UNC parliamentarians have been scrutinising Section 51 of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) which stipulates it’s an offence to tip off a person in an intended or on-going police probe on money laundering matters, UNC deputy leader David Lee has confirmed.
This, after Lee said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi—in cross-talk before Parliament started last Friday—warned the Opposition that Section 51 could be “trouble for them.”
This followed the Prime Minister’s recent revelation that Opposition Leader Kamla Persad- Bissessar tipped off embattled PNM MP Marlene McDonald about police action against her.
McDonald confirmed Persad-Bissessar had called her four or five weeks before she (McDonald) was arrested to tell her she’d be locked up. McDonald said she subsequently called Al-Rawi and National Security Minister Stuart Young about it. Al-Rawi confirmed she called him, and also on August 8 when police searched her house. McDonald faces seven alleged corruption charges including money laundering.
Following the claims, Persad- Bissessar hasn’t been available for questions or spoken on the issue. A man who answered her phone yesterday said she wasn’t available.
Last Friday, Lee said she was absent from that day’s Parliament because she had the virus. But he’d said Al-Rawi, in cross stalk with UNC’s Suruj Rambachan—before the sitting began, had said Section 51 could be “big trouble” for the Opposition. Rambachan also confirmed Al-Rawi spoke about it.
“Then we started to check it (Section 51) out,” Lee added.
Section 51 of POCA has six clauses including that a person commits an offence if (a) he knows or suspects that a police officer is acting, or is proposing to act, in connection with an investigation which is being, or is about to be, conducted into money laundering; and (b) he discloses to any other person information or any other matter which is likely to prejudice that investigation, or proposed investigation.
Al-Rawi didn’t reply yesterday. Lee said he wasn’t a lawyer, didn’t see an issue with the law and couldn’t say if anyone might try to use that against Persad-Bissessar.
Lee added, “We MPs are always bantering. How many times have the Government said people were coming to lock us up? Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis in 2017 read out a search warrant on UNC’s Roodal Moonilal yet nothing’s happened.”
In last Saturday’s political column top police sources said if McDonald’s claim was true, a criminal offence could arise. Since casual banter didn’t meet POCA’s threshold, they added, questions need to be answered “ahead” - which they maintained yesterday.
UNC officials couldn’t say if Persad-Bissessar who is a Senior Counsel, might attend today’s opening of the law term— a function she usually attends. She’s unlikely to attend the funeral of former Senate President Linda Babhoolal this morning since UNC’s Wade Mark and MP Tim Gopeesingh are representing the Opposition, they said.
Lee said there’s no UNC Monday night forum tonight since this is held every other week and there was one last week. The next forum will be next Monday in Diego Martin.
However, the UNC has a Pavement Report meeting on Wednesday in Moruga. Will she attend that meeting where MPs alone are usually the speakers? “You might be surprised...” Lee replied.
However, Persad-Bissessar may show up at Parliament on Friday because her private motion calling for a debate to repeal the Sedition Act is expected to debut on Parliament’s agenda.
If so, Lee said Persad-Bissessar will have to deliver a five-minute address explaining why the motion should be considered and the House will have to vote on this. Government has House majority.
Lee said he expected the matter to arise particularly since Friday’s sitting may be the last for the House of Representatives for the current fourth session of Parliament.
Even if the matter is approved for debate it may fall by the wayside since bills and other matters lapse when sessions change unless approved to be carried into the next term. “So if I was Government I’d have approved it for debate, just to show they’re serious about being open to ‘review’ the bill,” Lee said.
Government officials said they had so far seen no proposed alternatives to the Sedition Bill. They said Friday’s agenda focuses on a national savings bond for housing which will have to be debated in Senate after. The session must prorogue by September 28 for the fifth and final session to begin after; likely by the start of October since the 2020 Budget is being delivered October 7.