The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the alleged plot to assassinate President David Granger heard on Thursday that senior police ranks at various levels, including the Presidential Guards and Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), were informed of the plan long before the story was televised.
This was confirmed by television journalist and HGP Nightly News Anchor Travis Chase, whose motives for airing and pursuing the story were scrutinised by retired Chief Justice Ian Chang, counsel representing the interests of the Guyana Police Force.
Earlier this year, whistleblower Andrif Gillard had alleged that businessman Nizam Khan had asked him to kill President Granger sometime in 2015, an allegation Khan has denied. According to Gillard, he had approached Khan to loan him $6 million, but Khan had instead offered him $7 million with the condition that he would not have to repay the money if he killed the President.
At Thursday’s hearing, headed by retired Assistant Police Commissioner Paul Slowe, Travis Chase took the stand and said he had contacted Head of the Presidential Guard, Brian Joseph, and head of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Sydney James, informing them of the plot before he carried the story. Chase added that he had attempted to contact Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum, but this had proved unsuccessful.
Chase also recalled Gillard telling him that police were not taking him seriously, but Chase said he followed up the story as it was “believable”.
Chase claimed that police had stated on several occasions that they could not find Gillard, to set up a confrontation between him and businessman Nizam Khan, the alleged mastermind of the assassination plot, who reportedly has ties with senior ranks of the Police Force.
However, Justice Chang, as he cross-examined him, honed in on Travis Chase’s motives and keen interest in pursuing the alleged assassination story. Chang suggested that Chase holds animosity towards the police because they had brought a larceny charge against him when a news entity had accused him of stealing a camera.
At this point, tensions flared as Chase’s attorney, Swelwyn Pieters, disputed the merit of Justice Chang’s line of questioning, contending that both police and journalists have special roles, and noting that his client would have covered several positive events involving the law enforcement agency.
However, Justice Chang told the Commission that the question of the journalist being previously convicted goes to his honesty and credibility as a witness, in addition to the animosity that he possibly holds towards police. Chang further noted that he could ask the question based on Chase’s expressed view to the Commission that police have tried to “cover up” the plot allegation.
As such, Commissioner Slowe allowed Counsel to proceed with the line of questioning, but Chase denied harbouring any animosity to police. The journalist then recalled that while being employed with the news entity to which he was attached, policeman Mitchell Ceasar had arrived at his workplace and informed him that he was charged with larceny.
Chase testified that after he could not find or produce the receipt for the camera, he opted to plead guilty and pay a “hefty fine” for the offence. He, however, feels that the larceny matter was personally motivated by the news’ entity’s owner, former Minister of Government Robert Persaud.
Earlier, Chase told the Commission that on March 30, 2017 Gillard’s interview was recorded, wherein he said that he was offered $7 million to execute the act. However, under Chang’s cross-examination, Chase indirectly concurred that Gillard had initially reported that he was offered $6 million.
Chase later added that it was only after Minister of State Joseph Harmon had confirmed that Government was informed by police of the alleged plot that he aired the story on April 20. Chase further testified that Gillard claimed the police were not taking him seriously, and at one point, Chase said, he had even accompanied the whistleblower to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters.
Chase later claimed that former A-Division Commander Clifton Hicken had advised him to be careful after the journalist explained to him that “police operatives” on “motorbikes” were following him at night spots, and had also staked out Nightly News and his home. The journalist claimed that much of this occurred on his way to meetings with Gillard.
On Monday, the CoI was told that Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud had ordered the release of businessman Nizam Khan, the accused plotter; his brother Imran Khan, and the complainant Andrif Gillard on the night of March 29, 2017, the day before Gillard became the whistleblower by way of his recorded interview with Chase.
The CoI hearing continues this morning.