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Volney: I did not drink champagne with Ish
Justice Minister Herbert Volney said he had a conversation with businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh about one of his ministry employees during a ministry conference at Galbaransingh’s Tobago hotel last weekend. Denying he had been drinking champagne with Galbaransingh, Volney said there were only bottles of Perrier water on the table at which he was sitting while they spoke. The T&T Guardian contacted Volney after statements by PNM MP Colm Imbert on Wednesday.
During Wednesday’s Lower House debate of Clause 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Bill, Imbert said a high-ranking official of the People’s Partnership Government was drinking champagne in Tobago last Saturday with an accused who could possibly have benefited from the stipulations of the controversial Section 34.
Government moved to repeal the section after concerns were raised. There have been reports that businessmen on fraud charges, Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, might have been freed under the section’s provisions. The section was repealed in both Houses of Parliament on Wednesday and Thursday. Imbert had said the high-ranking PP official was drinking Dom Perignon champagne with the accused at a hotel in Tobago.
“Five bottles...it was a big party,” he had added. Imbert said he was not accusing the Attorney General, Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal or several others on the PP’s front bench, at which he pointed. Imbert also said while the official had been drinking with the accused person who is charged with an indictable offence, lawyers for the accused had been preparing to go to court on their behalf.
Yesterday, Volney said he had been at a weekend workshop that his ministry held at Le Gran Courland Hotel in Tobago. He said 125 members of staff attended the ministry’s second annual retreat. Current group rate per room at this hotel is from $840 nightly to $1,954 (all meals inclusive), the T&T Guardian ascertained from the hotel’s marketing office. Volney said he was at a table with his wife and there was Perrier water on the table.
“I can’t afford champagne...So it is wholly untrue and quite mischievous to say I was drinking Don Perignon champagne,” Volney added. He said the owner of the hotel, Galbaransingh, and his daughter, the hotel’s manager, passed by and saw him. Volney said Galbaransingh came to him to ask him if he (Volney) could help to get the police to come to the hotel, since there had been a breach of security at the hotel involving a ministry employee.
Volney said the conversation had to do with a member of his staff. “A man had scaled the wall of the compound while she was in her room and had been shaking the glass door to get in and she was screaming,” he said. “Other members of staff heard the noise and the man ran out of the compound. A report was made immediately and the police were called.”
Volney said he was told that police had responded to a call by saying, “You all have your bigshots there and you should have your own security.” He said it was in that context that Galbaransingh asked Volney if he could help. Volney said he picked up his cellphone and tried to call National Security Minister Jack Warner. “I did not get through, but half an hour later I saw the police come on the compound,” he said
“That is what happened. “But talk about people drinking champagne—the mischief of politics! Imbert could not say it was me, because he would have been slandering me. Whoever carried that story gave the story their own spin that I was drinking Dom Perignon—I never tasted that in my life. So it was a low blow.”
Asked whether he did not think the situation would have carried consequences and spurred talk, since one party had upcoming court issues, Volney said, “I didn’t expect to see the owner...but it is his hotel, I can’t avoid seeing people if they are in the same area.” Asked if he had considered that the incident would likely further fuel the negative impact on his status after the uproar over Clause 34, Volney replied: “I speak the truth. The truth will set you free. I have great faith.”
He shrugged off queries whether he had any regrets over the situation, including his actions in the issue of the clause. He said: “I take full responsibility for the whole situation concerning the clause.” Volney reiterated concerns he expressed in the House debate about the failure of the Director of Public Prosecutions to file charges in the Piarco Airport issue since 2008. “Everybody sits and waits for something to happen, and when I take a step to bring it to closure, everyone gets in an uproar,” he said.
“People wanted it to continue as it was going. Lawyers make a lot of money when matters drag on and on.”
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