– Acting Police Commissioner questions if former Cabinet members are above law
By Ramona Luthi
Acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine, when asked by this news outfit to give his comments on Former Cabinet and People’s Progressive Party (PPP) members being detained at the head office of the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), questioned whether they [former Cabinet members] were above the law.
“Are they above the law? Why can’t they be questioned if SOCU is carrying out an investigation?” Ramnarine rudely responded before excusing himself to attend a meeting.
It was just Tuesday that Ramnarine appeared clueless when he said he was not aware of former Cabinet members – including former President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, being detained by SOCU for questioning regarding acquisition of house lots in Pradoville 2. Ramnarine had told media operatives that he only learned of the arrests after they had been made and at approximately 15:00hrs Tuesday, he was still not fully briefed on the matter.
SOCU officials arrived at the Opposition Leader’s Office shortly after 14:00hrs Tuesday, acting on directives to “arrest” Former Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, who immediately complied. After Dr Luncheon arrived at the SOCU headquarters in Camp Street, it was revealed that Lisa Ramotar – the daughter of former President Donald Ramotar, as well as the Former Natural Resources Minister, Robert Persaud were already detained.
Media operatives were informed then that Lisa Ramotar had been in custody for several hours.
Just after Dr Luncheon’s arrest, Former President and current Opposition Leader and General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, arrived at SOCU. It was then revealed that Dr Jagdeo had been escorted from his office by the organisation’s head, Sydney James and British Advisor to SOCU, Sam Sittlington for questioning as well.
“After the media left, they came over and said you are arrested. My lawyers who were there, asked and there was a hemming and hawing about the nature of the charges, nevertheless we did not resist arrest,” Dr Jagdeo commented.
Yesterday, as SOCU’s agents continued their ‘investigations’ other former Government officials, including Irfaan Ali, Priya Manickchand, Nandakishore Gopaul, Shaik Baksh, Clement Rohee and Sam Hinds were detained and questioned.
When INews arrived at the SOCU headquarters, Ali had already been questioned and released. Manickchand had left to pursue other engagements but subsequently returned to the SOCU headquarters for questioning.
Manickchand in a brief comment to the media disclosed that her interrogation by agents of SOCU consisted of questions relating to her land acquisition in Pradoville 2.
“We were asked some questions relating to the Goedverwagting, Pradoville Housing Scheme, and we answered to the best of our abilities,” she said.
She told media operatives that her response to SOCU’s representatives was that she applied for a plot of land in Region 4 through the National Housing Program offered by the then PPP/C Administration;and all protocols were followed.
Manickchand said that she does not expect to be called back to SOCU for further questioning, but supported Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo’s claim that the APNU/AFC Government is only arresting and detaining former Cabinet members as a means to distract citizens from the real issues facing the country. “I believe this is a big distraction…This circus in my view is an attempt to distract from the bad governance and the suffering that people have been complaining about over the last two years,” she declared.
Meanwhile, Gopaul told media operatives that his interrogation was based on the role he played at the National Communications Network (NCN).
Moreover, Former Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, after his interrogation told the media that he was informed of the investigation into the Pradoville Housing Project, by the Head of SOCU, last Friday.
“He invited me to come to SOCU’s headquarters for questioning. I told him I didn’t have any problems being questioned by SOCU but since SOCU is a police outfit, operating under the police act, the questioning can take place at my home or any other agreed location,” Rohee said.
James reportedly said he was not aware of this act and later instructed Rohee to appear at the SOCU headquarters yesterday at 11:00 hrs otherwise he would be required to send ranks to “arrest” him.
He noted that while he intends to cooperate with SOCU, he “decided to stay at [his] place of residence to wait the arrival of SOCU ranks to arrest [him]. This should not be construed in any way as an attempt to resist arrest nor to dodge SOCU since at the very beginning, I made my understanding of the police act on such matters clear to the Head of SOCU.”
British Advisor defends SOCU
In a side interview with the media, British Advisor and Financial expert to SOCU, Sam Sittlington denied claims that the investigation was politically charged.
“This is a police investigation; this is not a PPP investigation,” he said.
Asked to comment on claims made by PPP members that the instructions to arrest were being handed down from the President’s Office and Ministry of Public Security, Sittlington indicated that the directives were in fact given by Acting Police Commissioner, David Ramnarine.
“This is a police investigation and any decision is made by the police in terms of that investigation,” he said while stating that SOCU takes their instructions from the Commissioner of Police.
However, he refrained from making more comments when he was countered with claims that Ramnarine had denied having immediate knowledge of the arrests.