Questions are being raised about an exemption granted for the daughter of Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to re-enter the country after travelling to Madrid, the United Kingdom and Barbados during the last six weeks.
AG Al-Rawi is denying any special favours were granted to his daughter, but a timeline of events as unravelled by well-placed sources and documents shared with Guardian Media revealed otherwise.
Al-Rawi is stoutly denying any suggestions that his 19-year-old daughter, Jinan Alexa Al-Rawi was granted a ‘special’ exemption to return home after studying abroad. He also denounced claims by national security sources that his daughter did not go into state quarantine after leaving the Piarco International Airport last weekend.
Al-Rawi’s daughter touched down on a private jet in Trinidad on June 5 from Barbados. After wrapping up her semester at a university in Spain, she made her way to London and then to Barbados before finally getting home.
The exemption comes at a time when thousands of Trinidad and Tobago nationals have applied to return home and they are still in a long queue, some struggling to live and forced to find alternative means of survival aboard.
Documents exclusively obtained by Guardian Media showed that the Ministry of National Security in a letter dated June 4, 2021, granted Jinan Alexa Al-Rawi permission to enter the country on June 5.
The letter was personally signed by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.
“Such entry is authorised for June 5, 2021, in accordance with the attached client travel itinerary,” Hinds’ letter stated.
Some exemptions are also signed by the ministry’s acting permanent secretary and copied to the Chief Medical Officer, Principal Medical Officer and general managers of the Airports Authority and Civil Aviation Authority.
The AG, defending his daughter during a telephone interview with Guardian Media on Thursday, said, “What I can tell you, my daughter applied in a regular way that everybody else did. She received her permissions in the regular way everyone else did. She was properly tested. In fact, she had two negative PCR tests. She is a returning student like many hundreds of them. She is certainly not on vacation. There are hundreds of students in her situation and we help all of them.”
A source at the National Security Ministry explained that all exemptions letters are emailed to the Immigration office at Piarco International Airport before the arrival of passengers.
“When any aircraft arrives they (immigration) have copies of all exemptions for persons on that flight. In this case, they had no exemption on file for Miss Al-Rawi and none was emailed to immigration,” the source said.
“An airline agent presented a copy of the national security minister’s letter, but Miss Al-Rawi did not have a hard copy in her possession although it was addressed to her.”
The national security source said a pilot handed immigration a copy of the exemption letter which they perused and then permitted Miss Al-Rawi to proceed after the relevant procedures.
Another source familiar with Miss Al-Rawi’s case said that Port Health at the airport would normally make arrangements to have passengers quarantined if none was made before.
“But in this case, no such quarantine arrangements were made for her (Jinan),” revealed a source familiar with the case.
Did the Attorney General’s daughter quarantine contrary to what highly placed sources at the ministry revealed?
The AG insisted that his daughter was quarantined and given no preferential treatment in the granting of the exemption since she had applied months ago to return home.
Questioned if Jinan was placed in state quarantine or state-supervised quarantine after leaving the airport, Al-Rawi replied “I can confirm that she went into quarantine…state quarantine.”
Al-Rawi opted not to disclose where his daughter has been quarantined.
He assured Jinan met all the requirements to re-enter the country.
“Everything was ticked.”
But the AG refused to provide any written proof or documents to indicate that his daughter had been state quarantined despite being pressed by Guardian Media.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram under the Public Health Ordinance Act has the authority to quarantine people returning to the country. Questions were sent to Dr Parasram concerning the AG’s daughter to inquire if she has been state quarantined upon her return to the country as is customary under the Public Health Ordinance Act, but Dr Parasam failed to respond to the questions sent to him repeatedly over several days last week.
Travel documents leaked to Guardian Media showed that Jinan boarded flight B1900 at the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados to return home.
She travelled on airline QCAS (Quality Corporate Aircraft Services) Aero.
A copy of Jinan’s immigration/customs form revealed she visited Madrid, United Kingdom and Barbados during the last six weeks.
Under length of stay, the AG’s daughter wrote “three months” on the form while she identified herself as a “student”.
Next month, Jinan will celebrate her 20th birthday.
Responding to WhatsApp questions by Guardian Media surrounding his daughter’s re-entry into the country, the AG wrote (your) “supposedly reliable information is clearly unreliable.”
Standing in defence of Jinan, Al-Rawi wrote, “my daughter followed all required processes and received all normal permissions like many other students abroad who have returned home and who the present and past Minister of National Security have both publicly and repeatedly stated are being attended to.
“I confirm that my daughter applied months ago. Is a university student in Spain. Had PCR negatives. Had all permissions. I suggest that you return to your sources to put their mischief straight.”
Asked if it was safe to say that his daughter received no special treatment or favouritism in the granting of the exemption letter, bearing in mind that scores of T&T citizens are still stuck outside of the country since the border closure last March, Al-Rawi did not provide a written response for this question.
In a subsequent telephone interview last Thursday, Al-Rawi was questioned if he used his influence or powers as AG to fast-track the exemption process for his daughter.
The AG said he did not apply for his daughter to come into the jurisdiction.
“How do you do that, love? Explain that to me?”
Al-Rawi was told that he could have easily made a telephone call to speed up the process.
“Shaliza, I have given you my response in writing. I have told you what I have to say there, respectfully. I have also told you that the information you were given is wrong. I have put it there…I have told you to be careful of the content and the mischief.”
Regarding reports that immigration did not have Jinan’s exemption letter on file, the AG said he could not account for immigration and what goes on there.
He insisted that Jinan had her exemption letter on her when she arrived at immigration, stating that our source was not credible.
“I don’t know who your sources are…until your sources are revealed to me, then I could assess their credibility. I can’t really speak to what your sources say or not say,” Al-Rawi said.
Questioned if he felt his family was being targeted, Al-Rawi said as a person in public life “It is part and parcel of the scrutiny. So, I make no complaints. It is accepted when you are in public life that you are held to a different standard.”
The AG said all he asks is to be treated fairly.
“This is a democracy. But clearly, there is mischief afoot.”
This incident comes seven months after the AG’s son Abraham Al-Rawi was granted an exemption and re-entered the country.
Last December, Al-Rawi was forced to fight off claims in a T&T Guardian article that he used his position to help his son jump the long exemption line, after documents of Abraham’s return to this country surfaced.
Al-Rawi had confirmed that his son, a student, came into the country last November but when asked if he was granted any special favours, Al-Rawi said he considered the matter to be repulsive and urged people to stop.
No response from Hinds, Chief Immigration Officer
On Thursday, Guardian Media sent two WhatsApp messages to Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews querying if she had received reports that Jinan’s exemption letter was not in the immigration’s system. But Gandhi-Andrews did not respond.
Numerous calls to Gandhi-Andrews’ cellphone also went unanswered.
Guardian Media also forwarded two WhatsApp messages to National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds asking when Al-Rawi had applied for the exemption and what is the waiting period for a returning student to get an exemption.
The messages showed it was sent but not delivered.
Meanwhile, the national security source also drew reference to exemption inconsistencies that immigration officers have been picking up.
Documents leaked to Guardian Media showed an April 30 exemption letter granted to two Trinidadians to leave the country did not have an official national security letterhead.
The national security source said this was rather strange and the first they had seen.
The source said this was not in keeping with the format of exemptions reaching immigration.
According to the source, another irregularity which they discovered was a Customs and Excise’s crew manifest which listed three American pilots entering T&T on May 4, 2021, using a private jet operated by a Florida-based company.
The jet was given clearance to enter T&T on May 4 and depart on the same day to Miami with seven passengers–five locals and two American citizens.
However, an exemption letter dated May 4 sent to the chief immigration officer by the Ministry of National Security which granted five of the seven passengers exemptions contained three T&T pilots as the jet’s flight crew and not the three American pilots as listed in the original crew manifest.
Guardian Media understands the five passengers who were given permission to leave the country via the original exemption letter were an affluent businessman, his brother and mother, the daughter of another well-known businessman and a man suspected of illegal activities said to be on the police radar.
The other two passengers, the source said, were not on the official exemption letter, but their names appear in a flimsy email purportedly sent by the Ministry of National Security to immigration authorities and they were also not in the immigration’s system. Sources said it has never been the practice to receive exemption request casually via an email from the Ministry of National Security without the ministry’s letterhead attached.
The foreign jet pilots, sources said, are now under investigation for allowing two people whom they believe were not granted the proper exemptions before leaving Trinidad to enter the US.
A June 9 WhatsApp message sent to National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds on the issues was read but he did not respond.
The same message was resent on June 10 to Hinds but it was not read.
Hinds was asked if it was normal to grant exemptions in a casual email without the ministry’s letterhead. Again, there was no answer.
Gandhi-Andrews also received three WhatsApp messages but did not respond. She also failed to answer calls to her cellphone.
The exemption process
In January, the Ministry of National Security introduced an online system for exemption requests. Those wishing to enter the country while the current border restrictions remain in place must apply online. Each form, considered to be a statutory declaration has a unique identification number that can be used to track the progress of applicants. Last year people wishing to enter the country were required to write a letter to the National Security Ministry asking for an exemption.
People returning from high/medium-risk countries:
* Will be state quarantined for 7 days upon arrival in T&T.
*Will be swabbed within 24 hours of arrival.
*Once the person does not test positive and does not present symptoms of COVID-19 within the seven day period he/she will be required to agree (via signing a form) that he/she will home quarantine for the next seven days. Prior to being allowed to home quarantine he/she will be swabbed again,
What the law says
Last April, Government updated the Public Health Ordinance to provide clarification on the powers of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to quarantine people who are likely to be infected with COVID-19 or have been tested positive for the virus. The new regulation under Section 105-1 (a) and (b) allows the Health Minister via the CMO to restrain, segregate and isolate such people who are likely to be infected with COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus. It also seeks to provide clarity as it relates to the quarantine powers of the authorities. The Public Health Ordinance Section 105 has a precise section of law that allows for quarantine. This law also runs alongside the Quarantine Act. Individuals who fail to comply with the regulations face a fine of $50,000 or six months imprisonment.
The AG’s missteps
*Earlier this month, Al-Rawi promised the “mother of all Carnivals” next year during a Twitter Spaces conversation with entertainers as the Government ramps up its vaccination drive to come out of the pandemic.
Responding to Al-Rawi’s public statement, Prime Minister Rowley at last weekend’s media briefing said it was too early to discuss Carnival 2022 as the first hurdle they had to cross was reopening schools in September.
*Three months ago, Rowley also expressed disappointment with Al-Rawi for not wearing a face mask during a live stream event, Vibes with Voicey, stating people in leadership positions must act responsibly.
Al-Rawi later apologised for his action, admitting that he should have acted better.
*In 2016, photographs of Al-Rawi’s children holding high-powered weapons at the shooting range in Camp Cumuto were brought into the national spotlight by MP for Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal in the House of Representatives.
Al-Rawi subsequently said his family had been invited by the army for a “threat assessment” after he received death threats after assuming office in September 2015.
Rowley, however, slammed the T&T Defence Force (TTDF) for the situation saying the leaked photos was a breach of security.
In November 2019, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith said the investigation into how Al-Rawi’s children were allowed to use the gun was almost at a close. However, days later Griffith said the probe had hit a bump in the road due to a lack of cooperation from the TTDF.