‘I WAS SCARED’
By Jada Loutoo Friday, April 4 2014
EVEN as he heard rapid gunshots and his wife scream out, Rennie Coolman, husband of murdered Xtra Foods chief executive officer Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, did nothing to help her because he was scared when he saw a masked gunman.
Coolman, who began his testimony at the trial of the 12 men accused of Naipaul-Coolman’s murder, yesterday admitted he did not go to his wife’s assistance on the night she was abducted from their home at 742 Radix Road, Lange Park, Chaguanas.
Naipaul-Coolman, 52, was kidnapped from the driveway of her home on December 19, 2006. A ransom demand was eventually made for her safe release and some of it was paid, but she was not freed. Her body was never found.
Coolman said he was “very, very scared” when he saw a masked man, armed with a gun, outside his home close to his KIA Sportage SUV, which his wife drove to work that day. He was at the time in the living room of the house, looking out through a security gate at what was taking place outside the house.
He said he heard his wife scream. Coolman admitted he did not call the police 999 emergency number or contact a neighbour or the Lange Park security patrol unit. He said he did not speak with his neighbours so he did not have a number for anyone.
He said his first reaction was to contact the Anti-Kidnapping Unit (AKU), and did not consider anything further than that.
Coolman was at the time being questioned by attorney Kwesi Bekoe, who represents Shervon Peters at the trial.
Bekoe: Did you have a good reason for not rendering assistance?
Coolman: I had a reason. I didn’t say it was a good reason.
Bekoe: When you looked outside your wife needed help.
Coolman: You could say that... She appeared to be in distress.
Bekoe: Did you go help her?
Coolman: No, I did not.
Bekoe: Instead you ran and hide.
Coolman: I did not run and hide. I moved away from the front door out of the view of the gunman.
Bekoe: You saw she was in danger?
Bekoe: You looked outside and gave no attention to rendering assistance to your wife?
Coolman: That is correct.
The attorney’s line of questioning changed. Bekoe enquired from Coolman if he ever entertained some fear that the police would charge him for kidnapping his wife.
“Never...No,” was Coolman’s response.
It was after Bekoe asked Coolman if he paid “anything to someone who represented themselves to be from the DPP’s office” that an objection was raised by the prosecution and jurors were dismissed for the day.
Earlier in his testimony, a composed Coolman recounted the night his wife was abducted and the ensuing weeks when calls were received from her mobile phone, including one which appeared to be a recording of Naipaul-Coolman’s voice.
Coolman and his wife were in a common-law relationship for eight years before they got married one year before she was abducted. Coolman said his wife came home at about 8.25 pm. He expected her to be home at 8 pm. He returned home from work as the campus coordinator at the University of UTT at about 6 pm.
He was in the living room having dinner when he heard the front electronic gate open. The couple’s housekeeper, Rasheedan Yacoob, went towards the front door, which was open. The iron security gate was locked.
“She screamed out, turned around and screamed to me, ‘No, No’,” he said.
Coolman said he looked outside and saw a man in a black ski mask at the back of his SUV, moving towards the front of the vehicle. He said he was about ten feet away from the person when the person turned towards him.
“I moved away from the front door and went to the dining room area. During that time I heard gunshots. They were quick...rapid. I was really shocked and very scared. I heard Vindra scream and I heard three more gunshots then the vehicle drove away,” Coolman said.
The entire incident lasted about five minutes, he said.
Coolman said he went into the kitchen and “peeped out” the window. “I looked outside. I saw only my vehicle in the driveway,” he said. Coolman said he asked his wife’s daughter Risha, who had come downstairs with her three children, for the number of a friend of hers who was a policeman.
He said he spoke to the person and also called the AKU.
Coolman said the police arrived about ten minutes later. Coolman said he went outside where he saw three holes in the back window on the passenger side. Towards the back of the vehicle, there was blood and his wife’s temporary dental implant with a tooth, which she got a few months before.
“I have never seen her since,” Coolman said. The day after Naipaul-Coolman’s abduction, police arrived at her home where they installed a voice recording device on the telephones as well as the mobile phone belonging to her youngest brother, Anand Naipaul.
The phone calls
Coolman said he was present when they received the calls from Vindra’s bmobile number 704- 3999. The calls were made to Anand’s mobile phone. The calls were answered by Naipaul- Coolman’s elder brother, Ryan Naipaul, who pretended to be Coolman.
The first call came in at about 9 pm the night Naipaul-Coolman was kidnapped. Ryan took the call.
“It was an arrangement for Ryan to act as myself to answer the phone when the calls came,” Coolman said. “He said, ‘This is Rennie Coolman. Husband of Vindra Naipaul. The caller hesitated and then asked to speak to Anand Naipaul. He said Anand Naipaul dropped off the phone at home and was not there. The caller continued to insist to speak to Anand.”
On December 24, at about 9 pm another call was received.
“Ryan said before we can have a further conversation, he would have to speak to Vindra to ensure she was alive. The call said he couldn’t bring Vindra to the phone. There was an agreement to take a question to Vindra and take the response and call back with the answer,” Coolman continued.
On Christmas Day (December 25) at 2 am another called was received from Naipaul-Coolman’s bmobile number to Anand’s mobile phone.
The caller, Coolman said, sounded like a man. The question Coolman prepared was for his wife to give the house number where his son Reyaz lived.
He said it was a very unique question as few people locally would know the answer.
Coolman said the caller called and provided Ryan with the answer and also gave the full address of the house and asked, “You want more?”
“Ryan said yes, give it to us,” Coolman said. The caller further provided them with the date of Vindra and Coolman’s wedding and where they spent their honeymoon.
The next call was received on January 6, more than two weeks after Naipaul-Coolman was abducted, at 9 pm.
The same caller asked to speak with Anand or his father (Naipaul Sukdeo). “Ryan offered $32,000 towards payment to release her.
The caller did not want to negotiate with Ryan posing as myself but insisted on speaking to Anand or his father. There was no agreement and the caller hung up,” Coolman said. Anand and his father were the owners of the Xtra Foods supermarket chain of which Naipaul- Coolman was the chief executive officer (CEO).
Coolman said he was aware that $120,000 was paid for his wife’s release.
Another call was received two weeks after January 6, and again Ryan told the caller they would increase the payment to $70,000 if they sold the vehicle.
Coolman said the caller indicated he was not “interested..that he knew my situation and wanted to speak to Anand or his father.”
Ryan was still pretending to be Coolman.
There was another call three weeks after that. It was the same caller. This time the caller volunteered to have Naipaul-Coolman speak to her relatives.
“The caller hung up and called back three hours later,” Coolman said. When the caller called back, Coolman said, “I heard a voice that appeared to be Vindra’s voice.”
He said the voice said,“I am Vindra Naipaul-Coolman. I am injured.”
“Ryan said, ‘Vindra, Vindra this is Rennie are you okay? There was no response. The person hung up and called back a few minutes later. Ryan indicated that it did not appear to be Vindra....that it appeared to be a recording.”
Coolman said after that they received no further calls.
On January 31, 2007, Coolman said he handed over his wife’s hairbrush, toothbrush, shaver, perfume, an Aloe Vera gel tube and a music CD to the police.
‘I was not involved in Xtra Foods’
Led into evidence by special prosecutor Dana Seetahal, SC, Coolman said he was never involved in his wife’s business, although he visited the supermarket on occasions.
In cross examination, Coolman said his wife was the CEO for five years they were together. “I was not involved in the business,” he said.
Coolman said as far as he was aware it was profitable. “We spoke about the business. There were no secrets between us,” he said.
Bekoe: She was careful not to have you involved in the business.
Coolman: I won’t say that. We had an open relationship. We’d speak about her job and my job.
He again agreed he was not involved in the supermarket, and as CEO if his wife wanted, she could have involved him in it.
Bekoe: She was careful not to allow you to reap financial benefits from it.
Coolman: I won’t say that.
Bekoe: What benefit did you derive?
Coolman: On one occasion I made a trip abroad. We traveled to Colombia for a food symposium she attended.
Coolman said at the time of the incident he was the campus coordinator at the TT Institute of Technology in Point Lisas. Prior to that he worked as the process engineering manager at TT Methanol Company, also in Point Lisas. His qualifications as an engineer were also questioned by Bekoe who began asking him about which university he received his Bachelors and Masters in Process Engineering. Coolman indicated he did so at the University of Toronto, downtown campus at College Street. Bekoe’s questioning was curtailed by trial judge, Justice Malcolm Holdip who told the attorney to bring his questioning back to Trinidad, despite protests that he was dealing with the credibility of the witness.
He also said he had a good relationship with Naipaul-Coolman’s daughter and still did. Coolman will continue his testimony when the trial resumes on Monday.
On trial are Shervon “Buffy” Peters; Keida Garcia, Marlon “Mad Man Marlon” Trimmingham; Earl “Bobo” Trimmingham; Ronald “22” Armstrong; Antonio “Hedges” Charles; Joel “Ninja” Fraser; Lyndon “Iron” James; Allan “Scanny” Martins; Devon “Blackboy” Peters; Anthony Dwayne Gloster, also called Anthony Peters and Jamile “WASA” Garcia. A 13th accused, Raphael Williams, died in prison in 2011.