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Coolman on re-examination: My stepdaughter and I were friends
After seven days of intense, abrasive and sometime monotonous cross-examination, Rennie Coolman, the husband of businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, completed his testimony in the trial over the murder of his wife yesterday. Coolman, the State’s sixth witness in the trial of 12 men charged with killing the former supermarket chief executive, breathed a sigh of relief as he left the witness box yesterday afternoon.
The trial is being heard by Justice Malcolm Holdip and a 12-member jury with six alternates at the Port-of-Spain Second Criminal Court. During yesterday’s hearing Coolman was re-examined by prosecutor Dana Seetahal, SC, who attempted to clarify new issues that were raised while he was being questioned over the past three weeks by a battery of defence attorneys.
Seetahal first called upon him to give additional details of his relationship with his stepdaughter Risha Ali, as in a previous hearing he had been accused of being romantically involved with her. Coolman again denied the allegation but admitted that they did not share a typical father/daughter relationship.
“My relationship with her was more along the lines of a friend rather than a father figure as her father was still alive at the time,” Coolman said. He also said they had maintained contact even after her mother’s abduction on December 19, 2006. Referring to a question during his cross-examination when Coolman denied Naipaul-Coolman’s father disapproved of his marriage to Naipaul-Coolman, Seetahal asked him to clarify his answer.
“I would say I had a very good relationship. Her father travelled with Vindra and I to Toronto while I was there studying. “We spent just under two weeks together...” Coolman said before his answer was curtailed by an objection from a defence attorney. Coolman was also asked by Seetahal to explain why he disagreed when attorneys claimed that his wife was worth more to him dead than alive.
“What I meant was that it would have been more beneficial financially for her to continue to be alive, given a recent salary increase which she had received, which was significantly more than what I quoted for myself,” Coolman said. He said his wife had planned to retire early, three years after she was abducted, and would have received a “substantial severance payment.”
During his lengthy cross-examination, the longest of any of witness in the trial thus far, Coolman was asked questions on several topics, including his marriage, his personal finances and his response to his wife’s kidnapping. He was accused of being involved in the kidnapping, failing to come to his wife’s rescue and playing an almost non-existent role in negotiations with her abductors, allegations which he fervently denied.
Asked yesterday why he did not contribute to the $122,000 ransom that was paid hours after the kidnapping, Coolman said he was not asked to. “As indicated before, her brother Anand Naipaul said he would pay whatever ransom was being asked,” Coolman said.