Former T&T justice minister wants AG removed during investigation

Peter Richards 

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday May 22, 2013 – Former High Court judge Herbert Volney Tuesday called for the removal of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan from office, while police investigate allegations contained in emails purporting to show members of the coalition People’s Partnership government involved in attempts to undermine the judiciary, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the media.

Volney, a former justice minister, who was sacked by Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar over the controversy that erupted after the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, said he cannot accept “the one who is most central in these emails, the honourable Attorney General can remain in the office of the Attorney General whilst such an investigation, very damaging in the allegations against him” remain in office.

“It matters not the source…the fact that the allegations are in the public domain, the principle of it is that once allegations are there against a member of government…it will continue to tarnish the government unless it is dismissed by an independent body,” Volney said.

On Monday, Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley, tabling a motion of no confidence against the government, told legislators that he had received at least 31 e-mails from a “whistle blower” and had passed them on to the Office of the President in December last year.

The Opposition Leader said the emails, dating back to September 2012, were from people concerned with the government’s defence of the early proclamation of Section 34 that had the effect of allowing people, whose trial has not started after a 10-year period to walk free and a verdict of not guilty entered against their names.

Critics say that the clause was aimed at supporting businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, who have been described as financiers of the ruling United National Congress (UNC), the biggest partner in the four-member coalition People’s Partnership government.

The two are facing fraud and laundering charges relating to the re-development of the Piarco International Airport in 2001. They are also wanted in the United States on a number of related charges.

The government later repealed the section and Prime Minister Persad Bissessar dismissed Volney, on the grounds that he misled Cabinet into believing that the Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Roger Gaspard, had supported the idea of the early proclamation.

Volney, who told legislators that he had no intention of “bashing” the government of which he is still a member, said “this is a matter that must be investigated by an independent body”.

He said he “wept” on Monday when he heard the ”voice of truth in one little part of a said statement in the email purported to have been sent from …one Anan to another person on which it is said the writer had advised the prime minister to get rid of the Member of St. Joseph as minister”.

But he told Parliament that the email had indicated that the prime minister had not yet made up her mind.

“As I stand here and as God is my witness, I can tell this country and I can tell this House that that is true because up to the time of 4.30 pm on the day of my demise, September 20, 2012, when I left the private meeting with the Prime Minister…the last parting words the Prime Minister had given me was that I have not yet made up my mind.

“That if I take that contextually in the body of all the emails is what I can see in it as the face of God, the honest truth, the gospel truth, and you see once it is there is semblance of truth Mr. Speaker, coming out of that whole body that is so intertwined, a tangle web…Mr. Speaker, this warrants an investigation with the same sanitised of the most important player in it, the Attorney General, whose job it is, is to defend the Constitution, to protect the rule of law and to see that there is due process of law”.

Volney said that he was “seeking no office” but told Prime Minister Persad Bissessar “that we cannot have an investigation that is open free and fair with the central figure, the Attorney General, sitting in the seat with the power to call the head of the SSA (Strategic Services Agency), the power to call up the Commissioner of Police and all that sort of thing and make the public feel comforted that there is fairness in the process”.

Volney said that former national security minister Austin “Jack’ Warner had to step down because “the public perception is that there were unanswered questions” following the release of the CONCACAF report that looked at his stewardship of the organisation he served for more than two decades.

He said two former government ministers in previous People’s National Movement (PNM) governments also had to step down while the investigations were going on.

“The only way there can be fairness is that the area of investigation must be sterile, it must be sanitised of those parties,” Volney said.

Earlier, Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, the leader of the Congress of the people (COP), the second biggest party within the four-member coalition government, said his party had not taken a position on the controversy, indicating “we need to know the truth.

“We must know what the truth is, serious allegations have been made,’ Ramadhar said, adding “we make no pronouncements but we are encouraged by the Prime Minister’s statement that the emails are a fabrication”.

Nonetheless, Ramadhar, a lawyer for nearly 30 years, said he was astonished that the Opposition Leader had stood quiet on the contents of the email for six months, given the allegation that a journalist could have lost her life or that the judiciary seriously undermined.

He said further that Rowley by being in possession of the emails were in breach of the Interception and Communication Act that provides for fines of TT$250,000 (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents) or three years in jail.

He said he wondered what would have been the position of the Opposition leader had harm come to the journalists or the conspiracy as outlined in the emails had come to pass.

Ramadhar described the contents of the emails as “most horrific allegations” and likely to damage the psyche of the population.

“This issue shall mark the turning point in how we do things in Trinidad and Tobago,” Ramadhar said, adding that the damage had already been done whether or not the authenticity of the emails is known or not.

He wondered whether or not the pronouncements by the Opposition Leader were the launch of a political campaign with the Local Government elections “around the corner”.

Ramadhar insisted that the Peoples Partnership remains the ”best vehicle” for Trinidad and Tobago and that the COP would continue to maintain its independence within the grouping.

Housing Minister, Dr. Rudy Moonilal, who is also the Leader of Government Business, also dismissed the emails as a hoax.

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