Police Commissioner Leslie James yesterday confirmed that the ongoing investigation of former government Member of Parliament (MP) Charrandass Persaud stems from a report of bribery and possible plans to move gold out of the country.
“It’s a report of alleged bribery and perhaps some movement of gold from the state of Guyana,” James told a press conference that was called at his office to specifically address the probe.
He also made the point of assuring that the police are conducting “an impartial investigation,” while noting that Persaud is innocent until proven guilty.
“We are not seeking to manufacture anything. Whatever it is that we obtain in our efforts, that will be submitted. We are not seeking to in any way manufacture nothing. Whatever is given to us, it’s been taken and we submit for legal advice. The advice given to us, we respond to it,” he said.
In the face of questions at the opening ceremony of the Guyana Police Force’s Annual Officers’ Conference at State House last week, James was tightlipped about the investigation, which he described as a national security matter.
He maintained this position yesterday. “This matter is a matter of national security… it is a former Member of Parliament that is under investigation,” he noted.
On the day after his controversial decision to vote in favour of an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against the government, Persaud, who is a Canadian citizen, left for Canada.
James suggested that the police may have to interview Persaud based on the evidence in their possession so far. “What I can say is that we have gone a significant way. And I can say this: If we were to compare what I have read so far and what we have had there may be reasons for us to need to speak to Mr Persaud,” he noted.
He further added that if the need arises, the necessary actions will be taken to have Persaud returned to Guyana. “If we are advised to seek extradition, we will so do,” he said.
So far, several statements have been obtained but James refused to state whether they include any from MPs. “…As I said, it is a spiral investigation. Whatever comes up, we will be following those leads,” he said.
“What we have are statements which embodied certain things that I would not disclose for obvious reasons. We cannot say about monies, we can’t say about this, we can’t say about that… the person we are investigating, he is innocent until proven guilty and I would not be prejudicial with this investigation. This is an impartial investigation we have undertaken,” he explained, before adding that at the conclusion of the investigation, the police will seek legal advice on the way forward.
Since Persaud’s vote, which resulted in the motion being declared carried by 33 votes to 32 and initiating the process for the holding of new general elections, he has come under attack by his former APNU+AFC colleagues. The validity of the motion is now the subject of two court challenges, including one by the government.
Persaud has denied being bribed for his vote, saying that he voted according to his conscience.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan has admitted that he was the one who tipped off the police after he received the information from Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock about Persaud enquiring about the purchase of US$1 million in gold.
The information, Ramjattan said, came from an Errol Ross, an employee within Allicock’s ministry and a friend of Persaud. WhatsApp messages between Ross and Persaud about the purchase of gold from miners in Guyana are said to be part of the police investigation, according to sources. However, when asked about this yesterday, James refused to divulge whether it was true. “I would not necessarily respond to that in terms of whether… that’s [an] internal matter between myself and the honourable minister. If he said that then he must know what he is saying. I would not get involved with whether he spoke to me and whatever it is and so on,” he said.
James did, however, say that a number of gold dealers have been interviewed.
Persaud has since defended his actions, saying he made enquiries about buying gold for a client.
“I have clients, who are still looking for gold and so I was negotiating with a couple of dealers, finding out the price, what it will take if you buy it in Guyana or if they ship it and we pay for it and we receive it in Canada. That is what I was doing,” he told a forum in New York via phone last week, while questioning what was wrong with making enquiries.