Over the decades, no other Guyanese executive president has had to face the continuing and growing mountain of corruption allegations against him like former head of state and current Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo as he is now embroiled in a nasty cash bribes for state contracts scandal involving a dubious Chinese businessman.
In a brilliant undercover operation involving secret filming, American television channel Showtime, Sunday night took Guyanese into the living room of Jagdeo’s private seaside residence where he and a naturalized Chinese businessman named Su Zhjirong discussed the normal modus operandi linked to the award of the largest state contracts, Su’s unusually close relationship with him and his role as an alleged middleman to Jagdeo on behalf of foreign companies, many of them Chinese.
Vice News’ 15-minute broadcast produced some startling lines and quotations including a portion where Jagdeo — patently unaware that he is being filmed — said that Su was his neighbor and close friend and that he got all of the VP’s “support” while lobbying on behalf of overseas investors. The investigation was designed to expose widespread corruption in Guyana, Jagdeo’s alleged role and the extent to which those who are not in the know would not benefit from investment opportunities and state contracts. Jagdeo has vehemently denied accepting bribes solicited by Su and has hinted that he will take legal action against him, while evicting him from a neighboring coastal compound that Jagdeo said he owns. Opposition parties have called for his immediate resignation.
The video shows Jagdeo telling Su and another Chinese businessman that they are indeed close friends and cooperate on the award of contracts. Su says those interested must pay him a processing fee which he shares with Jagdeo. “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 the government side,” as he appears to confirm a dubious 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, 58, 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 processing fee then he’ll share some with me. We will split the amount with the boss. It is a service fee,” said Su.
As they exited the sprawling mansion earlier this year, Su said in Mandarin to the other Chinese businessman that Jagdeo’s hands are “very clean” as he refers to “service fee” payments made for a local hydro plant deal in the interior. Other amounts of money before this have been much bigger. He had me handle those. He would never admit that he is involved in this,” Su said. One fee figure mentioned during the broadcast reached $500,000.
“Other amounts of money before this have been much bigger.” According to Su, the hydroelectric plant deal would have seen them getting tens of millions of dollars. “He had me handle those. He would never admit that he is involved in this,” Su said. “If you want anything done in Guyana you have to have some connections. I am very close with the vice president and the other officials.”
Since finding among the world’s largest offshore oil and gas deposits back in mid-2015, Guyana has been a hotbed for businessmen and women of all stripes, with dozens touching down in the country each day, seeking a piece of the investment pie. Others act as middlemen, government liaison officials and facilitators.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the Guyanese economy will grow by the largest margin globally this year — by at least 50 percent — thanks to runaway international oil prices and the direct and downstream investments from the oil sector.
American supermajor ExxonMobil is leading the oil production scenario in Guyana producing more than 300,000 barrels of oil from two massive oilfields northeast of the capital, Georgetown. The country is awash with business opportunities and the estimated 800,000 population in a country the size of Britain or Idaho is growing rapidly with westerners, Cubans, Venezuelans and others. Two more fields are set to come on stream in the next two to three years taking daily production to in excess of 700,000 barrels. Other companies including Repsol of Spain are also conducting exploration drilling near Exxon’s lucrative Stabroek Block and expect runaway success similar to Exxon’s.
As a country, Guyana is slated to make close to $1 billion in direct revenue from oil sales this year, making the country a magnet for all sorts and conditions of ‘investors.’ Even more will flow when the two other fields come on stream and if oil prices remain as high as today officials say.
The main opposition party Monday expressed alarm at the allegations, calling not only for an independent probe into the broadcast but also for the resignation of Jagdeo.