As the search for Debe hairstylist Ria Sookdeo continued yesterday, her husband, Mark Sookdeo, made a teary-eyed and desperate appeal to her abductors to return her to their family.
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Anil safe for now
Sports Minister Anil Roberts has told Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar he has never used drugs, including marijuana, during his tenure as minister and “never taken, used or experimented with illicit or illegal drugs or ever been involved in any form or fashion with prostitutes.”
Persad-Bissessar, in a statement last night, said Roberts gave that explanation to her in a letter on Tuesday in relation to the controversial ganja video matter. And on the basis of this, the PM says she has no reason to remove Roberts from her Cabinet at this time.
The video arose in the public domain just over three weeks ago. It showed a person resembling a government minister rolling a substance believed to be marijuana into a cigarette in a hotel room with two women.
Roberts had refused to confirm or deny to the media whether he was the person in the video.
But after revealing the contents of Roberts’s letter yesterday, the PM said: “After considering the strong denials made by the Honourable Minister and having regard to the fact that there exists no evidence to corroborate any of the allegations made against Minister Roberts, I find that there is no matter arising which requires my consideration at this time.”
Roberts has remained mum on the video, save to vehemently accuse the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) of being behind “the mischief.”
However, the Congress of the People (COP) suspended him from the party after he blocked an investigating team’s moves to investigate it. COP’s executive began exploring severing ties with him permanently, adding Roberts should step down as a minister until the allegations were cleared. COP chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan then said the ball was in the PM’s court.
After the suspension, Roberts was absent from Parliament last Friday and also from last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. He was present at yesterday’s meeting, sources said. Roberts’ Sport Ministry is also at the centre of an audit by the Finance Ministry concerning allegations about its former Life Sport programme. National Security Minister Gary Griffith was reported to have said he had concerns and information on that. On May 24, Persad-Bissessar cut the programme from Roberts’ ministry and transferred it to National Security, ordering the audit. Finance Minister Larry Howai says the audit will be completed in about three weeks.
In yesterday’s statement, the PM dealt primarily with the issue of the “ganja” video. She said: “There has been a clamour in some quarters for me to have taken immediate action in relation to allegations made against Minister of Sport Anil Roberts. “I have demonstrated in the past on many occasions that I do not hesitate to act in addressing any matter but I’m also measured in the decision I arrive at through careful thought, always allowing deep process to take place.
“I have the authority to make many decisions every hour as Prime Minister but I do so always with consideration of what is right and fair, conscious always that with great authority, comes great responsibility.”
She said she had allowed the COP to address the matter involving Roberts, “as is their right to so do.
“Having allowed due process to take place and in receipt of a full report from Minister Roberts, I am now in the best position to make public, my position regarding these allegations. “I am not judge or jury. I can only weigh the statements made by any member of my government against the evidence or lack thereof presented to me. I hold fast and true to the inviolable principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”
Roberts: I’ve never used drugs
She said Roberts wrote her on June 10 categorically denying the use of illicit drugs and attested his innocence. She quoted from Roberts’ letter: "I confirm that I have not used any drugs, inclusive of marijuana, during my tenure as minister of your Government. It is with great sadness that I have watched a relentless media campaign designed to defame, hurt and disrespect not only me, but my wife, children and unborn child, as well as my constituents, my government and you, my beloved Prime Minister."
Regarding the video, the PM said Roberts refuted the notion that it represents any evidence of misconduct or criminal activity, or that any verification of such can be made. She said Roberts’s letter went on to add: "The production of the video is an extreme form of mischief which places one in an unenviable place to ‘defend’ oneself by making statements and pronouncements that in turn will be used in tandem with the video of dubious origin and delayed production to condemn the speaker."
She said Roberts also described as “unsubstantiated” the allegations of the Life Sport programme, adding he awaits the outcome of the Finance investigation.
Persad-Bissessar said Roberts’s statement concluded as follows: “Honourable Prime Minister, as your Minister of Sport, as your member of Parliament for D’Abadie/O’Meara, your supporter and patriot who has served my beloved country as a former national swimmer, a former national footballer and a national Olympic medal-winning coach, I assure you that I have never taken, used or experimented with illicit or illegal drugs, nor have I ever been involved in any form or fashion with prostitutes as has been implied by Dr. Keith Rowley.
“I certainly have not treated lightly with the trust and confidence in which you have reposed in me and I remain at your service.”
The PM said: “The investigation initiated by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Larry Howai, on the allegations within the Life Sport programme will continue aggressively until a determination is made."