Minister Gajraj denies knowledge of alleged 'phantom gang' killings
--- PNCR walks out at PSC swearing in
Guyana Chronicle
January 10, 2004

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HOME Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, yesterday maintained he was not aware of any alleged killings by a 'phantom gang' and said claims of a State connection to such a group have not been validated.

"Not at all," he told reporters when asked if he was aware of the killings, an issue that has prompted an opposition call for him to resign.

"I have said time and time again what my position is with respect to those enquiries. And it is still the same. Anybody can go out there and say whatever they want to say. It must bear scrutiny, it must bear analysis; and not just because somebody jumps up and says something, you will arrive at a judgment position," Mr. Gajraj said.

Minister Gajraj was responding to the allegations widely publicized this week by a man claiming to be an ex-informant for a squad rumored to be behind several executions of fugitives, wanted persons and suspected criminals. Media reports have said the man has implicated a senior Government official in the group's activities.

He has reportedly been giving information to the United States Embassy in Georgetown after claiming he was the real target of an attack by gunmen on Monday night. Cattle farmer, Shaffie Bacchus, 45, of Princes Street, Lodge, was killed in the drive-by shooting.

The reports led to a call Thursday by the main opposition People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) for Mr. Gajraj and the entire Government to resign.

Opposition and PNC/R Leader, Robert Corbin, yesterday morning walked out of the swearing-in ceremony for a new Police Service Commission at which Minister Gajraj was present. He contended that the Minister should resign in light of the "serious allegations about the State" and should not wait until President Bharrat Jagdeo returns from an official overseas visit.

Shortly after exiting the Credentials Room of the Office of the President in Georgetown,

Mr. Corbin told reporters he refuses to be part of anything at which Mr. Gajraj is present. He, however, said he was happy the Commission which he and President Jagdeo set up together was finally being appointed after many hiccups.

Minister Gajraj, reacting to Mr. Corbin's resignation calls, insisted he is "the substantive Minister of Home Affairs...and will continue to discharge my duties.

"The PNC is not unknown for walking off. They could choose anything they want to present a platform for politicking and all of that," he commented.

Mr. Gajraj said experiences have shown that if Government officials say anything, it is given very little, if any, credibility. "But any Tom, Dick and Harry can jump up and make statements, and they are treated as gospel.

"Nobody stops to look at circumstances or the validity...of the statements that are being made. So long as it is made against a Government official...or the Government per se, irrespective of who says, it is gospel," he added.

Minister Gajraj said he has not been privy to statements reportedly made by the ex-informant. However, responding to claims about information supplied, he noted that the Police operate on the basis of information and intelligence. "...and we have said time and time again, we seek to build the capacity of the Force to gather intelligence in order to deal with crime situations."

He also commented on telephone records showing calls made to him by a man media reports said was suspected to be a member of the 'phantom gang', and who was fatally shot on December 10 in Bel Air, Georgetown.

"Axel Williams was only one individual. There were several other persons who were in contact with me on the telephone and on several telephones. So the press might choose to exacerbate Axel Williams' case but I say that there are several other persons throughout the length and breadth of this country who have been in contact with me through all hours of the day and night," the Minister said.

Asked why he was in contact with Williams, Mr. Gajraj said, "Like any other issue, it could be a host of reasons (for which) he might have wanted to be in contact with me, or I (might) want to be in contact with him..."

He said most, if not all, of his telephone numbers are public, as they are paid for by the State.

The Minister referred to the Police Commissioner questions on investigations into the ex-informant's claims about people involved in Bacchus' murder.

He stressed that the issues raised have to do with national security. "There is suspicion and on basis of suspicion, there is speculation. The matters must be investigated.

"I would not disclose if you call me or somebody else calls me, especially if it relates to matters of national security. Sometimes what you tell me might be very innocuous or putting it in the wider context of the security system, might be (deficient). Any informant or information received on criminal situations in my view is a matter of national security."

Minister Gajraj said the media have chosen to publish certain things, apparently without regard to the serious implications for the country's security sector. "Confidentiality has always been, is, an issue and we need to address that aspect," he stressed.