Guyana’s government seeks further details from US on sanctioned state official and wealthy family

Mae Toussaint Thomas.
Mae Toussaint Thomas.
Photo by Dennis Chabrol

Guyana’s government Tuesday asked the US for additional information on a senior Guyanese state functionary and one of the country’s wealthiest families after they had been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for engaging in widespread corruption, bribery of officials and other forms of corruption.

Reacting to the department’s sanctions on leading Guyanese gold buyer, miner and foreign exchange cambio dealer Nazar Mohamed, his son Azruddin Mohamed and Mae Thomas, the former administrative head of the security ministry, government said it wants more information to determine how to proceed with any investigations into wrongdoing by federal officials.

Thomas was temporarily detained by federal officials at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport last year while transiting to China. Her mobile phone was seized and crucial information about her links as permanent secretary in the security ministry to the Mohamed family was downloaded and returned to her. The government statement said that she has since, as of Tuesday, been sent on leave with immediate effect following Tuesday’s announcement by the Treasury.

The Treasury Department stated that Thomas had been able to use her position at the security ministry to provide insider information to the Mohameds at early stages of evaluation of public tenders. “Thomas used her position to offer benefits to Mohamed’s Enterprise and Azruddin, among others, in exchange for cash payments and high-value gifts. Thomas misused her position to influence the award of official contract bids and the approval processes for weapons permits and passports on behalf of Mohamed’s Enterprise.”

As it relates to Azruddin Mohamed, the OFAC is designating Azruddin and Mohamed’s Enterprise “for being persons who have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery, that is conducted by a foreign person.”

For its part, the government said that “based on the information referenced in the press release, the Ministry of Finance and relevant statutory agencies including the Guyana revenue authority, will be requesting additional information on the matters highlighted, with a view to aiding local law enforcement agencies. The government of Guyana takes very seriously the claims contained in the press release and will continue to engage relevant US entities on these matters. In the meantime, permanent secretary Thomas has been sent on leave with immediate effect,” the statement said.

The Mohamed family had until recently been close political and business allies with President Irfaan Ali and other top officials, but they appear to have run afoul of the political elite after hinting that he was preparing to form a political party ahead of general elections next year.

American authorities said that a string of agencies had collaborated on the investigations leading to the sanctions of the three including Homeland Security Investigations, New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force, Diplomatic Security Service, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Intelligence – New York Operations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Miami Field Office, with assistance from HSI Miami, CBP Miami and New York Field Offices, New York City Police Department Intelligence Bureau, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Today’s action underscores our commitment to holding accountable those who seek to exploit Guyana’s underdeveloped gold sector for personal gain,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson. “Treasury, in close coordination with our partners in U.S. law enforcement, will continue to take action to safeguard the U.S. financial system from abuse by corrupt actors.”