The criminal investigation against Public Administration Minister Marlene McDonald and her companion widened on Friday as police investigators have unearthed new information.
This as the chorus for her removal as a senior Cabinet minister gained momentum.
McDonald, the MP for Port-of-Spain South and a deputy political leader of the ruling PNM, and Michael Carew were arrested after police swooped down on their Valley View, Maracas/St Joseph home early Thursday.
Defence attorney Pamela Elder told members of the media last night that her client will remain in police custody until the interviews with Carew are completed today.
She said McDonald became incensed by some of the questions which she considered offensive.
Police officers led McDonald out of the building while the media was speaking to her attorney. McDonald stumbled on the steps and they ushered her into a waiting SUV. Long-time supporter Christine Levia, also known as Twiggy, was outside the building and shouted at the police to let “her minister” go home.
Police began questioning McDonald and Carew on Thursday evening at the St Joseph Police Station and that process continued for most of yesterday as McDonald and Carew were taken to the head office of the Professional Standards Bureau, at Matco Building, in Port-of-Spain around 8 am.
McDonald and Carew will remain in police custody until investigators seek advice from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on whether there was sufficient evidence to support the possibility of criminal charges.
Suspects are usually detained for 48 hours and released if police cannot gather enough evidence to file charges but that period can be extended in some circumstances.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley told Guardian Media that he would await the outcome of the police investigation before making any decision. He said he did not intend to speculate as he was not an “impatient person.”
McDonald had twice been fired as a government minister by Rowley over allegations of misconduct — once when she recommended state housing for Carew as Minister of Housing in 2016 and after she invited a reputed gang leader to her swearing-in as a government minister at President’s House in 2017.
Rowley had re-appointed her to his Cabinet after the Integrity Commission had cleared McDonald in relation to the claims that she influenced the award of funds to the Calabar Foundation linked to her husband and defended his decision even though a police investigation into the same matter had not been completed.
On Thursday night, McDonald’s attorney, Pamela Elder SC, said her client had been co-operating with police investigators.
Elder visited her client twice at the PSB head office yesterday where she said her client was still being interviewed by the police.
At noon, deputy mayor of Port-of-Spain Hillan Morean brought food for the minister, as he had done on Thursday evening at the St Joseph Police Station. Morean did not speak with the media after leaving the office.
Elder SC spoke briefly with reporters at around 2.15 pm, when she confirmed that her clients were still being interrogated by police. She stressed that up to that time her clients had not been charged.
She left, stating that they had decided to take a break and we’re expected to resume the interrogation.
At around 4.30 pm several officers who had been attached to the case in St Joseph also left the PSB building, prompting speculation that they would be approaching the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to seek advice in the case.
However, Elder returned at around 5.15 pm and up to 7 pm, McDonald and Carew were still being interrogated, sources said.
Around 5 am on Thursday, police executed a search warrant at the home of McDonald. Police also searched McDonald’s Port-of-Spain South constituency office at Piccadilly Street, in Port-of-Spain later that day.
The allegations are connected to the grant of state funds to three non-governmental organisations; the Calabar Foundation, Waterwheel Foundation and a third entity from the Ministry of Community Development and Culture which were allegedly misappropriated. McDonald once served as the Minister of that Ministry and her husband is a registered director of the NGOs.
McDonald, a Parliamentarian for 12 years was removed as Minister of Housing on March 17, 2016 after questions about the Calabar Foundation, first raised by a Guardian Media report in 2014. The article was prompted by claims from activist group Fixin’ T&T.
Two days after her removal as Housing Minister, a criminal investigation was launched into the allegations.
On June 30 2017, McDonald was appointed Minister of Public Utilities, but that appointment lasted two days as her appointment was revoked amid a controversy and concerning a protocol breach which saw Sea Lots residents Cedric “Burkie” Burke and Kenroy Dopwell attend her swearing-in ceremony at President’s House.
She returned to Cabinet in March 2018.