Bar owner Ernest Todd has been charged with operating a bar during the COVID-19 crisis.

A 29-year-old bar owner from central Trinidad has pleaded not guilty to contravening recent public health regulations by allegedly opening his business.

Daryl Sirju, of Cunupia, denied any wrongdoing as he appeared before Magistrate Christine Charles, yesterday morning.

Due to precautionary measures instituted by the Judiciary due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sirju did not make his appearance before Charles at the Couva Magistrate’s Court by rather via video conferencing.

Sirju and a police prosecutor participated from a room at the Couva Police Station, while his lawyer Larry Lalla was at his office in Port-of-Spain and Charles was at another location.

During the hearing, Charles certified the $25,000 bail bond that Sirju was released on by a Justice of the Peace after he was arrested, last Friday. Sirju is scheduled to reappear in court on May 25.

Contacted after the hearing, Lalla criticised the T&T Police Service (TTPS) for broadcasting his client’s name and photograph on social media well before his eventual court appearance.

“They have chosen the wrong man to make an example of because we have evidence to show there was an abuse of power in his arrest and we are looking forward to the day when my client will be able to present his evidence in court,” Lalla said.

Sirju’s court appearance came almost 24 hours before another bar owner from central Trinidad was scheduled to make his court appearance on a similar charge.

According to a press release issued by the TTPS, yesterday morning, Ernest Todd, the owner of Larry’s Bar at First Street, Dow Village, California, was arrested and charged on Monday afternoon.

The release claimed that on the previous day, officers of the Central Division Task Force were on patrol in the area when they alleged stopped at Todd’s business to warn him about selling alcoholic drinks and entertaining customers whilst the regulations are in place, at least until April 15.

Todd allegedly gave them an assurance that he would comply.

Around 1.30 pm on Monday, the officers led by Sgt Thompson received a tip-off and returned to the location.

“The officers observed approximately 13 persons, buying and consuming alcoholic beverages on the said compound. Persons were also seated around several tables consuming alcoholic beverages,” the release said.

Todd was granted $1,000 station bail and ordered to make his electronic court appearance, this morning.

After reports of Todd’s arrest were shared on social media, he reached out to Guardian Media to share his version of the events, which was in stark contrast to what was initially claimed by police.

Todd, who indicated that he intends to plead not guilty and challenge the charge, pointed out that he does not operate a bar but rather a liquor mart.

He claimed that at the time of his arrest, there were half the number of persons, claimed by police, present and that they were all relatives, who were in private area of his property preparing a communal meal. He also alleged that since the restrictions took effect, he was visited by several groups of police officers who left and allowed him to operate after he presented his valid liquor licence.

Under the regulations, persons who conduct the business of a bar during the period face a $50,000 fine and six months in prison, whether or not they are licensed under the Liquor Licences Act.