Sunday, December 17, 2017

Cordner claims $24m for Flying Squad expenses


QUESTIONABLE CREDENTIALS: Former Flying Squad member Mervyn Cordner

Mark Fraser

Last December, former Flying Squad member Mervyn Cordner, who claimed the Government approved the resurrection of the disbanded police unit, submitted a claim to the Ministry of National Security for $24 million.

Cordner claimed the covert unit, called the New Flying Squad (NFS), had incurred the sum over the six-month period—from July to December—in which it allegedly operated.

Among the expenditure were salaries for a 35-member team; rent of $200,000 a month for a location on Factory Road, Piarco; and expenses incurred during alleged field operations.

For himself, Cordner claimed a salary of $65,000 a month.

National Security Minister Jack Warner has maintained that the unit was never revived and acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams has launched an investigation into the matter.

In June 2012, Warner was appointed Minister of National Security. Shortly after his appointment, Warner said he would explore the possibility of bringing back a "Flying Squad that is sanitised" in his approach to deal with the country's crime scourge.

But despite earlier reports that Warner only met with Cordner once last July shortly after he became National Security Minister, the Express was reliably informed that Warner met with Cordner for a second time in October to discuss the NFS.

Cordner, the Express understands, had requested a meeting with Warner because he believed that his contact person at the Ministry was leaking intelligence to the people he was investigating. However, there is still an unanswered question as to who exactly authorised Cordner's investigations and whether they in fact took place.

The Express was told that Warner dismissed the revival of the unit because Williams was not comfortable with making the former Flying Squad members—among them Lance Lashley, Trevor St Louis and Michael Lambert—special reserve policemen (SRPs).

The men, including Cordner, were all tainted in the infamous Scott Drug Report of 1987 and were suspended from police duties.

The original Flying Squad was led by former Police Commissioner Randolph Burroughs and operated from 1970 to 1986. The unit was heavily tainted after Burroughs was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to murder.

Continuing investigations by the Express into the existence of the NFS have revealed discrepancies in Cordner's story, as well as unanswered questions for National Security Operations Centre director, Gavin Heerah.

Cordner could not produce rubber-stamped proof that he was given the green light for his covert unit, but the Express understands that he was aided for a while in his endeavour by Heerah.

The Express was not able to contact Heerah yesterday to answer questions about whether he operated outside his ambit by facilitating meetings with Cordner, why he facilitated for a "civilian" to loan Cordner eight vehicles (station wagons and sedans) for use without payment, and whether he had brought his meetings with Cordner to the attention of Warner.

The Express was told that Heerah arranged for the use of vehicles for Cordner in an attempt to give him the opportunity to prove what his unit was capable of doing. The vehicles, the Express was informed, were from an agency which was utilised by the former Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT) and had not been in use since that unit was also disbanded.

Express investigations into Cordner have also raised credibility questions about his claims of earning a doctorate from Rochville University in Maryland, Virginia, USA.

Interestingly, the Express learnt that it was Cordner who brought Dr Haffizool Mohammed, who sits on the 1990 Coup Commission and has had credibility questions about his own doctorate and CV, to the Ministry of National Security as a 'Logistical and Technical Advisor' of the NFS.

In previous media reports, Cordner had claimed that the NFS was investigating Mohammed on behalf of Warner.

Cordner had told the Express, in an interview on Friday, that he never met Mohammed but had simply been acquainted with him when he visited the NFS's alleged headquarters at Factory Road compound when he had been in the country.

"I am a man who's aware of my surroundings and people and there was something about that man that wasn't right," Cordner had told the Express.

Cordner has claimed that he was promised a budget similar in quantum to the now-defunct Special Anti-Crime Unit for his operations.

He said he intends to pursue legal proceedings against Warner for breach of contract.

And while he is in the process of drafting a pre-action protocol letter to Warner with the hope of a $180 million settlement, Cordner said he expects the National Security Ministry to continually deny the unit's existence.

Cordner said the vehicles were returned in December after the NFS closed up shop because of lack of funding.