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Monday, June 12, 2006

-in wake of US drug report

In addition to the unsealed indictment in his name from a United States Grand Jury for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into that country, embattled businessman Shaheed 'Roger' Khan is going nowhere fast with the processing of an exploratory permit for his logging company Aurelius Inc.

The permitting process for that company was halted apparently because of the allegations contained in the March US Drug Strategy Report which named Khan as a known drug trafficker and also named Aurelius Inc as being controlled by him.

Up to the end of March this year, Commissioner of Forests James Singh said that Cabinet had not approved a State Forest Exploratory Permit (SFEP) for Aurelius Inc even though the GFC Board had given its all clear. Observers had pointed out that once the board had given the green light it was automatic that the permit would be handed over. This was not the case however.

Several weeks before he was murdered, Minister of Agriculture Satyadeow Sawh had said that the matter had to be investigated before the next move could be determined on the issuing of permit. Earlier in that same week, both Singh and Sawh indicated that the permitting process for the company was off the table. They both said that there had been no Cabinet response to the Board on the permit up to that time.

Singh had said in the statement that in 2004 State Forest Areas to be allocated State Forest Exploratory Permits (SFEPs) were publicly advertised and Aurelius Inc applied for the award of one of these permits in accordance with the GFC approved procedures.

Singh had said that the GFC reviewed the application that Aurelius Inc submitted and was satisfied that the application had met all of the necessary technical and financial requirements of the GFC. He said that the GFC Board's Technical Sub-Committee then reviewed the recommendation that the GFC management made and concurred that the company merited the award of an SFEP for the area applied for.

The US Department of State's International Narcotics Strategy Report for 2006 stated: "In 2005, The Guyana Forestry Commission granted a State Forest Exploratory Permit for a large tract of land in Guyana's interior to Aure-lius Inc, a company controlled by Shaheed 'Roger' Khan."

Singh's statement added: "The GFC Board of Directors then endorsed the recommendations of the GFC Board Technical Committee that the company Aurelius Inc be granted an SFEP. Note that the SFEP is for a maximum of three years; during this period, the following has to be completed: a forest inventory, a strategic forest management plan and an environmental and social impact assessment."

Singh said that only on the completion of these would the recommendation be made for the award of a Wood Cutting Lease or a Timber Sales Agreement, dependent on the size of the concession. The Commissioner noted that no commercial harvesting can be done during the allocation of the SFEP.

Singh said that the GFC then made a recommendation to Cabinet for the approval of the award of an SFEP to Aurelius Inc. "This recommendation has not been approved to date," Singh said. "It is therefore erroneous for anyone to state that an SFEP has been granted to Aurelius Inc."

According to documentation seen by Stabroek News, on October 5, 2005 it was agreed to by a majority vote that three companies - including Aurelius - would be awarded SFEPs.

At board meetings subsequent to October 5, 2005 the granting of the permit to the company was discussed and considered to be a fait accompli, this newspaper understands. Concerns were also raised at these meetings about the inadequate due diligence done in relation to the company, in particular as to who owned the shares. It was agreed that in relation to future applications for SFEPs a more rigorous examination of the bona fides of applicants would be done.

Singh said again that the Government is the party that grants all permits and not the Board or the Commissioner. He did acknowledge the fact that the Board recommended that the permit be handed to the company.

The US State Department said that Government's counter-narcotics efforts "are undermined by the lack of adequate resources for law enforcement, poor coordination among law enforcement agencies, and a weak judicial system."

During early last year, Singh stated that the GFC was not aware of evidence to suggest any drug linkages in the forestry industry. Persons had been writing letters alleging that narco-interests were taking over large companies in the forest industry and that the Government was not doing enough to combat the situation.

Persons also alleged that drug interests now control up to 14% of the country's productive timber resources and considerably more of the sector's productive assets. They believe that by 2011 drug interests may control 20-25% of national forest sector output and 11% of GDP.

Stabroek News