Guyana Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo
Guyana Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo.
Associated Press / Mary Altaffer/ File

Late last month, HBO television aired a brilliant undercover Vice News documentary detailing what it said was widespread corruption in Guyana, including a cash for contracts system involving connected Chinese businessmen who had ensnared top government officials including Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo.

Watched by millions around the world, the probe exposed well known, naturalized Chinese Guyanese Su Zhirong talking about the millions in bribes he is forced to pay as a middleman to top government officials including Jagdeo to facilitate state contracts, purchases of prime state lands and other investment nuggets mostly for Chinese businessmen. Jagdeo has denied these allegations and has vowed to take legal action against Su.

Patently unaware he was being filmed, Su explained how “processing fees” are split with Jagdeo, 58, once clients are engaged in negotiations and how he carefully insulated the former president from finger pointing by actually collecting the cash on their behalf. Su had shared a coastal compound with Jagdeo so access to Jagdeo has never been a problem. Jagdeo has said he will evict his tenant and take action against him for abusing their friendship and pretending to act on his behalf for cash.

Meanwhile, the scandal Vice News exposed has now pushed both the Chinese and Guyanese governments to issue statements on an issue that simply would not go away. The Chinese embassy this week urged its businessmen to stay away from corruption, while Guyanese President Irfaan Ali says the contents in the expose should be investigated, as he appeared to bow to opposition and civil society demands for an official probe, even if to satisfy a restless public.

In the second edition Vice News aired recently, a group of Chinese businessmen living in Guyana explained to journalist Isabella Yeung how they also have a well-established racket system to smuggle millions of US dollars in and out of Guyana including cash for drug cartels, Chinese companies in Guyana and other clients.

Asked this week what will become of the expose, Ali said the allegations “should be investigated by security agencies. What is clear, there are some people there who are saying they are involved in such activities. If you look at the video, that definitely requires an investigation. And I’m hoping the relevant security and relevant agencies are looking at this because it is clear that someone says they are involved,” the head of state told reporters.

Shaken up by the expose, Chinese Ambassador to Guyana Guo Haiyan says Vice News came with a clear agenda to smear the Chinese business community and to foster poor relations with Guyana.

“One of their purposes is to smear Chinese companies here and attack China/Guyana cooperation. We saw the video and it’s quite clear that it’s cut and edited with malicious purpose. They had a predetermined agenda,” she told reporters.

The local Chinese Association has also jumped into the issue, noting in a statement that “by and large, members of the Chinese community are devoted to an earnest and hardworking means of livelihood for the well-being of their loved ones, just like all other persons in society. All in all, association is equitably devoted to the wellbeing of all peoples of Guyana and work cooperatively towards advancing our harmony, and mutual understanding, and mutual appreciation.”

In the first edition that the American channel had aired, Su had explained in detail how the system with Jagdeo works, noting Su is well assisted by him at the highest levels.

“He gets all the support. Su deals with all the agreements. I don’t. The thing is, my thing is that I am in government, so I assist from government side,” as he appears to confirm an investment/contract award arrangement between the two. The opposition has deemed such as highly unusual.

For his part, Su says no one can point a finger directly at Jagdeo because he is the front man. “If we are doing business together, my boss is not going to receive money directly. It’s going to be a service and a processing fee then he’ll share some with me. We will split the amount with the boss. It is a service fee,” said Su, clearly unaware of hidden cameras and appearing to be comfortable with the Mandarin speaking Vice News journalist.

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