“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall has disputed the claim by attorney Nafeesa Mohammed that a government official wrongly informed the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) that two of the five men still detained in Venezuela had criminal records relating to a plot to assassinate T&T’s Prime Minister in 2011. At a press conference on Thursday, Mohammed said she had official documents to that effect.
But Kelshall said on Friday, “I did not say that, neither did any of my men.” In a telephone interview, he explained, “The document is wrong in saying the men have criminal records.” He added the error might have been a result of a mistranslation and how the Venezuelan authorities interpreted the word “arrest.” Kelshall said his contingent made it clear what was meant with regard to the detention of the two men in 2011.
“We were asked whether any detainees had a criminal record, and we informed them that two of the detainees were arrested for an alleged plot against the Prime Minister’s life and both were released without charge due to a lack of evidence at the time, along with hundreds of other detainees.”
Asked if he thought it was necessary to mention the 2011 arrests, Kelshall said, “Let’s make it clear. These men are not being held for anything that they did in T&T. This (the plot to assassinate the Prime Minister) is a red herring and has nothing to do with what they are being held in Venezuela for.” He said the men were held for “breaking the law in Venezuela” by having in their possession military-type clothing, satellite phones and videos of men firing weapons.
Mohammed also produced Certificates of Character for both Asim Luqman and Dominic Pitilal, dated May 22, to prove that her clients had no previous convictions. She said it was a fact “that entire plot to assassinate the Prime Minister was bogus and had no credibility and it is unfair that it can be used against the men. The T&T authorities must correct this immediately.”
What the Venezuela record says
The T&T Guardian obtained a certified translated copy of the Sebin document which says: “In commencing investigations into the aforementioned matter (the arrest of 22 T&T citizens on March 19 at Plaza Palace Hotel by Sebin), the director of Sebin instructed the Director of Intelligence of said organisation to liaise with the Defence Attache of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in T&T, C/A Alfredo Tovar Yanez, in order to expedite the process with the T&T authorities regarding the verification of the identities of the contingent under investigation and confirmation of their legal status.
Mohammed: mix-ups continue
“It must be mentioned that said information was requested informally from Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall, National Security Adviser of the Prime Minister of T&T. “An initial response to the request indicated that the aforementioned citizens are nationals of T&T; two of whom have criminal records having been under investigation in relation to a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister in the year 2011.”
Mohammed said these allegation about the men were false and she had certificates of character for them that proved they had no criminal records.
In November 2011, during the state of emergency, 16 men were arrested for links to an alleged plot to assassinate the PM and other members of Cabinet. On December 6, 2011, all the men were released owing to lack of evidence.