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Bakr’s refusal to testify sent to DPP
The commission of enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup has referred Imam Yasin Abu Bakr to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Roger Gaspard, SC, after he failed to respond to the commission’s summons yesterday. Before concluding yesterday’s session, the commission’s chairman, Sir David Simmons, said he and his fellow commissioners decided to refer Bakr’s “failure or refusal” to respond to the summons,after they heard submissions from the commission’s attorneys, as well as receiving a letter from Bakr himself.
In the letter, dated September 4, which was read out at yesterday’s hearing, Bakr stated: “I would like at the outset to reaffirm my willingness to testify before the commission. However, I wish to make the following clear: I have no intention of answering any questions at the enquiry until I am discharged of the matters before the High Court.” Bakr accused the commission of possibly prejudicing his trial by taking evidence before it began.
“That situation makes me suspicious that you may be much more interested in pursuing your own legitimate agenda and without regard to my right to a fair trial,” he added. Bakr suggested that the commission called former prime ministers Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday as well as former government minister Herbert Atwell while it awaited the completion of his retrial. “Whilst Mr Manning and Panday are still alive it might be helpful to ask them how they knew to be absent on July 27,” he said.
On August 16, a nine-member jury in the Port-of-Spain High Court was unable to arrive at unanimous verdicts for Bakr on the four charges he faced. After the jury’s deliberations, trial judge Mark Mohammed discharged them and ordered a retrial. After the letter was read yesterday in the courtroom of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, the commission heard detailed submissions from its lead counsel Avory Sinanan, SC.
After deliberating with his four fellow commissioners, Simmons said: “He (Bakr) has not appeared in person to explain why he did not appear on Monday to answer the summons.” He explained that under Section 12(2) of the Commission of Enquiry Act, a person who failed or refused to respond to a summons from the commission was liable on summary conviction to a $2,000 fine.
He also cited Section 16 of the act, which states that only the DPP and the commissioners may commence proceedings for offences listed in the act. “There have been considerations of hard bias to which (the commissioners) have paid regard. We do not think in these circumstances it would be prudent for commissioners to undertake possible prosecution under Section 16,” Simmons said.
He addressed initial concerns raised by Bakr, who claimed his testimony at the enquiry would cause adverse pre-trial publicity. Simmons said no evidence was presented to the commission to suggest such an occurrence and in any event such an issue would be a matter for his trial judge and not for the commission. Gaspard submitted the commission should receive Bakr’s evidence in private to assist in its final report which would be made public at the end of the enquiry.
He suggested Bakr’s full testimony be published after the completion of his sedition retrial. He also gave an undertaking not to use Bakr’s proposed testimony against him at his retrial. During yesterday’s hearing, Simmons was careful to note that no formal application had been made to the commission for such proceedings. He said all the proceedings of the commission would be kept public.
Bakr rejected Gaspard’s suggestion of in-camera proceedings, saying: “I am not impressed as I have been taught the hard lesson over the years that one must place little faith in the promises of state officials.” The enquiry will resume between October 15 and 26 for its 13th session since it began in January 2011.
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