BASS accused of extortion

… threaten businessmen with hostile action
Kaieteur News
July 19, 2004

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Businessmen on the Corentyne are calling for an investigation into the operations of several members of the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS) amidst allegations of extortion.

At least two businessmen have reported that they were made to pay huge sums of money to the officers whenever these officers visited their premises.

They claim that the men are in the habit of threatening them and since they cannot afford the hassle of proving that they conduct legitimate business, they would pay the officers to keep away.

In one recent case, the officers allegedly removed several items from the premises of a Nigg Settlement businessman while he was away.

The situation has reportedly got so out of hand that the businessmen are planning a huge protest at the BASS office in Berbice.

One businessman told this newspaper that he was in Georgetown doing business when four BASS officers turned up at his residence at around 14:00 hours on Saturday in a white 4X4 with licence plate GFF 1149.

According to him the men approached his wife claiming they were searching for uncustomed goods.

They were told that the businessman was not at home and were advised to check back later.

The BASS officers reportedly threatened to arrest the businessman’s wife if she did not ‘cooperate’ with them.

Kaieteur News was told that although the woman explained that her husband was the sole person to handle any receipt for the goods in the shop, the BASS officers refused to listen.

They told the woman that they were sent by the CIVIC and that she cannot tell them how to do their job, a source told this newspaper.

The men then walked into the businessman’s bond and began removing several cartons of Guzzler juice, Caramel and other confectionaries.

This newspaper was told that the businessman’s wife pleaded with the officers not to remove the items, claiming that her husband had receipts for them. But again the officers refused to pay heed.

One of them reportedly jumped into the businessman’s bus, which was parked on the roadway in front of the shop and proceeded to load the items inside.

“They wrote down something in a book and forced the woman to sign, threatening that ‘bad things will happen’ if she did not,” the source said.

They then drove away the vehicle.

Kaieteur News understands that the businessman has since produced his receipts for the items, but it is not yet clear if the goods have been returned.

And in another incident that reportedly occurred a few hours earlier, another businessman from the village of Belvedere reportedly had to pay a sum of $200,000 as an inducement to prevent them from seizing several cases of Heineken beer.

And if that was not enough there is another report where another businessman, this time from Jones Village, also on the Corentyne paid the sum of $5,000 to the officers for them to leave his business alone.

The Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad was set up by the government to deal professionally with the high incidence of smuggling on the Corentyne.

However, several businessmen are now complaining that a few officers are operating as if they are above the law.

The businessmen are calling on the BASS hierarchy to probe their allegations with a view to returning some professionalism to the unit.