FOLLOWING his two-month suspension over misconduct, a senior Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) official has distanced himself from any wrongdoing in a case involving allegedly smuggled Suriname-branded chicken. He has also said that the action meted out to him is unjust and unfair, and has since written higher authorities seeking redress.
Troy Vannooten was last week sent on leave, and two Marine officers have since been dismissed by the GRA in connection with a quantity of chicken which was allegedly smuggled into Guyana in September. Vannooten, the Law Enforcement Manager (ag), in a release issued yesterday, said his suspension was done as a counter to actions wherein he had “ruffled feathers” within the GRA regarding corrupt practices. He described his suspension as “unjust, unfair, and without merit”.
He said he never received any monies in connection with the incident in which a Suriname-registered Bedford lorry which contained some 400 boxes of foreign chicken with an aggregate street value of some $2.8M was stopped by the police at a roadblock.
“I am a no-nonsense person. You would have heard before about all of the corrupt activities that go on within the GRA”, Vannooten said. He said that, in his capacity as an enforcement officer, he tries to eradicate corrupt practices by individuals whenever such is reported to him. “People on the road and even within GRA feel threatened by my presence in law enforcement,” he explained.
Vannooten said he acted within the rules and regulations of the authority regarding the detention of a Bedford lorry. Regarding his involvement in the matter, he said the police provided information on the truck, and he instructed one Omadat Persaud in Berbice to investigate the matter. Three officers were contacted in Georgetown, and he and the group proceeded to the Corentyne.
He said that, at the time, two GRA staffers were found in a car in proximity to the lorry, and they were in the presence of another man who may have been the owner of the goods.
“These two officers were scheduled to travel to the interior the morning; however, they were carrying out an unsanctioned exercise in Region Six”, he said.
Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur was informed via report that one of the occupants of the car exited the vehicle and identified himself as Phillip Paruag, an Enforcement Officer attached to LIED of GRA. Vannooten said Paraug informed that he had detained the truck with its contents, and was escorting the truck to Georgetown for further investigation.
He said Sattaur instructed him to collect fines to the tune of $700,000 for the truck and the load, and at no time did he collect any money in aiding the passage of the truck’s goods. He added that the taxes were paid on the items at GRA’s offices on Camp Street and an official receipt was issued to this effect.
Vannooten said his immediate boss seemed displeased regarding a report he submitted on the matter, wherein he (Vannooten) recommended that the two officers be suspended. He was however shocked by reasons mentioned in a suspension letter that was given to him. According to him, the letter seemed “vague, and did not explain his wrongdoings in investigating the seizure of the illegal chicken”.
He has since written Chairman of the Board of the GRA, Rawle Lucas, to have the board review the circumstances leading up to his suspension, and also into departmental corruption. This newspaper last weekend reported on the incident, in which staff reported that the culture of bribery within the organisation needs to be dealt with accordingly. They expressed disgust at the incident and other instances of corrupt practices, including bribery at the organisation.