Gajraj: Killing squad offer mere allegation
-Corbin storms out of police commission swearing in
Stabroek News
January 10, 2004

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Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj has dismissed as speculation and politicking, allegations linking him to a death squad [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] said to be responsible for numerous murders.

The allegations have been made by George Bacchus who says he is an ex-informant for the squad and who believes he was the intended target of a shooting on Monday night that left his brother dead. He has since gone to the US embassy with his allegations.

Gajraj was at the time answering questions put to him by reporters following the walkout of Opposition Leader, Robert Corbin at the swearing in of the members of the Police Service Commission at the Office of the President yesterday.

Gajraj had just walked into the Credentials Room behind Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who is performing the functions of President, when Corbin upon seeing him, stormed out stating that he refused to be part of any function with Gajraj because of the serious allegations made against him.

When asked about these allegations later, Gajraj responded that Bacchus' "claim of making me an offer to establish a killing squad is a mere allegation and these things are of national security import. There is suspicion and on the basis of suspicion there is speculation. The matter must be investigated. I will not disclose if you or someone else called me, especially if it is related to matters of national security, what the call was about or why it was made."

He continued: "One of the things the experience in this country has shown is that if government officials say anything it's given very little, if any, credibility. But any Tom, Dick and Harry could jump up and make statements and they are free to discuss... Nobody stops to look at the circumstances or the validity or feasibility of these statements, but so long as it is made against a government official or the government per se, irrespective who makes it, it is Gospel."

He added that anybody could jump up and say things but it must bear scrutiny and analysis "and not just because somebody jumps up and says something you will arrive at a judgement position."

However, he said that the police are investigating reports made by the man in particular about the murder of Shafeek Bacchus on Monday, but said he could not comment on the police investigation.

He added that all the reports were just speculation which needed to be investigated.

Gajraj said George Bacchus has claimed to be a former informant adding that the police operate on the basis of information and intelligence.

"And we have said time and time again that we seek to build the capacity of the force to gather intelligence in order to deal with the crime situation. So the question of people calling me... you know we had a national consultation on crime..." He added that after the consultation it was decided to provide numbers for citizens to call directly when providing information on crime.

Telephone records, which Stabroek News has seen, indicate that a suspected key gang member Axel Williams, who was killed on December 10 in Bel Air in a well organised hit, made several calls to the Home Affairs Ministry and to the residence of a ministry official. There are phone records showing calls made to Williams' cell phone including three on November 24, from a number said to be from the official's residence as well as more than a dozen calls from a number whose first three digits are 999 - a number apparently assigned for special purposes.

According to the minister, confidentiality has always been an issue which needs to be addressed.

He said Williams was only one of several persons who had been in contact with him and on several telephones.

"The press might choose to exacerbate the Axel Williams case, but I say 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." Asked why Williams would have called him so late in the night, Gajraj replied he might have wanted to discuss any issue or he could have just wanted to be in contact with the minister or vice versa like any other person.

Asked what he and Williams might have spoken about, Gajraj said it was in the national interest that he not disclose this. Williams was implicated in the August 8 killing of 26-year-old Rodwell Ogle, who used to sell food on Mandela Avenue. He was never charged.

In relation to Corbin walking out, Gajraj said that he was duty bound to be at the swearing in yesterday since he was the Minister of Home Affairs. He said he would continue to discharge his duties as minister.

He added that, "The PNC is not unknown to walking out and they can choose anything they want to present a platform for politicking."

As he walked out Corbin told reporters: "[I am pleased] that the Police Service Commission is finally being established but that will not allow me to be part and parcel of anything that Gajraj is part of at the moment, he is facing a serious allegation that is taped. He should resign immediately and I refuse to be part of any function he is part of."

He said this resignation should be immediate and not wait until President Bharrat Jagdeo returns from India.

"These are serious matters, which the state should have acted on already."

And a party statement later said Corbin had earlier held a brief meeting with Hinds before the ceremony. The statement said that at the meeting Corbin enquired whether the government planned to take any immediate action on the serious allegations made against Gajraj and whether he had already resigned.

According to the release, Hinds acknowledged that the allegations were serious but indicated that the government was looking at the matter and any reaction might be had after President Jagdeo returned to Guyana. Corbin then indicated that it was inappropriate that the minister should participate in any function and intimated that should the minister present himself at the swearing in he would be obliged to leave. Before leaving, Corbin indicated to the members of the commission that his departure had nothing to do with the commission but with the failure of the minister to do the correct thing and resign.

The party said it would issue a detailed statement on its intended action on the matter.

Hinds had previously told Stabroek News: "I am very sure that the reports [linking a top government official with the death squad] have been seen and noted ...[And] the people specifically involved are taking note of the statements being made."

The ex-informant has implicated several prominent businessmen over their involvement in the executions of wanted men and the killings of prison escapees who are believed to have been the catalyst behind the 2002 crime wave.

Cabinet Secretary, Dr Roger Luncheon later issued a statement describing Corbin's walkout as a bid to grab some attention. He added that the Cabinet had not yet met for the year and as such could not have responded since these events un- folded.