Phantom squad investigation

Unanswered questions linger about the 22nd April 2006 assassination of Minister of Agriculture Satyadeow Sawh. Mr Bob Persaud, Sawh’s brother-in-law, has asked the Government of Canada for help to gain access to the convict Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan who is believed to have information about the massacre in which Persaud’s wife Phulmatie was killed.

Mr Persaud had earlier launched a lawsuit against the Government of Guyana for failing to protect the minister. He told this newspaper that “The way the Government handled their investigation was a tragedy and has all the hallmarks of a cover up.”

Unanswered questions linger also about Roger Khan’s entire criminal enterprise but the administration’s responses have been unhelpful in penetrating the shadowland of dissimulation and evasion. President Bharrat Jagdeo last year stated that his administration was “very committed” to launching an investigation into allegations about a “phantom squad” but insisted that the Guyana Police Force should conduct the investigation.

Presidential Adviser on Governance Gail Teixeira announced last May that “We cannot have an inquiry with no evidence or no information coming forward.” She seemed to miss the point that the purpose of an inquiry into the “phantom squad” would be to interrogate witnesses in order to acquire information to bring the culprits to justice.

Ms Teixeira’s presentation of the “Response of the Government of Guyana to the Universal Periodic Review” conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last month amplified the administration’s attitude. She stated plainly that the Government of Guyana considered that, among other things, allegations of murders allegedly committed by the “phantom squad” to be “one-sided, misinformed and prejudicial.” The administration therefore rejected recommendations to establish an independent inquiry into the “phantom squad.” She could not be more explicit.

Roger Khan, during his criminal heyday, was arrested at dead of night in December 2002 next to a vehicle which contained cellular electronic intercept equipment which enabled him to listen to the conversations and determine the locations of his intended victims. There was also a frightening arsenal of weapons to finish the job. That equipment, according to the co-director of the UK firm Smith Myers who testified in a US court, had been sold to the Guyana Government.

Evidence was led to the effect that Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy had purchased the equipment on behalf of the Guyana Government. A representative of Smith Myers Communications had travelled to Guyana to train the criminal Roger Khan in its use. Both the administration and Dr Ramsammy denied having any connection with the equipment.

The shadowy activities of the “phantom squad” were evident during Mr Ronald Gajraj’s tenure as Minister of Home Affairs. A Presidential Commission of Inquiry was convened in May 2004 to determine whether “Mr Ronald Gajraj has been involved in promoting, directing or otherwise engaging in activities which have involved the extra-judicial killing of persons.”

George ‘Bumbalay’ Bacchus, a self-confessed “phantom squad” member and the likely star witness in the Inquiry had alleged that there had been “numerous” murders of innocent men. He himself was murdered in June 2004 before the Inquiry could start. The Commission eventually found no evidence against the Minister. Largely because of Bacchus’s demise, witnesses prudently stayed away from the Inquiry.

The administration’s dodgy attitude to investigating the activities of the “phantom squad” has caused great anguish to persons such as Mr Bob Persaud and to the aggrieved relatives of the numerous victims of the troubles. It is high time for the administration to adopt a humane course of action by convening the independent investigation which the civilised world has demanded.

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