‘WE ARE PERSECUTED’ – Kamla: UNC political target in corruption cases

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

WE’RE BEING TARGETTED: Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, speaks to party members after her internal election win last June. FILE PHOTO –

OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissesar has said the collapsed case in the Piarco Airport scandal was part of the People’s National Movement (PNM) playbook to hold on to political power by tarnishing the image of the United National Congress (UNC) and its members.

She said the charges brought against former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife Oma, former minister Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh, were a blatant case of political persecution to stay in power.

“The case was never meant to succeed in court. All it was meant do was to drag out as long as possible to have the UNC seem as corrupt people,” Persad-Bissessar said at political meeting in Chaguanas East on Monday night.

At the first live meeting since the pandemic began, she referred to Monday’s decision by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard to discontinue the 2005 case against the Pandays on charges of corruptly receiving £25,000, when he was prime minister (1995-2001).

John and Galbaransingh were accused of giving the sum as a reward for the $1.6 billion Piarco Airport expansion project. An investigation by forensic expert Canadian Robert Lindquist resulted in four different set of charges – identified as Piarco 1, 2, 3 and 4 – being laid against multiple ministers in the Panday cabinet and business people.

Galbaransingh has said he will take action against the State over the matter, which he says has ruined his life. He is confident other related charges, including those being heard in the US district, will have similar outcomes. In 2005 a grand jury in Florida returned an indictment against Galbarnsingh and Steve Ferguson as well as six Americans of corruption involving the airport expansion.

Accusing the ruling PNM of “always painting the UNC in the corner of corruption and wickedness,” Persad-Bissessar said this decision came “after 25 years of smears and lies to bring down the UNC government. Airport, airport matter, scandal, UNC thief, UNC corrupt.

“No, no, no. Lies. All that is PNM lies, persecuting these men for 25 years.

“That was a major plank from the PNM campaign and their narrative – 25 years of prosecution. Not just prosecution, that was persecution. Political persecution of Mr Panday.”

She said this was not the first time the PNM had resorted to lies and propaganda to hold on to power.

“Every time we are going into an election, they come with their smear campaign, slander, to make sure they stay in power.”

Persad-Bissessar made reference to the general election in 1995. At the time, Panday, then leader of the UNC, faced the election while defending five charges brought against him under the Sexual Offences Act.

Persad-Bissessar noted that the magistrate’s acquittal was delivered after the election.

She quoted an April 1995 report from a Washington, US, centre which concluded there was a pattern of legal and political harassment of Panday by the government of the day.

She said she was not spared either, as prime minister under the People’s Partnership (PP) government, in 2013, when she said then Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley perpetrated “one of the greatest hoaxes,” now known as E-mailgate, accusing her and other MPs of conspiring to kill a journalist.

Persad-Bissessar referred to an expose in a daily newspaper over the weekend about her e-mail being hacked when she was PM in 2013 and the Israeli connection in the matter, as vindicating the party’s innocence.

She said even though she and others were cleared, the continued repetition of the lies have become the truth for some, even some in the UNC, she said.

She called the name of a Trinidad businessman, asking whether he paid for the Israelis to hack her phone and fabricated the e-mails.

While the truth will eventually come to light as it has in this Piarco matter, she said, “Given the slow pace of justice in this country, it takes so long to clear your name, in the meantime, everybody thinks you are a crook.”

The allegations of fraud in the LifeSport programme over which her former sports minister Anil Roberts tendered his resignation, was still being perpetuated, even though he went to court and was cleared, she said.

The same thing happened to her former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and former senator Gerald Ramdeen, against whom a corruption case involving Vincent Nelson KC, in a civil lawsuit over an indemnity agreement with former AG Faris Al-Rawi, was discontinued in October 2022.

She said the UNC duo were branded “a crook, a thief, blah, blah blah. What happened? The case collapsed in the court, but it was sufficient for them (PNM) to win the election.

“Smear the UNC, spoil the names of UNC members – they will not stop there, because they want to hold on to power by any means.”

One of the matters which morphed from the Piarco Airport scandal matters, she said was the now infamous Section 34, which would have allowed charges to be dropped against those charged with corruption in the Piarco cases.

Blame was cast on then justice minister Herbert Volney for deceiving the government when he assured that the new law had the approval of both the CJ and DPP. Volney was subsequently fired after the section was repealed, although some had already applied for relief under the law.

The law was subsequently repealed.

Persad-Bissessar who had apologised for the error at the time said on Monday night, “I want to state very clearly, I have nothing more to apologise for, for the Section 34 matter.

“That is another one they keep spinning all the time – Section 34, Kamla and the UNC and the Partnership, we want to let these fellas go free.”

Pointing out Rowley and his team all voted for Section 34, which was quickly amended when the flaws were discovered, she submitted, “Nothing is further from the truth. Not one single human being in TT escaped from a court of law because of Section 34.

“That was again a part of the PNM smear and slander campaign, the mantra of the PNM, that the PP, Section 34, were corrupt, corrupt people.”

She urged her membership, “Don’t get chained up by the PNM lies. When they come with their slanderous allegations against us, do not swallow it. Do not believe it.

“Do not let them shut us up. We must speak out. We have to fight back.”