More FLA drama

Senior female employee detained; MOCA wants to question senior cop

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 21, 2017



A senior female employee of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) was taken into custody yesterday by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) as the police continue investigations into a major gun-licensing racket at the authority.

The name of the employee has not been disclosed, pending further investigations. It is understood that she was released late yesterday, but could face further questioning by the police today as they continue their investigations.

The Jamaica Observer learnt last night that MOCA is also interested in questioning a senior police officer, as well as at least three more employees of the FLA, as it presses on with investigations.

The case involving the woman, sources said, followed discovery that a gun licence was recently renewed although the owner had not taken the gun in for the past four years. The gun owner, our sources said, lives in the United States, while the gun has been in other hands.

According to the source, a member of the FLA staff had certified that the owner of the weapon had come into the office at Old Hope Road in St Andrew and had followed the proper procedure for the re-licensing of the weapon. However, checks by MOCA revealed that not only was the gun missing from the process, but that the owner is in jail in the United States, where he has been living for the past four years, and did not have possession of the weapon.

The owner of the licence is required to do a safe use and handling test before it could be renewed since three years had passed without renewal. However, this was not done because of his absence from Jamaica. The gun was eventually “found” by another person and brought to the FLA two weeks later, after the police started a search for it.

Investigators, Observer sources said, are convinced that there is evidence that the licensing system has been compromised by a ring of alleged corrupt FLA staffers who have been working with outside interest, including police officers, in a system where a third party is paid for the gun licence without having to turn up with their weapons for the necessary licensing procedures at the FLA office.

When the licences are approved the FLA suspects contact “agents” outside of the authority to collect the “firearm licence package”. The third party then picks up the package and pays the contact, who pays the inside staffer.

It is also understood that MOCA is aware of the FLA employees who have been involved in the practice and that as the investigations continue more FLA staff, as well as members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), will be charged for their involvement.

Since early September, the FLA has been working with the police to flush out licensed firearm holders who have failed to present their weapons for the annual renewal of their licences, which requires inspection and certification.

In June, the FLA had announced an amnesty to allow firearm holders to update their licences without fear of prosecution. However, while just over 1,000 licence holders have complied, the FLA says that some 3,000 licensees have failed to take advantage of the offer and are still illegally in possession of the weapons, including individuals who have moved to the United States and left the weapon in Jamaica.

CEO of the FLA Shane Dalling has said that the compliance drive was implemented to ensure that the authority could account for all licensed firearms, as well as the whereabouts of the licensee. The penalty for failing to comply each year is up to 12 months imprisonment or a $200,000 fine.

The amnesty should have ended by July 31; however, fewer than 100 of the 3,000 outstanding guns have been accounted for so far.

The controversy, which has slowly developed since a letter from a “whistle-blower” member of staff revealed the corrupt practices at the FLA dating back several years, set off a fire-storm in May leading to the intervention of MOCA to investigate the corruption practices at the authority.

The board subsequently resigned.

Last week, the ministry of aational security appointed a Security Programme Oversight Committee headed by retired banker Peter Moses to oversee all government agencies which fall under the ministry, including the FLA.

However, despite assurances that a new board would have been appointed soon after the resignations, no board has yet been appointed to take charge of the FLA. A release naming a new board was subsequently withdrawn after Security Minister Robert Montague said it was sent out prematurely.

CEO Dalling, meanwhile, has welcomed the MOCA probe which he believe will help him in his efforts to stem the corruption at the authority.

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