Massiah replaces Crandon on death squad probe
-Gajraj proceeds on leave
Stabroek News
July 3, 2004

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President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday appointed two members of the Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj's alleged involvement in a death squad.

Jagdeo later told reporters that the third member of the panel would be former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Keith Massiah, who is to replace chairman of the Police Service Commission, Ivan Crandon.

He also said Minister Gajraj was to have proceeded on leave from yesterday to allow for the conduct of the inquiry.

Justice of Appeal Ian Chang and retired GDF Chief-of-Staff Norman McLean were sworn in at a low key ceremony in the Credentials Room of the Office of the President.

Crandon had been originally named as part of the commission when it was first announced on May 14. But several groups, including the parliamentary opposition parties and the Guyana Human Rights Association, voiced concerns about his inclusion, which they thought a conflict of interest and a breach of the constitution.

Jagdeo noted yesterday that according to legal opinions, there is no conflict of interest.

"I have sought and received an interpretation of the view which... points to a different view... that it would not conflict. However, in the interest of reaching some level of comfort, at least among those bodies, 'cause it seems as though I will never be able to... give the PNC enough comfort to accept such a Commission of Inquiry," he explained.

Jagdeo said Massiah would be appointed when he returns to the country next week.

The president reiterated that the members of the commission would determine when they begin work as well as outline the procedures for the conduct of the inquiry. He said he would have liked the commission to begin its work earlier, but he had been approached by some groups that were trying to sell the idea to the main opposition party.

According to its Terms of Reference, the commission is to determine if there is any credible evidence to support the claims against the minister.

George Bacchus, a man who said he had been an informant for a group that killed almost 40 people, claimed that the minister was aware of its activities. He implicated several others, including businessmen and several members of the police force.

Bacchus was killed a week ago and his murder sparked calls for the development of a witness protection programme.

Jagdeo spoke of the importance of witness protection, which was discussed several years ago when former US President Bill Clinton visited the Caribbean.

"...Many heads in Caricom said at that time to him that we are just too small to (accomplish it), we have very small populations to protect witnesses within our countries..."

He cited the case of Trinidad and Tobago where a key witness in a murder case was killed under police protection, but he added that it was the feeling among the governments that US help was necessary for such a programme.

"We hoped the US would respond favourably to a witness protection scheme... They have not done so as yet..."

The president said as individual countries it is impossible to have a witness protection scheme since it would be impossible to change someone's identity in such small societies.

Bacchus had made two sworn affidavits prior to his death, detailing his involvement and knowledge of the group as well as a recent attempt to bribe him to recant the allegations.

He said he had been offered $10M and safe passage out of the country for changing his story in a taped interview. He admitted doing the interview, but had said that those who made the offer could not raise the money.

PPP Central Committee Member Shirley Edwards however said that she had been approached by the ex-informant who had claimed that he made the allegations because he was angry.

She said he taped the interview willingly and was never offered an inducement.

Asked about Edwards' involvement, which was subsequent to the announcement of the commission, Jagdeo said the recanting was good for the PPP and it was on these concerns that Edwards had acted.

The police have launched an investigation into the allegations based on the affidavits which were handed over to the police shortly after Bacchus was murdered.

The PNCR has been criticised for not handing over the Bacchus affidavits and their taped interview with him before his death.

But the party said the affidavits were never intended for the commissioner, but rather a commission, in the event that the president went ahead, despite the concerns of the opposition and other groups.

Jagdeo, taking note of this, said he hoped the Opposition leader would co-operate with the commission.

In Gajraj's absence, his duties would be performed by Prime Minister Sam Hinds until Minister of Culture, Gail Teixeira returns from China.