George Bacchus: 'I was offered bribe to recant charges against Gajraj'
Stabroek News
June 16, 2004

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Death squad informant George Bacchus says he was offered a bribe and safe passage out of the country to recant allegations he had made against Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj who he implicated in the activities of a death squad.

Bacchus yesterday contacted Stabroek News, denying claims by PPP Member of Parliament (MP) Shirley Edwards who claimed he retracted allegations he first made at the start of the year.

Bacchus admits that he did retract the allegations in an interview which is yet to be broadcasted, but he still stands by statements he made earlier in the year against the minister who he says helped organise the killings.

In January, after his brother was murdered in a driveby shooting, Bacchus publicly admitted that he once used his own money to locate criminals for a group which executed several wanted men.

He also alleged that the minister sanctioned the men's activities and implicated several senior policemen and prominent businessmen, who provided the group with financial and tactical support.

But in a statement to the press on Monday, Edwards said Bacchus, who is her neighbour, approached her and indicated his desire to retract the allegations he made about the minister.

"According to him, he knew that [Minister] Gajraj was neither in nor responsible for any death squads... But he was angry that when he told Minister Gajraj, who were responsible for the killing of his brother, the minister, he claims, did not act promptly," the press statement quoted her as saying.

Bacchus has publicly stated that he contacted the minister on the night his brother was killed and identified the suspects and this has been confirmed by the minister. Three men were held for that murder and while one, Mark Thomas, died in mysterious circumstances, the others, Ashton King and Shawn Hinds are in jail awaiting the completion of the Preliminary Inquiry.

"Bacchus said he was angry and that's why he made the allegations against the Minister. Bacchus said that he now wanted the public to know that Minister Gajraj was not involved in any death squad," she said in the statement.

Edwards said she believed this to be a good idea and undertook to contact someone to record his disclaimer. But before she could put arrangements in place Bacchus was visited by a BBC crew, talk show host Roger Moore, other media persons and others.

Edwards says she nevertheless acted on her earlier conversation and contacted Michael Gordon, a senior communications officer at the Government Information Agency (GINA), who visited and interviewed Bacchus at her home.

"I wish to state that at no time was there any talk of or promise of a bribe to do that or any other interview. Also, I never heard Gordon or anyone else offering Bacchus a bribe. He did the interview of his own free will."

But Bacchus denies ever having spoken with Edwards, though he does admit that he did the interview after he was offered $10M and safe passage out of the country.

"If you were in my position what would you do?" asks Bacchus, who explains that he agreed to make the tape because of the danger he faced.

He says he is still being targeted by `hitmen' who work with the death squad as well as others who work for a businessman, one of the men he had originally implicated.

Only recently he was informed that a man armed with a rifle fitted with telescopic lens was positioned close to his home.

Bacchus says he was subsequently approached and told that he would be given $10M to recant his statement, but it was not by Edwards.

"I never had any conversation with Shirley Edwards..." he said yesterday.

"Me and that woman don't talk..." he added, further disputing her claims that they enjoy good neighbourly relations.

He said he was given a prepared statement, which he was instructed to read when he was interviewed in Edward's home, two houses away from his.

Bacchus admits that he was visited by BBC journalists and local media practitioners.

Edwards when contacted for comment yesterday said, "When the commission is set up I will say everything there... I am not prepared to say anything now."

Gordon has confirmed that he did conduct the interview, albeit in his personal capacity and he says Edwards' statement is a fair reflection of what transpired.

Meanwhile, in face of criticism that he may have lost credibility as a result of what has transpired, Bacchus said that he exposed what had been happening to at least four prominent individuals, even before his brother was killed.

"When last you see a body fall?" he also said, adding that there has been an irrefutable reduction in unsolved abductions as well as killings since he went public.

Bacchus' allegations fuelled protest marches throughout the city and calls by many groups including the opposition parties, the Guyana Bar Association (GBA), the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the Guyana Council of Churches, for an independent inquiry to investigate the claims.

One month ago President Bharrat Jagdeo established a commission of inquiry to determine if there is any credible evidence to support the allegations that have been levelled against the minister.

But the opposition is against the composition of the panel and its terms of reference.

Bacchus is prepared to testify before a commission of inquiry, but he also harbours reservations about the one being proposed.

He is also interested in his protection and for other potential witnesses. In this regard, he regretted encouraging other people with information to come forward, since they have only been left exposed.

He said while people have come forward nothing has been done about their information. He cited at least two attempts so far to abduct one of the persons who went public with the information.