George Bacchus murder leaves many questions unanswered
Stabroek News
June 25, 2004

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George Bacchus' murder leaves a number of questions about one of the most crime-riddled periods in the country's history unanswered.

Bacchus was shot and killed in the early hours yesterday morning as he lay asleep in his bed in the second-storey flat of his home, taking some of the answers with him to the grave.

The man, claiming to have been an informant for a group which killed criminals, sent shock waves throughout the country when he surfaced with a chilling story about what he said really occurred and who were key players during an unparalleled crime wave.

He made headlines again last week when he said he had been offered a bribe to retract the allegations that he first made at the start of the year.

The wrong man

He first went public with allegations about the `hitmen' after his younger brother was mistakenly killed in a drive-by shooting on January 5.

"Wrong man! Wrong man!" the shooters yelled that night as they sped away after they pumped Shafeek Bacchus full of bullets and left him lying in a pool of his own blood.

"It had to be. They took him for somebody else and shot him," one of the cattle farmer's relatives said later.

George was at the scene that night. He stood a few feet away from a policeman, screaming into his mobile phone that 'Kerzorkee' and two other men had killed his brother. He also told the person at the other end of the line that he suspected the shooters had come for him.

The next day he went public with his allegations about a group of men who he claimed were responsible for the abduction and murder of several high-profile criminals and others over an eighteen-month period.

Perhaps most shocking of all, he implicated Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, who he accused of being aware of their operations.

He also implicated several high-ranking policemen and businessmen, including a local drug kingpin, who he said provided the group with vehicles and weapons and other tactical support. He spoke too of a city pub, Auby's Wine Bar, where abducted victims were tortured. He even described cases where a chainsaw would be used to dismember the victims, some of whom he maintained were yet to be found.

He also went to the United States Embassy, where he told officials in the company of a lawyer that he was the intended target of the shooting.

He believed he was under the constant surveillance of the group, which he claimed tried to kill him on one occasion. The US Embassy confirmed receiving information from him but refused to give any details.

Bacchus spoke with the media, telling reporters that at one point he used his own money to find criminals for the men, who would plan executions based on the information.

He claimed that the group was responsible for several abductions and murders over a period between the third quarter of 2002 and the last quarter of 2003.

During that period, the country's security forces were trying with little success to contain an unprecedented crime spree that has been called the worst crime wave in its history. The period was characterised by almost daily robberies in the city and on the lower East Coast as well as kidnappings and brutal murders.

Twenty-one policemen and one soldier were also killed in that time.

But the tide turned later in the year when several wanted men, including prison escapee Andrew Douglas and Terrence Archer, known as "Monkey Nut," were mysteriously killed in what were organised executions.

Bacchus claimed he was instrumental in locating dangerous prison escapees Dale Moore and Shawn Browne along with their accomplices, who were eventually killed in gun battles with policemen.

But even after the crime wave abated there were still abductions and murders which the police were unable to solve. Bacchus explained that after they eliminated most of their targets, the group started to carry out contract killings. By this time he said he had parted ways with the men, though he did continue to monitor their activities. He complained about the contract killings, which were done without the knowledge of the minister, he said.

He suspected that his concerns were filtered back to the squad, whose members would park their cars along his street, watching his house.

"How can you feel safe when you have guns pointed at you all the time...? But I am not afraid... I will speak out and something will have to be done," he told Stabroek News at the time. He said he had already detailed this information in statements to at least four prominent attorneys.

Where in the world is George Bacchus?

Almost two weeks later three men, funeral home owner Ashton King, ex-policeman Sean Hinds and Mark Thomas also known as 'Kerzorkee' were charged with the murder of Shafeek Bacchus. The ex-informant, a witness in the case, disappeared from the public eye a few days after and it was speculated that he might have left the country.

At that time then acting Police Commissioner Floyd McDonald made it publicly known that the police were trying to contact him about the allegations, but was not successful on five occasions.

But his relatives said he feared for his life and was keeping a low profile. They promised however that he would have appeared at the preliminary inquiry to testify. Before the preliminary inquiry began Thomas died of unknown causes in the hospital. Meanwhile, in the wake of the allegations, there were calls by the opposition parties and some civil society groups for the government to launch an independent investigation. There were also protest marches around the city to force the issue. But the government was unrelenting at the time, arguing that the man who had connected a number of high-ranking policemen to the group should first give a statement to the police.

That is until Minister Gajraj himself subsequently requested that an inquiry be set up to determine the truth. Minister Gajraj had initially dismissed the allegations, although he did admit knowing Bacchus. Gajraj even confirmed that it was he who Bacchus was speaking with on his mobile the night his brother was killed. He said Bacchus had contacted him asking that he deploy a police patrol to arrest the individuals he named.

Under mounting pressure, the minister asked the president for an impartial inquiry into the allegations and stated that he was willing to go on leave to allay any fears of interference. He said the rationale behind his decision was his desire for the people of the country to know the truth.

By mid-May President Bharrat Jagdeo announced his decision to set up a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to determine whether there was any credible evidence against the minister.

He named Justice of Appeal Ian Chang S.C. as the Chairperson of the all-Guyanese Commission, which also includes former army Chief-of-Staff, retired Major-General Norman McLean and retired Deputy Commissioner of Police Ivan Crandon, who also chairs the Police Service Commission.

The proposed commission was rejected the very next day by the Parliamentary Opposi-tion parties, the PNCR, WPA and the ROAR Guyana Movement, who were not consulted prior to the establishment of the commission. They said it failed to meet their minimum standards and they also panned its limited terms of reference. Some civil society groups have however offered support for the commission.

Since then, the government has been looking at the legality of Crandon's appointment and is also said to be re-examining the terms of reference, which could be widened.

Bacchus had resurfaced by that time, although he maintained a low profile until a few weeks ago when he began making more disclosures about the activities of the group.

Last week he contacted Stabroek News claiming that he was offered a bribe of $10M and safe passage out of the country to retract the allegations against the minister.

This was contrary to claims by PPP Member of Parliament Shirley Edwards, who said he freely recanted in an interview that was conducted at her home by Government information Agency (GINA) communication officer Michael Gordon.

In a statement to the press the day before, she said Bacchus, her neighbour, approached her and said he wanted to retract the allegations which he made because he was angry.

Bacchus admitted that he did do the interview after he was offered ten million dollars and safe passage out of the country.

"If you were in my position what would you do?" he asked Stabroek News, explaining that there were several groups with guns trained on him.

These included `hitmen' who worked with the death squad and others who work for the drug kingpin he had originally implicated. Only recently he had been told that a man armed with a rifle fitted with telescopic lens was positioned close to his home.

He said he was given a prepared statement, which he was instructed to read and he did when he was interviewed by GINA. He was then given a wad of cash, less than what was agreed and was told that there was difficulty in raising the money. He refused it and later exposed the transaction to Opposition Leader Robert Corbin.

He said he had planned to use the money to leave the country until an acceptable commission of inquiry is set up. He expressed his willingness to go before a commission of inquiry to reveal everything but he did have some reservations about the make-up of the probe body.