Two videotapes made recanting Gajraj allegations
- 'I was afraid' Bacchus says in affidavit
June 27, 2004
George Bacchus made two videotapes before he died in which he recanted the allegations he made against Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, whom he accused of having connections with a death squad which executed wanted criminals.
But the now dead self-confessed informant for the group said the first tape did not meet the expectations of the person who offered to pay him $10M to change his story and he had to make a second.
Bacchus had contacted Stabroek News on June 15, denying claims by PPP Member of Parliament (MP) Shirley Edwards that he had retracted allegations he first made at the start of the year. While he admitted retracting the allegations, he claimed that he was offered an inducement to do so.
But in a statement to the press on June 14, Edwards said Bacchus, who was her neighbour, approached her and indicated his desire to retract the allegations he had 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 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 said 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."
Gordon, who claimed he conducted the interview in his personal capacity, endorsed her version of the events.
But Bacchus denied ever having spoken with Edwards, though he admitted 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?" asked Bacchus, who explained that he agreed to make the tape because of the danger he faced.
"...I was afraid and believed that I would be killed if I had not cooperated, so I did what I was told to do and the man made a videotape with me saying what they instructed me to say, to the effect that Mr Gajraj knew nothing of the killings," he said in an affidavit he swore to 12 days before he was murdered.
Bacchus was shot as he lay asleep at his Princes Street home during the early hours of Thursday morning. One week before, he had publicly disclosed that he was offered a bribe and safe passage out of the country for his retraction. But he maintained that the original claims were the truth.
"...What was said on the tape is not true but was done because I was afraid," he said in the affidavit.
"...I am still afraid for my life because I know that some of the members of the death squad are still at large and may be willing to kill me with... instructions."
Bacchus' sworn affidavit, drawn up by attorney Basil Williams on his instructions prior to his death, was one of two that have been handed over to the police, now in the midst of the investigation.
Afraid for his life, Bacchus had gone into hiding after he gave the police detailed statements about his brother's murder. He said while he did identify three men in the car that was used in the drive-by shooting, there were five passengers.
He said he came out of hiding after the preliminary inquiry into the charges began and the government had announced that there would be a commission of inquiry into death squads in the country. In early May, he said he was approached by a friend, whose name was given. His friend asked if he would speak with the minister as it would be in his best interest. But he informed the man that he did not want to hear about the minister, whom he said directed the activities of the death squad.
"[He] came back to me another day and advised me that the gunman were all over the place and they could kill me and that they knew where all my relatives, my girlfriend and overseas sister were living and that all of them may also be in danger if I did not want to hear what [he] had to say," the affidavit said.
Bacchus claimed that his friend brought him a message afterwards that someone was offering to pull off the gunmen and pay him $10M to leave the country if he would make a videotape recanting the allegations and say they were made in anger.
He said his friend later took him to the home of Edwards, where he met a man with a video camera. "He told me what to say and I repeated words to the effect that Mr Gajraj was not in charge of any death squad and I do not know why the political parties were blowing things out of proportion."
Afterward, his friend and the cameraman both left. But a few days later, he said, he received a call from a man who told him the tape was no good and that he would have to make another one. He claimed he abused the man on the phone.
Bacchus alleged that he was approached the next day by his friend, who repeated what the man on the phone had said.
He claimed he was taken to Edwards' home again, where another man whom he recognised from television, was waiting with a video camera.
"He gave me two typewritten sheets of paper with a statement that [name given] sent for me to read and he told me to say in my own words what was written on the statement so that I could be video recorded."
He recalled that the bag that contained the camera had writing with letters appearing to be "GINA" on it.
He alleged he was offered one hundred thousand dollars in the form of a wad of one thousand dollar bills, but that he threw it back saying that he was not hungry.
Later, the affidavit claimed, Bacchus's friend told him that he had taken the tape to [name given], who said he needed time to raise the money.
"...Later that night around 7.30 pm I received a telephone call from a known person who... was seeking to clarify whether the amount was five or ten million dollars."
He claimed he insulted the person but became immediately afraid for his life as he believed he would still be killed even though he had done the tape as requested.
Following this development, he said, he contacted opposition leader Robert Corbin, through another person.
On Friday, June 4, Bacchus went to Congress Place, the headquarters of the PNCR where he told Corbin about the operation of the death squad and all the other developments. He also allowed the opposition leader to make a video recording of the interview.
Bacchus said this was in the event that if anything should happen to him, Corbin would have the information.