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Sunday, December 08, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Panday set to take witness stand as Coup enquiry resumes
Former prime minister Basdeo Panday is expected to take the witness stand at the 16th session of the Commission of Enquiry into the July 1990 attempted coup which resumes on Thursday at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Henry Street, Port-of-Spain. Legal sources at the commission said Panday is expected to testify on both Thursday and Friday. They said this is expected to be the last session of the commission. The attempted insurrection was led by Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Imam Abu Bakr and involved 113 insurrectionists, who held parliamentarians hostage at the Red House, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain and also invaded then State-owned television station Trinidad and Tobago Television at Maraval Road, Port-of-Spain and Trinidad Broadcasting Company.
Contacted yesterday on whether he would be testifying, Bakr said, “I have said it over and over again. I am not a flippant person. Whatever I say is what I mean.” Asked if that meant he would not be testifying, Bakr hung up the phone. Sources close to him said he had not changed his mind about not testifying. In June, Bakr demanded he be paid $1m to testify. In a telephone interview yesterday, Panday said he was “more than ready” to face the enquiry and was anxious to clear his name, as “some very spurious allegations” had been made against him by those who had previously testified. Panday said he had also intended to cross-examine those who made the allegations, but this request had been shot down by the commission. “So I will probably cross-examine the commission,” Panday added. “During the course of the enquiry, certain people made certain allegations against me, and if I do not go to the enquiry I would end up like a certain person against whom certain allegations were made in a certain enquiry and who did not answer.
“The public impression was that if allegations are made against you and you do not answer, then you have something to hide,” Panday said. Pressed for specifics of the allegations Panday said, “They were very spurious allegations. I don’t remember them, but they said all kinds of foolish things. I think it is important that the record show that I appeared and denied those allegations.” Panday added that nothing good would come of the enquiry. “The commission of enquiry is a colossal waste of money going into millions of dollars. That money could be used to provide beds at the hospital, to clean people’s drains and so on in order to make people’s lives happy. “The commission had said that nothing would come out of this enquiry. They had said that nobody would be arrested or anything like that,” Panday added.
The enquiry so far
The enquiry was established to look into the events surrounding the attempted coup against the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government on July 27, 1990. It began two and a half years ago and it has been reported that the Government has spent $31 million in fees so far. Close to 100 witnesses have given evidence in 15 sessions. Those who were directly involved in the bloody uprising or who were victims or relatives of victims have testified. Witnesses included NAR politicians who were held hostage for six days in Parliament, including then prime minister Arthur NR Robinson, who was shot and wounded. Witnesses told how they went without food and water and lay bound and gagged on the floor of the Parliament chamber with guns to their heads while rebels and the soldiers exchanged gunfire.
Members of the Defence Force, including Col Hugh Vidale and retired Major General Ralph Brown and retired Brig Joe Theodore, who played a key role in helping to quell the insurrection, also gave evidence. Former Jamaat insurgent Jamaal Shabazz, who led the takeover of the Trinidad Broadcasting Company, also testified. He recounted in court the reasons for the attempted coup, tracing it back to the killing of WPC Bernadette James, who was shot dead during a training exercise in Chaguaramas. Shabazz apologised for the hurt and pain the rebels caused T&T. In February this year there was uncertainty whether the enquiry would continue as questions were raised about the qualification of one of the commissioner’s, Dr Hafizool Mohammed. An investigation by the T&T Guardian found Mohammed obtained his DSc in international relations from Atlantic International University (AIU), which is described by various Web sites as a diploma mill. Mohammed described the discrepancies in his CV as “errors.”
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