Almost eight years after Agriculture Minister Satyadeow ‘Sash’ Sawh, his siblings and a security guard were brutally slain by a gang of armed men, the police are no closer to solving the case but Opposition Leader David Granger strongly believes that a Commission of Inquiry (COI) is what is needed to not only bring closure for relatives but to provide answers to the many lingering questions before the trail gets colder.
The opposition has long called for a COI to probe the criminal violence which griped the country during the crime spree but the then Jagdeo-led administration did not appear too keen on going this route. Last January, Granger brought a motion before the National Assembly calling on the government to appoint a COI to probe criminal violence from 2004 to 2010 ranging from Sawh’s killing to the massacres at Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek in 2006.
Since then the motion has been deferred several times owing to issues raised by both the AFC and government about its contents. It is still before the House.
Granger, in an invited comment, told Stabroek News he believes there is need for an inquiry into Sawh’s death. Asked why he believes there needs to be an inquiry, he said, “Sawh was a minister of the government and that is very important. It was not an ordinary death. It was an assassination. It was not a death by accident, it was an assassination. People went there to kill him.”
He added that an inquiry is also important as the killing took place during a period of troubles in which there was widespread disorder. He pointed out that not even an inquest has been held. “So I am calling for a Commission of Inquiry and as you know members of his family sued the government for failing to protect him,” Granger said adding that another reason why an inquiry should be held is that “every single person who was alleged to have been involved or under suspicion has been killed. The persons being referred to are prison escapee Troy Dick, Rondel `Fineman’ Rawlins, Jermaine `Skinny’ Charles and David `Biscuit’ Leander.
Crime Chief Seelall Persaud, when contacted, told Stabroek News that there is nowhere to go in the matter following the deaths of Rawlins, Charles and Leander. “That is the end of it [the investigation],” he said when asked about the case. He said Rawlins was among those who had been charged with the bloody crime. However, based on Stabroek News’ records, Rawlins was on a list of seven men who were wanted in connection with the murders. Police had put a $2M reward out for any information that could lead to the capture of the men. According to the records, only Charles and Leander were charged. The other four men listed on the wanted bulletins were never charged. Subsequently police also expressed an interest in Dick.
Persaud had said too that there was a witness who gave a statement which implicated Rawlins in the crime.
When told that the death of the men has resulted in an end to the investigation, Granger said, “that is remarkable. It gives me the impression that there was a secondary impact. The assassination was one thing but this led to the assassination of every other witness [suspect]. It cannot be coincidental.”
Asked if he believed there was more to the deaths, he said his general view is that there were elements in the crime which the government did not want to expose to public scrutiny.
He said he would call on government to hold a COI to bring closure as it is currently preparing to do in the murder of political activist Dr Walter Rodney and what had already been done in relation to the 2012 police killings in Linden.
Granger stressed that government needs to act now “before the trail gets more cold that it already is”.
Back in 2010 the then leader of the AFC Raphael Trotman had 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. He said too that unless the government accedes to public demand and launches an inquiry into all killings, including that of the minister and his relatives, the truth will never be revealed.
While the government and now deceased commissioner of police Henry Greene had laid the blame for the killings at the hands of the `Fineman’ gang many had doubts about this. Then PNCR Shadow Home Affairs Minister Debra Backer had said that the gang was being used as a convenient excuse to avoid a real investigation into the murder. She said the haste with which fingers were pointed at the gang had aroused suspicions.
Not under this administration
A security source said that while a COI will serve some purpose it is hardly likely that it will be done under this administration. The source said that this particular investigation has to be approached carefully as many people “got plenty skeletons in their closets.”
The source agreed fully with the opposition that a COI is needed if questions are going to be answered. According to the source, today there is still a whole lot of speculation surrounding the killings. The source said that there are people who are holding firm that it “was an inside job.”
The source noted that had this occurred in another country, once the government knew its hands were clean everything would have been done to get to the bottom of the matter and find those responsible. “This is a minister we are talking about here. Not some ordinary member of the public. This government I want to believe must want to know who killed him and why,” the source said adding that the deaths of suspects ought not to freeze the police investigation.
The source made the point that police issued wanted bulletins for about eight men. “They find four and all of them are dead. What happened to the other four?” the source asked, adding that the mere fact that persons wanted for questioning were still at large, meant that the investigation was very much active and open.
“It will be very interesting to see how the government approaches this one,” said the source.
The source said that what was clear and what was widely accepted was that the intention was to kill the minister and witnesses.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall in an invited comment on the issue said the appointment of a COI was up to President Donald Ramotar. “The establishment of a Commission of Inquiry is done under the hands of the President in exercise of his judgment whether he is inspired to do so at the request of the family,” he said adding that the President has the authority to do this under the Commission of Inquiry Act.
Asked for his position on the setting up of a COI to investigate the circumstances surrounding Sawh’s death, Nandlall said his opinion was irrelevant and the President can make his own judgment under the Act.
Stabroek News was unable to make contact with Sawh’s immediate family. His brother-in-law, Bob Persaud who lives abroad was the only person who openly vented his concerns in the media. He had lost his wife Phulmattie during the attack. This newspaper was unable to make contact with him.
Back in 2011, he had accused the government of failing to take up an offer from the Canadians for assistance to investigate the matter following a letter from Persaud. The Canadian government had offered assistance in the light of the fact that Sawh was a Canadian citizen. Sawh had returned to Guyana to serve his party after it won the presidency in 1992.
Persaud had also expressed the view that convicted drug lord Shaheed Roger Khan might have some information and he had made several failed attempts to see him. Khan is currently serving a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking in a US jail.
According to leaked cables, Khan was cited as a possible suspect. A forest concession that Khan was on the verge of acquiring in the south of the country was withdrawn while Sawh was minister with responsibility for forestry. In some sections, it was believed that this could have been the reason why Sawh was killed.
Persaud had said too that the government disinterest in following the case and attempting to seek the truth were signs of a cover up.
Around 12.15 am on April 22, 2006, seven masked gunmen dressed in military fatigues invaded the minister’s LBI home and riddled him, his two siblings and Security Guard Curtis Robertson with bullets.
Reports were that the minister’s wife Sattie and his brother Omprakash Sawh were in the kitchen when they saw a masked gunman looking at them through a window. Sattie had said that she alerted the minister who was in his hammock on the veranda, but before he could escape to safety, he was riddled with shots. He collapsed just inside his front door. Sattie had then concealed herself inside the house.
Sawh’s brother Omprakash hid his sister Phulmattie Persaud underneath a bed, but the gunmen found her and after dragging her out shot her in the face.
The gunmen then turned their weapons on the minister again and at the same time placed Omprakash on top of another brother Rajpat Sawh to execute them both. Omprakash said he had begged the men for his sister’s life and gave them $23,000, a digital camera and a watch. He said he and his brother were praying for their lives, but before the gunmen left they fired another shot at them killing Rajpat.
Omprakash and security guards Albert Mangra and Aga Khan were injured during the attack.