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Judge to decide on soldiers’ detention

Published: 
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Two members of the T&T Defence Force who are under investigation are escorted by military police from Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday. PHOTO: KERWIN PIERRE

A High Court judge will decide today whether the Defence Force can continue to detain two soldiers who are being investigated in a $2 million payroll scam.

Justice Joan Charles reserved her decision on the habeas corpus application yesterday, after hearing submissions from attorneys for the organisation and the two soldiers, a Lance Corporal and Private, who have been detained at its Teteron Barracks, Chaguaramas for almost three weeks.

While the two soldiers were brought to court, dressed in their uniforms, by officers of the Defence Force’s Military Police yesterday on Charles’ request, they can not be identified as they are yet to be charged with any criminal offence.

Presenting submissions of the soldiers’ behalf, attorneys Mario Merritt and Stephen Wilson questioned the length of the investigation which began on July 27 as they described their clients’ continued detention as excessive and unreasonable.

“Any investigation into fraud is by definition shorter than for a violent crime because everything is based on documents that would be in front of you in your office,” Merritt submitted.

Merritt also alleged that his clients were denied their right to consult with their attorneys during the detention.

“I would not like to say how we are involved in the matter because someone would get into trouble,” Merritt said as he alleged that he was contacted by concerned colleagues of the two soldiers.

Merritt suggested that the two men should have been allowed to leave the barracks and could have been rearrested after the end of the investigation.

In response, attorney Ravi Rajcoomar claimed that their continued detention was necessary as the soldiers are required to appear before a Board of Inquiry, which is investigating the alleged fraud, later this week.

Rajcoomar also submitted that because they were soldiers they were subject to military law which allowed them to be detained at their base for an undefined period of time.

“This is an internal defence procedure that can be addressed by complaints,” Rajcoomar said as he noted that neither officer had initiated the complaint procedure afforded to members, who wished to challenge decisions.

Rajcoomar denied Merritt claims that his clients were under closed arrest — ie being confined to a holding cell — instead suggesting that they were under open arrest, where by they are allowed to move freely through the base under supervision.

He also claimed that the delay in the investigation arose because investigators had to consult with several commercial banks to gather evidence.

The two soldiers were detained after the alleged fraud was discovered last month. The T&T Guardian understands that the soldiers are accused of working with a civilian member of staff to receive inflated payments in their salaries between February and June.

When they were first confronted the officers reportedly admitted to seeing inflated sums in their accounts and withdrew the money without knowing its source.

The T&T Police Service is conducting a parallel investigation into the incident.