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Even as sports betting service Superbet says it has been working tirelessly for almost two years to clear the roadblocks preventing the issuance of its licence to operate, its General Manager Shrikant Kisoensingh was yesterday grilled by police about the legality of the operations.
Kisoensingh, a Surinamese national, was questioned for about two hours at CID Headquarters before being released and his attorney Anil Nandlall has warned that the “harassment” must cease.
“Now clearly this is persecution and harassment,” the attorney told the media before informing that if it does not stop, he will approach the court for orders to protect the company’s operations here.
According to Kisoensingh, he was at his office when he received a telephone call informing him that he needed to be at CID Headquarters for 12 pm for a meeting with the Deputy Crime Chief. He was also instructed to take along all relevant documents so as to determine whether he is operating legally.
The questioning of Kisoensingh come on the heels of a public statement from the Attorney General’s Chambers that the betting service is operating here without a licence and a warning from the Gaming Authority that it cannot lawfully operate without a Revenue Licence issued by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
The company, which is headquartered in Suriname, is being operated by Guiana Holdings Inc, a subsidiary of its parent company, the Pasha Gaming Group. In addition to Guyana and Suriname, the company also has operations in Uganda, Cyprus and Belgium. The company started its operation in Guyana in 2012.
Yesterday, Nandlall charged that ministerial interference is responsible for the hiccups the company is experiencing, a claim that was strongly denied by Chairman of the Gaming Authority, Roysdale Forde.
“I am not aware of the basis of the claim,” Forde told Stabroek News when contacted. He added that he would happy if he is provided with further details.
In providing a background to the issues facing Superbet, Nandlall explained that in 2017, a problem developed as the Gaming Authority “attempted to exercise control” over the operations of Superbet, purportedly acting under the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act. He said that at that time, he indicated to the Authority that it had no such power or authority under the laws and that the operations of Superbet fell under the purview of the GRA. He said that this matter made it to court and the court agreed that the GRA not the Authority had control over Superbet.
“The court ruled in our favour and subsequently, the law was amended to allow the Gaming Authority to exercise supervisory control over the operations of my client. When that happened, the GRA told us that they can no longer sell us (a) licence, that is at the end of 2017, until we get what they described as a certificate of good standing from the Guyana Gaming Authority,” he said.
Nandlall said that his client went to the Gaming Authority and requested the certificate and was instead told that a number of requirements had to be met first. When those were satisfied, he said the company was called to a meeting where it was disclosed that an AML/CFT audit needed to be done before the certificate is issued.
“We don’t know what an AML/CFT audit is and that was explained very clearly to the CEO of the Gaming Authority…This request only came two weeks ago. All the time, we were working to try to satisfy all the different requirements that they had made to us in relation to getting the certificate,” he said, adding that the CEO Lloyd Moore, when asked about finding someone qualified to do such an audit, indicated that it cannot be done in Guyana and that such a person will have to be sourced from abroad.
According to Nandlall, for the past two weeks, his client has been attempting to retain the services of a company that does this type of work.
He said that while this is going on, the Attorney General repeatedly makes public statements that Superbet is operating without a licence and is threatening to shut down the operations. He said that he accompanied Kisoensingh to Moore to inform him of the statements being made and that every effort is being made to satisfy the requirements. Moore, he said, pointed out that he has no control over the statements made by the AG and they are in no way connected or authorised by the Authority but he will, however, report them to the Board.
Nandlall said that even as this situation persists, his client has been submitting all his tax records and other requirements to the GRA as requested and has been paying his taxes, which amounts to about $10 million per month.
He said that he spoke to GRA Commissioner General Godfrey Statia as recently as yesterday and according to him, Statia said that he has no problem with the operations and will issue the licence once the certificate is issued by the Authority.
The attorney further disclosed that on Thursday, a letter from Moore was received informing that Superbet is operating without a licence and that the mere fact that they are operating without being licensed can be the basis for them not issuing the certificate. Nandlall stressed that the agency has been working with Superbet and knows of the efforts made to satisfy all the requirements and the fact that they cannot get the licence without the certificate.
A copy of the letter, which was given to reporters, called on Superbet to produce the licences issued by the GRA between December 31, 2017 and September 14, 2018, when an application was made for the Good Standing Certificate.
“…we wish to advise you in the event your company is not in possession of a Revenue License….after the expiration of the Revenue Licence dated December 31, 2017, your company cannot lawfully undertake any of the activities permitted by the Betting Shop licence,” the letter dated May 16th, and signed by Moore, said.
“In the event that your company continues to engage in any of the activities permitted under a Betting Shop Licence without first obtaining a valid Betting Shop Licence, the Gaming Authority may conclude that such unlawful activity…may by itself be indicative that your company is not fit and proper to have a Good Standing Certificate issued in its favour,” it added.
Stabroek News contacted Moore yesterday but he indicated that he could not comment as he was abroad. He said that he returns to Guyana next week.
Nandlall, in responding to the letter a day later, indicated to Moore that an application was submitted to the GRA on 21st December 2017 for the annual Betting Shop Licence and the firm was informed that those licences will be issued after the 2018 budget is passed by the National Assembly.
He said that by way of a letter dated January 18th, Matthew Langevine, Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) informed Superbet of the revocation of the appointment of the Commissioner General as the AML/CFT supervisory authority for betting shops and the appointment, in his stead, of the Gaming Authority. The letter, Nandlall said, informed that the GRA will continue to carry out its licensing function with respect to betting shops.
When the GRA was approached to obtain the licence in 2018, the company was informed of the need for the certificate from the Gaming Authority.
“You will appreciate that at no time whatsoever, did our client convey the impression that they are unwilling to comply with the regulatory network in the sector…” Nandlall wrote, adding that his client remains “gripped in this regulatory vortex between your agency and the Guyana Revenue Authority, through no fault of their own.”
Nandlall insisted that the entities involved are taking directives from a minister. According to him, he has information that there is a minister who is “directing” these agencies to bring pressure on Superbet. “I will be bold to say that I doubt whether other operators in this industry are subjected to the same rigours and requirements to which my client is being subject,” he said, while declining to name the minister.
In responding to questions from the media, the attorney said that he has not approached that minister and will only do so in the court. “That minister knows full well what he is doing is wrong,” he stressed.
Nandlall used the opportunity to question how other companies that are engaged in a similar operation were able to satisfy all the requirements in “a few months” while Superbet which has been here for five years, cannot.
He pointed out that new games have been added to the Lotto company, which, according to him, constitutes “mini casinos” operating right across the country without a casino licence but “they are getting some kind of permission to operate those machines and I doubt they are being asked for any certificate of good standing and are being subjected to the pressure to which my client is being subjected.”
Kisoensingh told the media that though the situation is “really stressful”, the company is still going strong. He said that the staff are scared to go to the office out of fear that the authorities will turn up one day and close down the operations.
He opined that the difficulties being faced has something to do with competition. Expanding on this, Nandlall said that the new companies and those that have long set up operations here, want to squeeze Superbet out. “I don’t have no problem with that. If they use normal rules of competition to do that then that’s ok but don’t use state power…and influence…Do better business if you wish and get them out of the market,” he said.
Forde, for his part, is adamant that the Authority is operating above board.
He said that the requirement of the certificate is to ensure from an AML perspective that credible entities operate. The Authority, he said, informed Guiana Holdings because of certain reasons, which they are aware of, that there was need to have an AML audit done. They agreed to this in writing, he added.
Further, Forde, who is an attorney, said that while the Authority respects its independence, it functions in collaboration with other regulatory institutions including the National Coordinating Committee which is headed by the Attorney General. The GRA, Bank of Guyana and the FIU among others, are part of the Committee.
Asked whether Superbet not having a licence meant they were operating illegally, he said, “The basis for the operations is the licence. It is the licence that permits the activities. Without the licence, the activities are not sanctioned or permitted by law.” He said that the Attorney General, who is the head of National Coordination Committee, is well aware that the licence was issued up to 2017 and only he can provide further guidance on the matter.
Superbet has a total of 175 locations countrywide with their headquarters located in Georgetown. The company has over 500 persons in its employ.
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Superbet manager grilled by cops – Stabroek News
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