Attorney Selwyn Pieters yesterday charged that the police had “tunnel vision” while investigating the alleged plot to assassinate the president due to the intervention of Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud, while attorneys for him and the alleged plotter argued that there was no evidence to show that the investigation was less than diligent.
Pieters made the observation during his closing statement to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) investigating the alleged plot and the police force’s handling of the probe at the Department of Public Service on Waterloo Street.
Pieters, who represented news anchor Travis Chase, the reporter that interviewed Andriff Gillard, who accused his neighbour Nizam Khan of offering him millions to kill President David Granger, charged that Persaud’s involvement in the matter had affected the handling of the case.
He stated that Persaud’s relationship with Imran Khan, the brother of the accused, was prejudicial and a conflict of interest. He added that were the matter handled in any other jurisdiction, Persaud would have been charged with obstruction of justice.
The attorney argued that it is such instances that result in the loss of public confidence and stated that those types of systemic shortcomings can lead to a loss of morale among the ranks. “…The other side…they try to minimise this conduct. But from where you’re sitting, you’re dealing with public perception of policing. And you’re dealing with the administration of justice… people must know that when there’s an offence that is reported to the police, somebody mustn’t have a friend in [a] high place that could come and derail the investigation,” the attorney stated.
He brought to the commission’s attention the relationship between Commissioner Persaud and Assistant Commissioner of Police David Ramnarine, in reference to what he termed “severe dysfunction.”
“The issue here between Mr Ramnarine as Assistant Commissioner and Commissioner of Police Seelall Persaud goes to a severe dysfunction in the Guyana Police Force and that’s something not to be taken lightly,” he said.
“He granted the man no professional courtesy. Between March 29th [and] April 2nd, he’s calling all the persons below Ramnarine but does not call Ramnarine. You cannot, sir, in all respectful submissions, look on that very lightly. The Guyana Police Force cannot be allowed to run like that, where you have a Commissioner of Police not speaking to the second in command on very important issues. And listen to what he tells you when he’s cross-examined on why he didn’t speak to Ramnarine. He says, ‘Well, it was a waste of my time,’” he added.
“…Yet he’s speaking to Narine, he’s speaking to Blanhum, he’s speaking to Hicken, he’s speaking to even Imran Khan. And the problem of speaking to Imran Khan is he’s speaking to Imran Khan in the presence of a complainant and other police officers who are below him…,” Pieters argued. “…So if Gillard shows up and he says, ‘Well, the jig was up. It was a cover-up. I don’t expect anything to happen in this case,’ you can’t fault Gillard for that when the Commissioner of Police calls Imran Khan on his cellphone….”
However, attorney Glenn Hanoman, who represented Persaud during the inquiry, opined that the “very establishment” of the CoI and the terms of reference that stem from it “presupposes” that the police force was not diligent in investigating the alleged plot. He said it also presumes that there were systematic failures in the force and that disciplinary action will be required.
“It is submitted that the evidence received by this commission does not support any presumption that the investigation was less than diligent and that there were individual or systemic failures within the police force. In this case, the inquiry is based on a false premise,” Hanoman submitted.
Hanoman compared the report, made some 21 months after the fact, to a “cold case,” and opined that while he believed it required thorough investigation, there was no urgency attached as there was no crime scene to be preserved or evidence to collect.
Furthermore, he noted that the country’s “premiere” investigations unit was tasked with addressing the matter and not only did the investigation involve all senior officers, but legal advice was sought every step of the way.
“I submit that irrespective of whether Mr Seelall Persaud or Mr David Ramnarine was on duty as the police commissioner, or whether Mr Blanhum or Mr Dass was on duty as the Crime Chief, the investigations were and continue to be diligently and properly conducted,” Hanoman stated.
Addressing what may have resulted in the “false premise” on which he said the inquiry is based, Hanoman made reference to Ramnarine, stating, “The baseless opinions and ill-informed reports by David Ramnarine to the political directorate could evidently result in the perception that something was amiss in the investigations. It is yet to be determined whether those reports were actuated by malice and/or a burning desire to ingratiate himself and diminish others for his personal ambitions, or simply incompetence.”
Speaking on the phone call made by Commissioner Persaud to the Inspector on the night the report was made, which led to the release of the suspect in the matter, Hanoman said that he does not see how the call had any effect on if there was “failure, neglect or omission to thoroughly investigate.”
He also stated that he does not see how making a phone call or speaking on bail falls within the Terms of Reference of the CoI.
Attorney Christopher Ram, meanwhile, told the commission that it is regrettable that they were unable to get evidence to identify some of the systemic issues, outside of the matter being investigated. He noted that the investigation is still in progress and opined that therefore the inquiry is premature.
As regards Pieters’ comment on the morale of officers being lost, Ram offered that this can be because of the judgments being passed in the public sphere.
“I believe that this type of initiative may have done just what was not intended. What my colleague said of loss of confidence. Because we had one set of people being pitted against another, I don’t think that helps at any stage,” Ram said.
The Commission’s counsel James Bond was not present during yesterday’s submissions, which Ram called regrettable. Bond had been expected to arrive during the course of the hearing, as was related by Commissioner Paul Slowe.
Yesterday’s submissions marked the end of the CoI’s public hearings. The report of its findings is expected to be presented by the end of this month.