Guyanese government official, businessmen sanctioned by US

21 June 2024

 The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned a senior Guyanese public officer and two prominent businessmen. 

The sanctions come in response to alleged corruptions involving the parties and the business they operate and are pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which aims to combat human rights abuses and corruption globally. 

“The US is imposing sanctions today on Nazar Mohamed, his son, Azruddin Mohamed, their company, Mohamed’s Enterprise, and Mae Thomas, the former Permanent Secretary to Guyana’s Minister of Home Affairs and current Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, for their roles in public corruption in Guyana,” said a press release from the US State Department. 

 The statement also revealed that the US was designating “two entities, Hadi’s World and Team Mohamed’s Racing Team, for being owned or controlled by Mohamed’s Enterprise and Azruddin, respectively”. 

They are the result of a coordinated effort with several investigative and law enforcement agencies including Homeland Security Investigations New York Organised Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Intelligence, and the FBI Miami Field Office. 

It is alleged that between 2019 and 2023, Mohamed’s Enterprise failed to declare over 10,000 KG of gold in import and export records to international markets, including the US, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and the EU, avoiding more than US$50mn in duties and taxes owed to the Government of Guyana. 

Nazar Mohamed established Mohamed’s Enterprise in Guyana and later expanded his operations to  the United States, starting as a moneychanger and then moving into gold trading. This expansion led Mohamed’s Enterprise to become one of Guyana’s largest gold exporters. Azruddin Mohamed later took over the business, which now also operates under the name ‘Confidential Cambio’. 

“Today’s action underscores our commitment to holding accountable those who seek to exploit Guyana’s underdeveloped gold sector for personal gain,” said US Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson, adding that they remain committed to safeguarding the US financial system from abuse by corrupt actors. 

To hide this scheme, the company reportedly bribed government officials, enriching those involved and undermining Guyanese institutions while depriving the state of needed revenue. 

Mae Thomas stands accused of misusing her role as Permanent Secretary to the Guyana Minister of Home Affairs from October 2020 to August 2023, to provide benefits to Mohamed’s Enterprise and Azruddin in exchange for cash and expensive gifts. 

It is alleged that she manipulated procurement processes, provided insider information, influenced the award of contracts and the issuance of weapons permits and passports to the benefit of the Mohameds and their companies. 

It has also emerged that Thomas was a member of the governing People’s Progressive Party Central Committee, but that she has since resigned following the imposition of the US sanctions. This has fuelled allegations of involvement or complicity by other senior members of the administration. 

The Irfaan Ali Government said that it has requested “additional information on the matters highlighted, with a view to aiding local law enforcement agencies,” and that Thomas has been sent on leave by the state pending an investigation, with a promise that she faces the necessary penalties should sufficient evidence be found of her involvement. 

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has announced stringent measures against large-scale gold smuggling following the revelations unearthed by the US. These include the introduction of tougher penalties and sanctions aimed at deterring the lucrative practice of smuggling gold. 

Jagdeo stressed that the government’s proactive approach in seeking information from US authorities regarding the misconduct that triggered the sanctions and all individuals involved. He outlined measures to review all transactions and contracts involving the Mohameds across various government agencies to ensure compliance with the sanction regime. 

The Central Bank of Guyana has also moved to revoke the license of Confidential Cambio, aiming to prevent further exposure to potential sanctions for government entities. 

There have also been questions as to the timing of the sanctions by the US, with elections in Guyana constitutionally due by December 2025, but widely expected before then. The country’s elevation as one of the fastest growing economies thanks to its burgeoning oil and gas industry has also fuelled speculation in some quarters that Guyana is being targeted by the US. 

However, US Ambassador to Guyana, Nicole Theriot defended the move, arguing that there was a “preponderance of evidence” against those targeted, which was gathered over more than two and half years of investigations, kept secret from Guyanese authorities due to their sensitivity. 

As a consequence of the sanctions, assets and properties owned by targeted individuals within the US or under US control are now frozen and must be reported to OFAC. Any entities that are directly or

indirectly owned, individually or collectively, by 50% or more by these blocked persons are also subject to the same restrictions. 

Without explicit authorisation from OFAC, US persons and transactions involving these assets are generally prohibited. Financial institutions and other entities face sanctions for engaging with these individuals, including providing or receiving funds, goods, or services.