Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is standing by his Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi on attacks over the exposed details of an alleged letter of indemnity between Al-Rawi and state witness Vincent Nelson, QC, in a corruption case against former AG Anand Ramlogan.
Al-Rawi has been under attack by both Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Senator Wade Mark in the past week after the details of an alleged indemnity issued in favour of Nelson, who is the state’s main witness in criminal proceedings against Ramlogan, SC and former senator Gerald Ramdeen was circulated in social media.
Questions then arose as to whether Nelson, as a state witness, was given improper inducements to help build a case against Ramlogan and Ramdeen.
Al-Rawi spoke to Guardian Media on Saturday and explained why he was holding his tongue on this issue.
But on Friday night, Rowley was vocal in his defence of the AG. He spoke to the issue for the first time at the People’s National Movement virtual meeting in Belmont.
The matter had been in the public domain over the past week and was met with stony silence from both the AG and the PM. Persad-Bissessar raised it in Parliament during her contribution to the budget debate earlier on Friday.
“Shame on you,” he said to Persad-Bissessar.
“The Opposition leader is now like a dog with a rag, attacking the Attorney General and asking questions about what deal he made with Nelson,” he said.
“You know who Nelson is? Nelson is British Queen’s Counsel. No ordinary person, a British Queen’s Counsel who, in the hands of his lawyers, turns state witness to extricate facts and figures, date and time, telling T&T, cooperating with us, so the police could put in handcuffs members of the cabinet of Kamla Persad-Bissessar for public money that had gone missing.
“And you hear that from the Opposition Leader about the Attorney General making deal. Let me ask you all a question: do you see the American Attorney General making deals with people to turn state witness to get evidence to prosecute people?”
Rowley localised the issue and referenced a murder in T&T where one of the accused turned state witness and the others responsible were convicted.
He questioned why Persad-Bissessar was “throwing out” the story of that deal.
“There is a lot that we in the Government know that we are not talking about because they want us to talk about it because that would become their defence. They looking for a defence to say ‘publicity’ or ‘political’ so we’ve kept our silence last election and now,” Rowley said.
Persad-Bissessar, during her contribution to the budget debate on Friday, condemned Al-Rawi for the indemnity agreement.
Persad-Bissessar said that she had written to Attorney General for England and Wales, Suella Braverman, QC, about a secret agreement between a British national and a local government official.
“In event that a request is made by the United Kingdom for assistance in this matter of a criminal nature relating to Mr Nelson, the alleged agreement avers that the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago shall conceal and refuse to provide such information to the United Kingdom,” she said.
“This is in direct contravention of multiple binding and enforceable international obligations between T&T and the United Kingdom, including the MACM Act,” Persad-Bissessar noted.
“I am advised that Mr Nelson, QC, also had certain personal matters that were before the High Court in the UK and which may have been impacted by the disclosure of these payments.”
AG defends his silence
Al-Rawi, however, said he was unable to say anything on the issue.
“The reason I am prohibited from engaging in pre-trial publicity and prohibited from discussing evidence is to ensure that a fair trial is held with due process so as to allow a verdict of either guilt or innocence. This is associated with the principle of being innocent until proven guilty—conviction or acquittal, being matters solely for the court, not for me,” Al-Rawi said yesterday.
In a telephone interview, the AG said that he was being targeted because the Opposition was “desperate”.
“I accept that Mrs (Kamla) Persad-Bissessar and members of the Opposition will be extremely afraid and descend to desperation on account of matters that are before the courts and others which are imminent to be brought before to courts here and elsewhere,” he said.
While the allegation of the provision of an indemnity has been discussed in the public domain, the AG has been silent on the matter.
“I have been very judicious in my statements, I have only said things when I was compelled to,” he said.
Al-Rawi said that he had alerted the DPP international investigative and prosecutorial agencies as well as the UK AG to the actions of Persad-Bissessar.
The AG said he was never one to “buss mark” on the political platforms.
“But you will also note that I have been an officer that has brought about serious criminal charges against members of the Opposition. In no other way than in the supervised, scrutinised, and, where required independent, processes of investigations conducted by the TTPS and international agencies, directions by the office of the DPP, and approvals in some instances by the court itself as it relates to the steps taken by others in Plea Agreements,” Al-Rawi said.
According to a media report last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard said he was not privy to discussions relating to any indemnity before the commencement of the criminal proceedings and said that the only agreement he had with Nelson was the plea deal approved by the court. He referred questions to the AG relative to any civil proceedings.
To that, Al-Rawi said that a plea agreement was the product of a High Court judge after a process.
“The issue of whistleblowing testimony is a very large one and we must be careful to avoid discussion of matters of evidence before the courts, lest we prejudice the doctrine of fair trial,” he said.
“In criminal proceedings, there is an obligation of disclosure such that all materials prejudicial to the prosecution’s case have to be disclosed.
“And I would tell Mrs Persad-Bissessar, don’t try to throw something out fast because it doesn’t look good to the institutions of law and democracy. There is a fair trial process and there are rules of disclosure in common law and court rules of disclosure which have to be maintained.”
Al-Rawi said that the Prime Minister was “well aware of the propriety” of his actions.
“I’d like to inform that I have taken no step at any point along the path that has led me to this discussion, I have taken no step without the advice of Senior Counsel, eminent Silk and international agencies and authorities where appropriate,” he said.