Police used the ‘Fineman’ gang as a convenient excuse to avoid a real investigation into the murder of former minister Satyadeow Sawh, his siblings and a security guard, according to PNCR Shadow Home Affairs Minister Deborah Backer.
Backer told Stabroek News that the Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins gang was made a scapegoat, since it has been blamed for everything that happened. “This was the convenient group to blame and it was something that people would easily believe,” she said, while noting that no proper investigations were done to get to the truth. She drew comparisons to the Lindo Creek massacre, where eight miners were killed and their bodies burnt. Police have also attributed the Lindo Creek murders to the gang.
The PNCR, in a recent statement, said that the revelations by Sawh’s family about the government’s failure to adequately pursue the perpetrators coincide with its long held belief that “the PPP administration was deliberately avoiding an investigation into criminal violence in Guyana for fear of what it will reveal.” The party said that its call for an international inquiry into the Minister’s slaying has gone unheeded by the government.
Backer emphasised that the police failed to conduct a proper investigation into the minister’s killing. Instead, she argued, the gang was blamed and investigators failed to follow up on leads that would have either confirmed their belief or pointed to someone else. According to her, the haste of pointing a finger at the ‘Fineman’ gang immediately aroused suspicion. “There have been many Sash Sawhs in the sense that the police were just not prepared or motivated to do proper investigating. And this is the key,” she asserted.
Some members of Sawh’s family have come out and stated their belief that there was “a cover up.” Sawh’s brother-in-law Bob Persaud expressed his conviction that the government’s seeming disinterest in getting to the truth pointed to a cover-up. Persaud, who lost his wife, Phulmattie, during the attack, told Stabroek News that he was seeking access to convicted drug lord Roger Khan, via the Canadian government, as he believed that Khan would be able to shed light on the murders. However, Police Commissioner Henry Greene remained adamant that the slayings were the work of the ‘Fineman’ gang, saying the force has evidence to support the conclusion.
A security expert recently noted that several key investigative techniques were not followed by the police, including the failure to reconstruct the attackers’ path and gather information from witnesses in the area.
Speaking recently on the case the leader of the Alliance for Change (AFC) Raphael Trotman also pointed out that no commission of inquiry was done. He said that one would expect that when a government minister dies, it would warrant serious treatment, including a government inquiry. He noted that every minister is a person of value and the public is looking on.
Trotman told this newspaper that the truth will never be known unless the government accedes to public demand and launches an inquiry into all killings, including that of the minister and his relatives. “We will never have the truth. We are going to have snippets,” he added.
Trotman noted that since the incident there have been lots of rumours and conjectures and some have turned into what people believe to be the true perception. “I am certain in my mind that the Sawh killing was not as open and shut as the government or authorities would like us to believe…” he said.
The AFC leader said that some stated facts have left him with the belief that two forces or groups were behind the incident. He recalled that it was stated that some of the gang members who went to the home were masked while the others were not. “This meant to me that two forces came together on that night. One did not necessarily want the other to know who their operatives were and that is a very, very telling fact that has not been explored,” he said, before pointing out that gang members acting together with the intention of killing persons in a home, need not be masked and unmasked. “I cannot see members of one gang wearing masks and some not. It has to mean in my view that more that one group got together for different reasons. There was a converging of objectives…” he added.
He said that while he is not satisfied with the manner in which the investigation was handled he will not charge a cover up, but would say that there didn’t seem to be much effort. He pointed out that this conclusion had been reached, particularly after the Canadians offered to provide law enforcement support and it was refused. He also referred to a similar occurrence in the Lindo Creek investigation where help was refused. “That has been a clear and unmistakeable pattern of not wanting to accept the best help to therefore get to the bottom of the problem,” he stated.
He said that the government has an obligation to satisfy citizens and as such cannot decide on their own “what to tell the people because you have a hunch, that has to be it. You must demonstrate in a comprehensive and transparent way that you are interested in solving these problems.”
Like Backer, Trotman urged Sawh’s relatives to pursue the case at the highest level. But he added that it is preferable that it be handled at the level of the Canadian government, since the minister was a citizen of that country.
On the morning of April 22, 2006 seven masked gunmen dressed in military fatigues invaded Sawh’s home and fatally shot him, his two siblings, Phulmattie Persaud and Rajpat Sawh, and his guard Curtis Robertson. The minister’s wife, Sattie and his brother, Omprakash, were in the kitchen around 12.15 am when they saw a masked gunman. Sattie had said that she alerted the minister who was in his hammock on the veranda, but before he could scamper to safety, he was shot. He collapsed just inside his front door. Omprakash hid his sister Phulmattie Persaud underneath a bed, but the gunmen found her and dragged her out. Omprakash said that he begged the men for his sister’s life and gave them $23,000, a digital camera and a watch, but they still shot her in the face.
The gunmen then turned their guns on the minister again and at the same time placed Omprakash on top of Rajpat to execute them both. He said he and his brother were praying for their lives and as the gunmen left they fired shots killing Rajpat.
Police had issued several wanted bullets for persons including the late notorious prison escapee Troy Dick, Jermaine ‘Skinny’ Charles, Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins and David Leander called ‘Biscuit.’ Charles and Leander were charged with the murders and placed before the court. However they are both dead and the court case has since been closed. The police are still hunting for about half a dozen more men they want for questioning into the killings.