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Witness Tampering Allegations Against Trinidad & Tobago’s Attorney General Silence the Nation

Political banner claiming "Anand is D' Man"; photo by Taran Rampersad, used  under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Political banner claiming “Anand is D’ Man”. Photo by Taran Rampersad, CC 2.0.

Apart from the position's obvious governmental role, the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago is charged with safeguarding the public interest, which makes it even more of a travesty that the country's current AG, Anand Ramlogan, is under police investigation for attempting to interfere with law enforcement officers.

The probe hinges heavily on the testimony of David West, an attorney and anti-money-laundering specialist, who was recently appointed as director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). Although the police commissioner's statement concerning the probe did not mention any specific allegations that West made against the AG, it is widely believed that Ramlogan's alleged misbehaviour in public office has to do with the “Section 34″ controversy, a scandal involving financiers of the country's current coalition government escaping corruption and money laundering charges.

West has revealed, however, that Ramlogan allegedly asked him to withdraw a witness statement he had made on behalf of Dr. Keith Rowley, Leader of the Opposition, in a case currently before the High Court, in which Ramlogan is claiming defamation damages. In return, West was supposed to have won the government's support for his appointment as Director of the PCA. The timelines demonstrate that West had already agreed to be a witness in the case five months before he was appointed. This puts Ramlogan in a tenuous position, since he claimed that he could not possibly have asked West to withdraw his statement on October 31, since the statement didn’t exist until December 20, 2014. Court documents prove that information about West's draft statement was brought before the High Court and the Court of Appeal in June and July, 2014, respectively. West was appointed as head of the PCA on November 7, 2014.

It is not the first time Ramlogan's statements have been at odds with the public record. In the Section 34 controversy, which has become known as Emailgate, Ramlogan said Justice Judith Jones had been assigned to the lawsuit case, though court records apparently confirm Jones was never the presiding judge.

In his public statement, West made it clear that the attorney general's alleged behaviour “should be investigated by the proper authorities and not in the media”, but he was careful to distance himself from Ramlogan:

Although the Hon. Attorney General initially refused to make any comment on the matter, he is now on the public record denying categorically that he ever requested me to withdraw my witness statement in his claim against Dr Rowley. I am compelled to say publicly, without more, that my recollection of what transpired is diametrically opposed to the Hon. Attorney General’s denial that he ever approached me.

Even though police investigations are ongoing, many are calling for the AG's resignation, on the grounds that he has brought his office into disrepute. Ramlogan, for his part, maintains that the entire controversy is a case of political mischief, ostensibly by the opposition party. The AG's Twitter feed has mentioned nothing about the police investigation, but just prior to the police probe being made public, he posted two documents confirming that he has been cleared of conspiracy charges levied by the opposition People's National Movement.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, meanwhile, has said the charges are “serious and very troubling”. Her comments were met with some scepticism by Facebook user Patricia Worrell, who quipped:

‘I will work expeditiously’. But it seems that in the PM's dictionary ‘expeditiously’ means ‘until my back is absolutely to the wall’.

Even more concerning to some netizens are reports that West's security detail has been ramped up, since they interpret the move as a signal that witnesses in cases against government ministers might have something to fear. Also of interest is the likelihood that another minister—as yet unnamed—could be involved. Some social media users have been suggesting that the person in question is Gary Griffith, the country's Minister of National Security, but in a news report broadcast last Friday night, when asked if he would be meeting with the Prime Minister and the AG, Griffith said that whenever the PM meets with Ramlogan and “the other minister”, if she calls for him to be present, he will oblige. At that point, all that had been confirmed about Griffith is that he was “a key witness” in the case, but a newspaper report yesterday confirmed that telephone records show Griffith did indeed contact West on December 19, 2014.

He was allegedly told to ask West whether he had “pulled back a document”, but Griffith claims he was set up, as he did not know the document in question was a witness statement. Just as disturbing are reports that Griffith's Cabinet peers were trying to persuade him to deny that he had ever called West, a development which the country's opposition leader called “worrisome“, saying that if the allegations are true, then Trinidad and Tobago is “not too far from a failed state status”.

The legal developments and their implications for the country's democracy are troublesome enough, but from a citizen media perspective, the overwhelming silence about the entire controversy is just as concerning, leaving many to wonder where Trinidad and Tobago is headed if citizens will not speak up for and defend their own democracy. There has been nothing on Twitter about the situation and discussion on Facebook has been relegated to users’ personal walls. It's almost as if people are thinking twice about exchanging views publicly. Even the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) was quiet on the issue, until yesterday, when it released a press statement calling on the AG to step down. The release was careful to make no judgement on Ramlogan's innocence or guilt until the findings of the police investigation are revealed, but notes:

It is the view of LATT that the police investigation into the conduct of the Attorney General has the ability to adversely affect and undermine the public perception of and confidence in the Office of the Attorney General.

The gravity of the situation was not lost on one Facebook user, Rhoda Bharath, who admonished other netizens for failing to speak up:

Understand how low we have fallen…
The Attorney General and the Minister of National Security implicated in a matter of witness tampering.
The lead legal counsel for the government and the man in charge of all of our security apparati.
And my friends silent…keep posting pics about your cat!

Witness tampering is a criminal offence in Trinidad and Tobago, which carries stiff penalties, including steep fines and up to 20 years in prison. Under pressure to be decisive about the issue, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has announced she will address the nation at 4 p.m. tomorrow, February 2. Citizens who understand the far-reaching ramifications of the country's attorney general being investigated will no doubt be watching and waiting to see what the Prime Minister will do. Some anticipate a Cabinet reshuffle; others are hoping for an announcement of the AG's dismissal, but whatever she chooses, her government has already been severely compromised.

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