Hinds: Government had no role in Lee’s charges

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this July 12 file photo, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds addresses a media conference on remarks made by Opposition members. In a radio interview Saturday, Hinds denied the Government had any role in charges laid against UNC MP David Lee on Friday. – FILE PHOTO/ROGER JACOB

MINISTER of National Security and Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds says the Government is in no way involved in the Director of Public Prosecution’s instructions to the police to charge Opposition MP for Pointe-a-Pierre David Lee.

On Friday, Lee was taken before a Justice of the Peace, before whom he faced two charges: one for fraudulently obtaining tax exemptions on the purchase of a vehicle, reportedly valued at over $1.4 million, and a separate charge for conspiracy to defraud.

Lee was granted $1 million bail.

“The PNM has absolutely nothing to do with that,” Hinds said on an I95.5 morning programme on Saturday.

“I, myself, as Minister of National Security, and (I’m sure) the PM, would not have seen the evidence that is available to the police that brought them this far.

“I’m sure that Kamla Persad-Bissessar would not have seen it and, therefore, we the PNM, recognising that we are in a democracy, observing the business and the importance of the separation of powers, we have absolutely nothing to do with Mr Lee, his alleged criminality, the UNC, their regular alleged criminality and what has happened (on Friday).”

Hinds slammed the Opposition after it appeared to question the independence and integrity of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in a media release issued shortly after Lee faced the charges.

Hinds further targeted the Opposition Leader, Persad-Bissessar, who seemingly pronounced on Lee’s innocence of the allegations even before the charges were read to him, at a UNC Monday night forum recently.

“Interestingly, (Persad-Bissessar) having called and interrogated (Lee) on the matter, declared then that he was innocent and declared that he has done no wrong – and further declared that the UNC have a whole heap of lawyers who will defend Mr Lee’s innocence,” he said.

“So, I am asking whether Kamla Persad-Bissessar…is she a court? Is she a judge now? How can she have known (of Lee’s innocence) in advance?

In the statement issued by the UNC on Friday, public relations officer Kirk Meighoo described the charges as “spurious and trumped up,” and part of a “typical PNM playbook with complicit operatives within the police service designed to embarrass and defame.”

Hinds said in response, “This press release is actually saying that the DPP Mr Roger Gaspard, and his team, that constitutionally independent office, is beholden and taking instructions from the PM and the Government of TT to investigate Mr Lee’s matter and it is all a ‘trumped up’ case.

“For the members of the citizenry to understand, the nature of that matter in front of us has to do with the benefits that we get as parliamentarians. All of this requires documentation, documentation with respect to the bill of sale, documentation in terms of who would have transferred money to pay for it, in terms of who owns the motor car, who insured the motor car, and all those things, which I have no doubt that the police would have painstakingly gone through in their investigation.”

As reported in Newsday on Saturday, one of the charges stated that between March 24, 2019, and June 8, 2020, Lee conspired with another person to defraud the State of $1,416,292.65 for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz luxury car, which was purported to be used by Lee but was bought for someone else who is not entitled to the tax exemptions.

The Laventille West MP described the other party to the alleged conspiracy as a “UNC financier” and said he believes another arrest in relation to the conspiracy charge is imminent.

“I suspect the police might have a warrant (for his arrest). He was not before the court yesterday (Friday).”

Hinds briefly addressed the public prosecutor’s independence in practice, saying, “The very same DPP had given instructions to the police to arrest and charge one of us, a woman called Marlene McDonald. But at that time, there was nothing ‘wrong’ with the DPP. But on this occasion, because it happened to one of her MPs, all of a sudden, it’s as though we must pick and choose – the law must be good for some but not for the other.”

McDonald, a former PNM minister and MP, is on charges of six counts of money laundering, conspiracy to defraud and misbehaviour in public office stemming out of offences allegedly committed in 2008-2009. The DPP sent her case to the High Court earlier this month.

Minister of Planning and Development Pennelope Beckles-Robinson was asked to comment on Lee’s arrest during a coastal clean-up exercise in Cocorite on Saturday.

She briefly replied, saying, “I think I would let justice take its course. It is before the court and I don’t have all the facts. Therefore, I’ll say let the judicial system take its course.”

Asked about parliamentary procedure after the opposition whip is charged, Beckles-Robinson responded, “That is a matter for the Opposition.”