RICHARD LORD and DEREK ACHONG
Hours after yesterday's police raid on the offices of Newsday newspaper in Port-of-Spain at 11 am and reporter Andre Bagoo's home, President George Maxwell Richards suspended, with immediate effect, deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission Gladys Gafoor and appointed a tribunal to investigate complaints against her.
Members of the tribunal are:
• Michael de la Bastide (former Chief Justice and former president of the Caribbean Court of Justice), chairman;
• Justice Humphrey Stollmeyer;
• Justice Maureen Rajnath Lee; and
• Reginald Armour SC, counsel to the tribunal.
Details of the action against Gafoor were contained in a release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications.
The tribunal was "mandated with the utmost urgency and all appropriate dispatch to report to and advise His Excellency on the facts found (and) whether such conduct and/or behaviour by Mrs Gladys Gafoor constitute conduct and/or misbehaviour within the meaning of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01 as amended and in particular Section 8 (2) (d) and (e) of Section 136 (7) of the Constitution. These were the latest developments in the unresolved dispute over a decision by Gafoor not to recuse herself from a matter engaging the attention of the commission involving former attorney general John Jeremie. That matter is related to a land deal involving former chief magistrate Sherman McNichols. Yesterday's release, issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications, said President Richards had appointed the tribunal "in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution enabling him to do so, namely Section 136, to inquire into complaints made by members of the Integrity Commission against Gladys Gafoor, appointed member and deputy chairman of the commission."
It further stated: "The complaints are that on March 15, 2010 and after, through January 2012 and continuing, Mrs Gafoor has engaged in certain conduct." The President suspended Gafoor "until further notice from performing the functions of the office of member and deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission without prejudice to her entitlement to her salary and emoluments of office."
According to reports, at around 11 am, a team of officers went to the Chacon Street, Port-of-Spain, offices of Daily News Limited, who publishes the newspaper, in an attempt to find documents relating to a story concerning the Integrity Commission. Police sources said the desk of senior political reporter Andre Bagoo, who wrote the article, was searched for several hours with the officers seizing the his computer's hard-drive. Bagoo was questioned by the officers several weeks ago concerning the source of the information revealed in the exclusive report, sources said. The officers then headed to Bagoo's home, Belmont, where laptop computers allegedly were seized in connection with the investigation. During yesterday's raid, which lasted almost three hours, several senior staff also were questioned by detectives in connection with the investigation which concerns possible breaches of the Integrity in Public Life Act. Executive chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Daily News Ltd, publishers of Newsday, Therese Mills, in a statement said her company "condemned in the strongest possible language" yesterday's raid by officers of the Anti- Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACID). She said after the two-hour exercise, officers, led by Senior Superintendent Solomon Koon Koon, "left our newsroom taking with them two flash drives, one Newsday cellphone, issued to Mr Bagoo, his personal cellphone and Newsday computer hard-drive on which Mr Bagoo has stored confidential information relating to his duties."
She said after the search at the newspaper's office "Koon Koon and his gang left for Mr Bagoo's residence in Belmont where he lives with his elderly parents." Mills said after searching Bagoo's home they "took possession of his three personal computers, two flash drives and even questioned the use of his sister's personal computer."
Mills added: "The abuse of our rights by the police follows a letter, dated January 20, addressed to Mr Bagoo from Koon Koon requesting that Mr Bagoo reveal the source of the information contained in an article which Mr Bagoo had written, titled "Bitter Row", published on December 20, 2011." Mills said the article revealed disagreement among members of the Integrity Commission over a request by its chairman Ken Gordon for Gafoor and member Seunarine Jokhoo to recuse themselves from investigations into a matter involving former attorney John Jeremie.
Mills said: "Newsday stands by Mr Bagoo's right to refuse to reveal his sources under any circumstances. If this offends the Integrity Commission, under its present chairman (or any other chairman), to the extent where the police raids are made on our newsroom and on the house of our reporter, so be it."
And Gordon, in a brief comment last night on the suspension of Gafoor and the appointment of a tribunal to investigate her conduct, said: "I hope the matter will be pursued expeditiously." Questioned about the police raid on Newsday, Foreign Affairs and Communications Minister Dr Surujrattan Rambachan said he was not aware of the raid at the newspaper, having been in Cabinet. He added that the Government remained committed to press freedom in T&T. "The Government will always stand on that platform, freedom of the press and the right of the press to report in a fair and just manner." Meanwhile, the Media Association of T&T's vice president Judy Raymond said: "We are very concerned and outraged at the way Andre (Bagoo) is being treated, like a criminal." She said the entire incident "seemed heavy-handed" as Bagoo was not a member of the Integrity Commission and was not among the people who filed declarations to the commission. Raymond said the contents of Bagoo's story was not confidential information. She insisted the story did not contain personal financial information and didn't compromise anyone's safety. She added the confiscation of Bagoo's computer was an "extremely dangerous and worrying precedent." A police source said last night Police Cyber Crime Unit would check Bagoo's computer hard drives and cellphones for certain bits of information.