‘Sash’ Sawh’s widow welcomes reopening of probe into murders

Ten years after her husband and several others were brutally murdered at La Bonne Intention, East Coast Demerara, Sattie Sawh welcomes government’s expressions of interest in reopening the case but she has expressed hope that it will be a truth-finding mission and not be used for political purposes.

“I thought of the Rodney COI and whether it satisfied her [Rodney’s wife]. Would we be satisfied? I don’t want it [the case] to turn into a political tool,” an emotional Sawh told Stabroek News from her home in Canada.

As she reflected on the murder of her husband, Satyadeow ‘Sash’ Sawh who was Agriculture Minister under the then PPP government and of his siblings and security guard and how the events of that night impacted her and her family, she tried desperately to control her tears. For her especially, the terror of that night is still very much fresh and given that the tenth anniversary passed just a month ago, the memories were even fresher.

This is the first time in years that Sawh has spoken to the media in-depth about the incident.

President David Granger recently expressed a willingness to hold an inquest into the killings.

Sawh told Stabroek News that she welcomes this and it does not really matter whether an inquest or an inquiry is done, as long as, at the end of the process, there are answers.

“We welcome that. As you know April 22 was ten years…. And it is a bit disappointing that ten years later we can’t get an answer,” she said. She made mention of the fact that the coalition government on numerous occasions had expressed interest in having the investigations reopened.

20160512shawh familyShe said that right now she just wants to know why her husband and the others were killed and who was behind it. “We want answers,” she said, adding that while she hoped for a forum similar to Walter Rodney CoI, she was not looking to have the same results. The Rodney CoI dragged on for more than the time it was allotted and when government took office the hearing came to an end. Millions of dollars had been spent on the commission and persons who were deemed as key witnesses either had not been called or were yet to complete their evidence. Government had described it as a waste of tax payers’ money and time.

President Granger had said that it was a “blood relative” of the slain minister who had approached him. But Sawh made it clear that no request came from her or her two sons. Her children reside with her in Canada. She said that even though the President has spoken about the case no one in government has made any contact with her.

Sawh expressed disappointed that the PPP/C government did nothing to provide the answers that she was looking for. “I did approach them a few times… wrote asking for an investigation and update on the investigations. I approached the [then] president,” she recalled. Based on what she said, the then government had nothing of substance to tell her as all she was repeatedly told was investigation is ongoing and that the case was still open.

This did nothing to ease her mind and she was forced to live day to day without any guarantee that the then government was interested in finding the truth and giving the family closure.

“It was very disappointing for me. I wasn’t in the frame of mind back then to do much. He was one of their own,” she said, her voice laced with sadness.

According to Sawh, she and her family are of the firm belief that “more effort was needed to find answers…to pursue it forcefully.”

Asked specifically about her views on who might have been responsible, she made it clear that she was not into playing the blame game and naming anyone.

“I don’t want to point fingers at anyone. I don’t know [who was behind it],” she said.

According to her, ten years later everything “still looks like yesterday but my religion teaches me to think positive with the support of family and people who care.” At this point she broke down. In continuing, Sawh noted that she is thankful especially for her sons as she was there when the killings took place but managed to escape unhurt.

Around midnight on April 22, seven masked gunmen dressed in military fatigues invaded the minister’s LBI home and riddled him, two of his siblings and security guard Curtis Robertson with bullets. There were five people in the house that night, the minister, his wife, and his three siblings: Omprakash Sawh, Rajpat Sawh and Phulmattie Persaud. Three security guards were outside.

Reports were that the minister’s wife and his brother Omprakash were in the kitchen when they saw a masked gunman looking at them through a window. Sattie Sawh 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 bullets. He collapsed just inside his front door.

Omprakash had hidden his sister Phulmattie 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 Rajpat to kill them both. Omprakash said he 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. Robertson also died.

Two other persons were injured: security guards Albert Mangra and Aga Khan.

“I have to try,” Sawh said in response to queries on how she has been coping since the incident. She said it is difficult especially being in a house and there are different things one would experience if they were in a situation like hers. She said anything with guns or a movie containing shooting scenes triggers her memories.

She said that to help them cope, she and her sons go to counselling sessions. She said they are not regular but the sessions have helped.

According to Sawh, following the incident persons had many mean things to say and were very critical of her. “People don’t think about the victim …what they are going through…they just looking at the surface,” she stressed.

Sawh did not leave out the police from her list of disappointments.  She expressed dissatisfaction with the way the police conducted their investigation. She recalled that days after she found shell casings in the yard.

She said she could never accept the deaths of four suspects—two of whom were charged—to be “the end of things.”

Police had pointed fingers at Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins and prison escapee Troy Dick. Jermaine ‘Skinny’ Charles who was killed along with Rawlins during a shoot-out with the joint services and David Leander called ‘Biscuit,’ who died mysteriously, were charged with the murders.

She said that based on the information she had gathered from neighbours “I have no doubt that this was planned with their …modus operandi. The way they approached in the yard.” Sawh said the attack had nothing to do with a robbery and more so recalled a car following them from the Pegasus to the LBI residence hours before the invasion occurred.

“There is a mastermind and the investigation could point to that person hopefully,” she said.

She also expressed disappointment at comments made by PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee recently.

Rohee was quoted in the media as saying that he has no recollection as to why an inquest was never held.

Both Rohee and former president Bharrat Jagdeo have welcomed a reopening of the investigation.

Jagdeo, responding to a question during a recently held press conference, had said that both he and the police knew the killers behind the brutal crime

“The police told me they knew who the killers were and they do have statements from a few people and I hope those statements have not disappeared. So the police have statements from people who were part of that gang,” he said.

The PPP/C government over the years had been heavily criticized for failing to ensure that the murders were investigated. To date it has not justified why this was not done.

Calls from at least one relative to investigate who was behind the crime so that the family could get closure fell on deaf ears. There was some suspicion that self-confessed drug trafficker Roger Khan who is currently serving a sentence in a US jail had a hand in the killings.

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