POLICE PROBE CALDER HART
By ANDRE BAGOO Wednesday, March 10 2010
MERE HOURS after being appointed Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard yesterday acted swiftly in his new post, holding a meeting with Acting Commissioner of Police (CoP) James Philbert, advising that police investigate Calder Hart over documents which raise questions about Hart’s tenure as Udecott executive chairman.
Gaspard met with Philbert at the Office of the DPP, Winsure Building, Richmond Street in Port- of-Spain at about 3 pm — a mere two hours after he received his instrument of appointment as the country’s new DPP.
At the meeting, Gaspard gave directives on how the police should proceed with a series of documents which had been lodged at the offices of the DPP and the Acting Police Commissioner by the Congress of the People (COP).
The documents – birth and marriage certificates – published last week in Newsday days before Hart resigned as Udecott executive chairman, disclose apparently conclusive links between Hart’s wife Sherrine and Sunway Construction Caribbean Limited, formerly CH Development, a Malaysian company which Udecott awarded the $820 million Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower project.
Newsday understands Gaspard will this morning send a letter to Philbert advising him that the documents submitted by the COP warrant investigation. He is to also this morning write COP deputy political leader Prakash Ramadhar on the correspondence which the COP submitted to his office after their own investigations.
“I told him that this was a matter that warrants investigation and I was of the view that this was a serious matter,” Gaspard said of his meeting with Philbert. “I called the meeting to give the police certain directives as to where the investigation ought to go and how the investigation ought to proceed,” the new DPP said. “I advised them to proceed with the utmost dispatch having regard to the serious allegations contained in Mr Ramadhar’s letters, allegations which involve the patrimony of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Gaspard would not divulge the precise nature of his directives. However, he noted that certain checks would have to be made. Newsday understands those checks could involve basic confirmation of the authenticity of the documents which the COP obtained with the assistance of Malaysian lawyers.
The Police Service yesterday issued a press release on Philbert’s meeting with Gaspard and revealed a team of investigators has been assigned to the case. “As the investigations unfold, the Acting Commissioner of Police will communicate with the national community,” the release stated. Yesterday’s meeting had originally been scheduled for 10 am but was pushed back to the afternoon because of Philbert’s unavailability. When finally it took place, the meeting lasted one hour. It is understood that Gaspard could have taken the opportunity to give advice on what pieces of legislation or laws may be relevant to the investigation.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the conduct of persons in public life generally fall under the Integrity in Public Life Act, the Prevention of Corruption Act as well as other duties enumerated in the common law.
Gaspard, who once had his appointment as DPP vetoed by Prime Minister Patrick Manning, had in December 2009, submitted a dossier of allegations against Hart to Philbert for action. That dossier had been submitted to him by Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh on the basis of evidence which emerged in the Uff Commission of Inquiry. That evidence included three sworn statutory depositions lodged by Mrs Hart’s ex-husband Carl Khan as well as a fax trail linking Hart to Sunway. But even before this, the allegations had first been raised publicly in Parliament in May 2008.
“I think this is a step in the right direction,” COP leader Winston Dookeran said yesterday. “It is a small step but a comforting step. Obviously, this should have been done even when the allegations first came up in the Uff Commission and that’s why there will be an air of suspicion surrounding this. However, we will await eagerly the outcome of the investigation and hope that the results will be subject to the necessary public scrutiny.”
Ramadhar said yesterday, “I want to congratulate Mr Roger Gaspard, the DPP, for vindicating and enhancing a sense of trust in a public institution that needed reinforcement in the minds of the population.” On becoming DPP, Gaspard said, “I am happy and humbled. But I also appreciate that given the prevailing climate in this country, the post is a tremendous responsibility.”