Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon yesterday defended the police probe of a visit on November 15 by two Stabroek News reporters to the National Intelligence Centre (NIC) in the Castellani House compound.
He said that the police were only called in after internal investigations established that the reporters had lied to gain entry to the facility.
“Our investigations have established beyond any reasonable doubt on our side that yes, indeed they did claim that the minister (Clement Rohee) sent them… You should agree that the headquarters of the intelligence agency could hardly be approached under the circumstances that these young ladies approached the headquarters, allegedly and not invite an investigation”, Luncheon told reporters at a post-Cabinet press briefing.
In response, Editor-in-Chief of the Stabroek News Anand Persaud said yesterday that Dr Luncheon’s assertion was wrong. Persaud said that the reporter in question had made it clear that she was there pursuant to a statement made by the minister and not that the minister had sent the reporter there. He said there was an enormous gulf between the two and this had apparently not been comprehended by the internal investigation. Persaud added that Dr Luncheon has further derided the NIC by suggesting that anyone could turn up there and claim to have been sent by the minister, without any confirmation by personnel of the NIC, and be permitted to enter the building. Persaud said the visit by the reporters exposed the fact that the NIC is a joke in so far as security is concerned and that this is what Dr Luncheon and his colleagues were now trying to redress via an investigation.
Yesterday, when asked the reasons behind the police interest in the matter and why the belief that the government was nervous that the media entered that building, Luncheon immediately defended what had been unraveling over the past week.
“It is not (that) government was suspicious about walking in”, he said adding that the Office of the Presi-dent (OP) was advis-ed that two unknown females allegedly on the instructions of Minister Rohee had presented themselves. “The minister of course denied any such involvement and on that basis purely on that basis the decision was made to get to the bottom of this matter”, he stressed.
According to Luncheon, it later turned out that indeed the young ladies were from Stabroek News. He added that the Editor in Chief Persaud replied to his letter on the same day he received his (Luncheon) denying that the reporters said anything about the minister instructing them to go to the NIC building “to do what is not clear”.
“Our investigations have established beyond any reasonable doubt on our side that yes indeed they did claim that the minister sent them. Essentially that police involvement recognizes the very critical importance that this institution has and to disabuse minds out there that indeed they can undertake a simple jaunt into the NIC, use the minister’s name at will for purposes unclear and unknown to us”, he said noting that under such circumstances the police would be called in.
Luncheon said that they (government) are awaiting a report to determine the next step.
Asked if a law was broken by the reporters, he responded, “Well I am not too certain if saying that the minister sent me and it is not so represents breaking a law but I think that you would want to agree that anywhere else in the world where the headquarters of the intelligence centre of a nation is approached under those circumstances that it would be most unlikely that the authority would baptize, condone and ignore such an event”.
He went on to say that the reporters did not gain entry into the building because it was protected.
On orders emanating from OP a detective earlier this week questioned a driver attached to the newspaper in relation to the visit which occurred on November 15.
After interviewing Persaud at Stabroek News’ Robb Street office, the police intercepted the vehicle used in the visit to the NIC on Middle Street and ordered the driver to go to Police Headquarters, Eve Leary where he was made to give a statement without the benefit of counsel. This heavy-handed action was condemned by Persaud.
Stabroek News had visited the NIC for the purpose of determining the composition of its board and to speak to someone in charge.
After being allowed to gain entry to the compound where the building is located by the guard on duty, this newspaper did not find any guard or employee at the building. Knocks at several doors were futile.
This newspaper later met a woman who had exited a door located on the upper flat of the building. After a telephone conversation she advised the reporter that the person in charge said that contact had to be made with Rohee. After being told that Rohee had said that there was a board and it was those persons this newspaper was trying to make contact with, the woman went back into the building and when she returned she said that the person would be down shortly. The person never came and this newspaper left.
Meanwhile asked whether army lieutenant Omar Khan was confirmed to head the facility, Luncheon told reporters that government is yet to identify such a person. He said that such responsibility lies “in the Office of the President and, without of course beating my chest, in the chairman of the central intelligence committee, yours truly”.
He said too that he had previously mentioned that budgetary constraints from the opposition-led budget cuts have interfered with the developments that were in progress at the facility.