The Persaud disclosures

After months of official denial and failing memories, the Guyana Police Force unwittingly cast fresh light on the darkest period of criminal violence in this country’s post-independence history.

Speaking plainly, in a way never quite done in public before, head of the Criminal Investigation Department Mr Seelall Persaud last week made three astounding disclosures on the shady activities of the shifty Mr Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan.

In short, Mr Persaud’s first disclosure was, “We believe that Mr Khan was involved in narcotics-trafficking.” The second was that, since the law enforcement authorities had arrested Mr Khan in Suriname and extradited him to face narcotics-trafficking charges in the USA, “we have seen a fragmentation of his gang.” The third disclosure was that, with Mr Khan’s arrest, execution-style killings had declined from 43 last year to only 12 for this year so far. The connection between narcotics-trafficking and gangsterism and murder is plain to see.

Now indicted by a US Grand Jury for conspiring to import cocaine into that country between January 2001 and March 2006, the 35-year-old entrepreneur, arguably, has been the single most prominent personality in the annals of crime in this country. Nothing so exemplified Mr Khan’s swaggering style, self-importance and cocky conceit as his whole-page newspaper advertisement of May 2006 in which he boasted, “I worked closely with the crime fighting sections of the Guyana Police Force and provided them with assistance and information at my own expense.” He bragged that he was thereby able to bring the East Coast crime wave under control. Did he?

A convicted felon and a fugitive from the law of the United States to which he emigrated at age 13, Mr Khan fled to the country of his birth and established himself as a sort of property developer. Apart from acquiring Kaow Island in the Essequibo River, he purchased a private villa in the exclusive D’Aguiar’s Park at Houston and seemed to have had interests in a number of nightclubs and other premises. Through his Dreamworks Housing Development Company, he constructed hundreds of houses at Good Hope on the East Coast, Blankenburg on the West Coast, and at New Hope and Farm on the East Bank, setting off a significant building boom.

As Mr Persaud now explains, Mr Khan was a gangster. He employed well-known serving policemen and ex-convicts to do his work, whatever that entailed. At the height of the East Coast upheavals in December 2002, Mr Khan, accompanied by a hunting party including a serving member of the police’s Target Special Squad, was arrested at dead of night at Good Hope on the East Coast with a vehicle containing a cache of weapons including pistols, sub-machine guns, bullet-proof vests, computers with digitised electronic maps of targeted East Coast Villages and other communications equipment.

What should have been a cut-and-dried case was astonishingly dismissed when Khan and his accomplices were charged and brought before the magistrate’s court. All the while, government officials including the secretary of the Guyana Defence Board and chairman of the Central Intelligence Committee denied knowing Mr Khan and what he was up to.

Mr Khan’s house of cards started to fall apart soon after the US Department of State published its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report in March 2006. The report announced, “Drug traffickers appear to be gaining a significant foothold in Guyana’s timber industry” and pointedly accused the Guyana Forestry Commission of granting a State Forest Exploratory Permit for a large tract of land in Guyana’s interior to Aurelius Incorporated, a company controlled by known drug trafficker Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan.”

The gloves were off. A new commissioner of police disbanded the tarnished Target Special Squad, sent the head of the Criminal Investigation Department on terminal leave and subjected Mr Khan’s properties to police searches for the first time. Khan, accompanied as usual by his ex-police cohorts, fled to Suriname. The rest is history.

Mr Seelall Persaud’s disclosures have now put the puzzle of Roger Khan’s propertied professional career into perspective. It was therefore surprising that President Bharrat Jagdeo chose this time to refer specifically to certain developments such as the construction boom, especially in housing, which he said some suggested was based on the narcotics trade. Mr Jagdeo called on those critics who claimed that Guyana’s economy was fuelled by the drug trade to prove it, charging, “wild assertions are not enough”.

President Jagdeo, perhaps, should direct his request for proof to Mr Persaud who seems to have all the facts, at least as far as Mr Khan’s property development pursuits are concerned.

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