So finally Roger Khan has been sentenced in a New York federal court for drug smuggling, witness tampering and gun possession in Vermont. As expected, he will serve fifteen years, since his three sentences will run concurrently. We reported yesterday that he will have to pay a special assessment of US$300, but was not fined – and this will come as a surprise to Guyanese – because of his “inability to pay.” As people in this country are well aware, the fifteen-year sentence was part of a plea bargain agreement, which as was stated in court last week was entered into in part to protect information and targets of the investigation.
There is no doubt that there are many who will be disappointed at what they perceive to be Khan’s light sentence given the activities of the Phantom Squad which he is said have headed and paid. However, the two hundred odd killings for which American prosecutors said he was responsible were committed in Guyana, not the United States. The prosecutors did nevertheless cite two examples of murders he had ordered, namely those of the boxing coach Donald Allison who was gunned down in Agricola and Dave Persaud who was shot outside what was then the Palm Court in Main Street. Roger Khan has denied being connected to their deaths.
Those who were optimistic that Khan himself might one day supply information about his operations here as well as his connections, must have been disappointed to learn that the likelihood is he will be deported at the end of his sentence. If he knows he has to return to his homeland eventually, it is hardly likely to put him in confessional mode. It is always possible, of course, that further information may trickle out from future trials which will throw some light on the events of a painful period.
Theoretically there should be no excuse now for the police here not to open an investigation into Khan’s activities between 2001 and 2006. If US prosecutors, for example, have cause to believe that he was responsible for 200 plus murders, they must have some kind of reasonable evidence to support their public statements. As it is, even the police here, as we reported earlier, appear to accept that Khan was associated with execution-style killings. In addition, as has been said before in editorials in this newspaper, there is no reason in theory why law enforcement could not investigate his business dealings locally. However, the authorities have evinced no enthusiasm for pursuing this path any more than they have for opening cold-case murder files.
Looming over everything, of course, is the accusation that Khan had connections with the Guyana government. He himself has claimed that he assisted the administration during the crime wave of 2002-03, and on Friday his cousin told our reporter that the government should pay the convicted trafficker and give him a pension. He declined to expand further, but one must presume he was referring to Khan’s ‘help’ during that period.
The Robert Simels trial produced testimony which is hard to dismiss about governmental links to Khan through the agency of Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy. The latter has been insistent in his denials that he had anything to do with acquiring a laptop on behalf of the government which could intercept cell calls, and which was then used by Khan. Straight denials, as has been observed before in these columns, will not make the problem go away, however, but again the administration has displayed no stomach for following up on the issue to clear its name.
So now we have questions piling up about more than 200 murders, drug trafficking, money laundering, the role played by a trafficker earlier this decade during a period of unbridled crime, and the alleged links between that trafficker and the Government of Guyana in general and the Minister of Health in particular. Given the allegations of governmental involvement in certain portions of this story, Guyanese could hardly entertain any optimism that the police or any other law enforcement authority are going to undertake a serious investigation into anything related to this matter, despite the fact that the President has said the police force is the only legitimate authority to undertake a probe.
The opposition have called for an international inquiry into government connections with Khan, and are compiling a dossier detailing government human rights abuses. The government so far has resisted all calls for such an inquiry; it can afford to do so because it knows that significant elements of its own constituency regard Roger Khan as a ‘saviour’ of sorts. Our reporter earlier last week sought out comments from the Guyanese diaspora, and of those who agreed to say something in the Liberty Avenue, Queens area, the sentiment was that Khan had “saved” Guyana. One man told her that had it not been for Khan the country would have “gone down the drain”; that the US should not have “kidnapped” him and instead he should have been left to continue the “good things he started.”
While these were New York residents, their statements almost certainly reflect to a greater or lesser degree the views of their counterparts back home. They stand, of course, in stark contrast to the opinions of opposition supporters both here and abroad. One Guyanese Flatbush resident said he thought that Khan should get a long sentence, because he had been identified in the killing of so many Guyanese. As with every other issue, however, the government feels it can afford to ignore any calls made by the opposition, however reasonable and rational these might be.
So Khan has now become the symbol of the perception divide in the country. It underlines the problem which was evident earlier (generally speaking because there are many exceptions) of a lack of common moral ground among the major constituent parts of this nation. Crimes which are viewed rightly or wrongly as having even a tincture of a political cast, are only perpetrated against one’s own group, not against the other one, and therefore protecting one’s own group no matter what the cost becomes an overwhelming consideration. One would hope, therefore, that the terms of reference of any international inquiry – if it ever comes to fruition – would encompass the entire circumstances during the period from 2002 onwards. Everyone needs to accept that the security of one group cannot be bought at the expense of another, and that government actions no matter what have to be underpinned by the rule of law. It is the only starting point for any true society.