to flee Guyana and go to the states or someone else, but if the request is not in a proper way with the right legal documents attached to it and we think that there’s a [likelihood] of a fair trial in the country that is requesting it, we will extradite people, it shouldn’t be that hard. So, I think once those two guys go back and forth, I think you’ll see more [extraditions] in both directions.”