President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday revealed that he had “confidential information” indicating that retired army major David Clarke, who initially led army operations in Buxton after an upsurge in crime, was not serving its best interests.
Jagdeo said he did not want to make the information public but he indicated that during Clarke’s tour in Buxton he had received information that the officer was involved in various activities. “The information was not very complimentary,” the president told a news briefing at the Office of the President, adding, “I said to the authorities there in the army that I did not think that he was serving our best interests.”
As reported in the Sunday Stabroek of March 8, Clarke is in the custody of New York law enforcement officials after he was charged with conspiracy to import cocaine. However, he is expected to be one of the main witnesses for the US government in its prosecution of accused Guyanese drug trafficker Roger Khan, for which he was supposed to have been neutralised.
It is unclear whether Clarke has been tried on the charges or has entered into a plea bargain for a light sentence in return for being a state witness, since all information on his case has been sealed. However, according to the indictment on the first charge, Clarke, his brother Hubert Clarke, called ‘Dun Dun,’ and Hubert’s girlfriend Shelly Mcqune, between October 2003 and April 5, 2005, together with others, knowingly and intentionally, conspired to import more than five kilos of cocaine into the US. They are also alleged to have conspired to distribute the cocaine in the US.
“I have been vindicated in all of this, because subsequently they caught him involved in activities [and] he was sent out of the army,” the president said yesterday. “And I’m sure there are some retired people, who may be seeing this press conference, who can’t look me straight in the face because he was involved.”
Asked why there had been no attempt to prosecute Clarke in light of the information, Jagdeo said he thought he was prosecuted but he did not go into details.
Last year, Stabroek News had contacted the GDF Public Relations Officer, Woman Colonel Windee Algernon, enquiring about Clarke’s status. She said that he had retired, explaining that while he might not have reached the age of retirement there was a system in the army where an officer could retire based on the number of years served. However, Col Algernon could not say when he retired; whether Clarke was asked to retire early or if he had opted for same.
In 2003, Jagdeo created a stir when he refused only Clarke’s promotion from a long list of officers who received recommendations. The then captain was recommended by a promotions panel chaired by the then army Chief of Staff, Brigadier Michael Atherly, based on the recommendation of his battalion commander. The commander’s recommendation was said to be based on Clarke’s attitude and performance in his substantive rank, his suitability for promotion to higher rank and authority as well as his suitability for retention in the army. That assessment was reached based on a recommendation of a promotion panel at the battalion level, which reviewed the ex-officer’s annual confidential reports and assessed his suitability.
Jagdeo explained yesterday that the Defence Act gives the Commander-in-Chief the sole authority to approve promotions. He said he was surprised to receive Clarke’s name among those who had been recommended for promotion. At the time, senior army sources told Stabroek News that nothing in the man’s record indicated that he had behaved in an inappropriate manner either during his assignment in Buxton or in the other locations at which he was stationed. “I said to them, I am not going to promote him,” Jagdeo said, noting that there followed discussions at a number of levels of the army where it was felt that he should have approved the promotion. “I said ‘no.’ It came to the Defence Board but I said ‘No, he is not going to be promoted because I know that he was involved in various things from confidential information.”
Jagdeo, who is the Minister of Defence, had also recalled Clarke from a training course in the USA, for which the GDF had selected him. The officer was halfway through the course when he was ordered to return to Guyana.
Jagdeo said he found out that Clarke was sent abroad after he was refused promotion. “When I found out, I said he must come back immediately because I felt that he was being rewarded for not being promoted and in defiance of my wishes that he would not be promoted, so I recalled him.”
Prior to his retirement, Clarke had headed ‘Operation Tourniquet’, which was established on June 5, 2002 as part of the Guyana Defence Force’s (GDF) joint operations with the police force to arrest the wave of criminal activity emanating from Buxton, following the February 23, 2002 jail break.
Clarke was also one of the persons Khan and his attorneys, Robert Simels and Arianne Irving, had allegedly attempted to intimidate and “neutralise” resulting in them being hauled before the courts last year on witness-tampering charges.
Khan had made “assorted accusations” against Clarke and others at a meeting in March 2006 with US officials at the Ocean View Hotel. He had sought to provide “evidence” that Clarke had worked in concert with Shawn Brown, one of the five February 23, 2002 prison escapees. He had alleged that during Clarke’s tenure at the head of ‘Operation Tourniquet’ he was in league with Brown, who was responsible for kidnapping former US embassy officer Stephen Lesniak in April 2003.
In court documents filed by his lawyer, Khan has repeated the allegations but the US government has since sought to disallow any evidence about Clarke’s alleged criminal activities from the trial as they see it as “self serving” for Khan.