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E-mailgate probe faces dismal future 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The probe into the emailgate scandal may be facing a bleak future after US Internet search giant Google indicated in its latest transparency report, published on its Web site, that local police officers investigating the case failed to make any official request from them for information relating to the matter last year. The claim differs from that by former deputy commissioner of police Mervyn Richardson, who had assured last year he had written to Google seeking information from its databases on the Government officials implicated in the scandal, including Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and several of her top Government colleagues.


The matter was first brought to the public’s attention by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley during a motion in Parliament last May. Rowley had read out a thread of e-mails in the Section 34 fiasco, which he claimed alleged serious misconduct on the part of those involved. The e-mails were purported to have come from e-mails addresses belonging to the PM, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and three other senior ministers. Persad-Bissessar and her colleagues denied any knowledge of the e-mails and claimed they were fabrications but the PM subsequently ordered a probe into the matter. Richardson was put in charge of that probe by acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Richardson. Local investigators were relying heavily on Google in their investigation but their assistance required an official request from this country through the Central Authority, a department in the Office of the Attorney General.

Richardson had claimed he made that request and was awaiting a response from Google but eventually retired from the service without getting that response or making any significant headway in the matter. However, Google’s transparency report which was published recently shows that up to June last year there was no request from this country for any information. The report shows Google received roughly 26,000 requests from about 30 countries during that period but T&T does not appear on the list. While the report only covers up to June, a well-placed local source familiar with the investigation revealed yesterday that no official request had as yet been sent to Google relating to the Section 34 e-mail scandal. Google will release the rest of the report this year.


Local probers cautious
Contacted on the issue yesterday, Richardson said he did not want comment on the matter. Also contacted yesterday, DCP Glenn Hackett, who is now in charge of the e-mail probe, said: “Officially, we have engaged Google and there are certain legal parameters within which they (Google) have to operate. We are close to satisfying those legal requirements and expect full co-operation within the near future.” Hackett offered no further comment on the matter. Yesterday, head of the Central Authority, Netram Kowlessar, said he could not provide information on whether the police had approached them to communicate in an official capacity with Google. “Because of the level of confidentiality we operate under and because of the sensitive nature of our department, I will not be able to give you any information regarding requests,” Kowlessar said. 


AG shocked
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan meanwhile said he was shocked and disappointed over this latest development, saying he had hoped the case was progressing rapidly. He added: “This is shocking and scandalous, as our reputations are at stake and we were promised a swift and efficient investigation. “I am extremely disappointed, as from day one we have maintained that too much time was wasted, by focusing on the devices, which were not really relevant. “We advocated that the primary source of the information should be checked via the servers at Google. We and the public were led to believe that course was aggressively being pursued.” But Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said he was not surprised by the information as he was always of the view that there were repeated attempts to stymie a proper investigation. Efforts to contact Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday were unsuccessful as calls to her cellphone went unanswered


Emailgate Background

• On May 20 last year while addressing Parliament in his no confidence motion against Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her People’s Partnership Government, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley read 31 controversial e-mails allegedly sent between senior government officials. 

• The officials whose e-mail addresses the messages were purported to have come from were Persad-Bissessar, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, former Local Government Minister Surujrattan Rambachan and then national security adviser to the Prime Minister Gary Griffith. 

• The allegations dealt with an alleged plot to tap the phone of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the intimidation of the T&T Guardian journalist who broke the story about the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011.

• The officials who were named all denied the allegations and claimed the e-mails were fabrications. 

• Rambachan is now the Works and Infrastructure Minister, while Griffith holds the post of National Security Minister. 

• In the months which followed, investigators interviewed all of the parties who were named in Rowley’s claims, while Persad-Bissessar and her Cabinet colleagues were asked to hand over their electronic devices to investigators for examination. 

• Only Griffith complied fully with the request and he complained several times last year that his devices were yet to be returned.

• In several newspaper interviews in July and August last year, Richardson claimed to have written to Google as well as local internet providers for their assistance in the probe. 

• On July 10, Rambachan told media personnel he too had contacted Google and received a response saying that the e-mails were fake as the IP address found in Rowley’s correspondence did not exist. 

• On November 22, Richardson retired from the Police Service with the probe still incomplete. Up to the date of his retirement, Richardson maintained he had not received a response from the California-based internet giant. 


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