Flashback: Barry Padarath, centre, adviser to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, carries a box containing two computers belonging to the PM outside the Police Administration Building on Sackville Street, Port of Spain, in June.  —Photo: CURTIS CHASE

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Emailgate—hot topic for months

By BY IRENE MEDINA ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Emailgate is arguably one of the biggest political scandals in the history of the country.

Not only has it alleged involvement with some of the most powerful office holders in Trinidad and Tobago but it has also cast a dark political shadow over key independent institutions. 

The e-mails alleged that these high office holders were conspiring to harm a journalist, plant electronic spy devices in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), offer the DPP a judgeship, and to accept payment from an unnamed woman in exchange for the freedom of people involved in the Section 34 fiasco in September 2012.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley revealed the 31 “e-mails” to a shocked country on May 20, 2012 in the House of Representatives.

They were purported to have transpired to and from two of the highest political office holders in the country—Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to other senior cabinet ministers, in an alleged plot to pervert the course of justice.

Rowley was at the time speaking on his motion of no confidence against the People’s Partnership Government and the Prime Minister. 

Others named in the exchange of the e-mails were Minister of Works Dr Suruj Rambachan, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal and then National Security advisor to the Prime Minister, Gary Griffith. Griffith is now Minister of National Security and his electronic devices are the only ones in the possession of the police.

Nine months before his disclosure in the Parliament Rowley had sent the shocking e-mails to then president, Prof George Maxwell Richards for action.

Failing to get any response from Richards, the Opposition Leader took his case to the Parliament.

Emailgate was the hottest topic of discussion for months and remains the focus of a police investigation  and  a probe by the Integrity Commission. 

Those named in the e-mails have hired two top criminal attorneys Israel Khan SC and Pamela Elder SC. 

This team has managed to put a spoke in both investigations by raising questions over the authenticity of the e-mails— which some believe are merely typewritten accounts of alleged conversations; and by challenging the police to say whether or not they have evidence to prove that a prima facie case has been made out against the prime minister and her cabinet members. 

Also there is no agreement, despite legal letters flying between both camps about whether the political “big 5” would waive their rights to privacy and allow service providers Microsoft, Google and TSTT to release information from their e-mail accounts and handheld devices  for the month of September 2012. 

This stalemate has left former deputy commissioner of Police (DCP) (Operations) Mervyn Richardson a disappointed man. 

Richardson admitted that this was his most high profile and most challenging case, after 40 years in the service. 

“Of course I am disappointed.  I thought I would have gotten to the bottom of the e-mails and clear the air before I left. I thought I would have been able to do so,” Richardson told the Express in an exclusive interview two months ago.

He confirmed as well that all the people named in the e-mails have been interviewed by the police. Chief Justice Ivor Archie and DPP Gaspard are among those named.

 Asst Commissioner of Police Glenn Hackett now holds the hot baton as lead investigator and he is expected to meet with deputy DPP Joan Honore-Paul soon on the matter.

The  Integrity Commission (IC) on August 30 announced it had launched its own investigation but  even the IC found itself mired in controversy, after its chairman Ken Gordon held a private meeting with Rowley on the emailgate affair, at his home before Rowley’s disclosure in the Parliament.

This meeting has been condemned by the government and those named in the e-mails, resulting in Gordon recusing himself from the IC’s investigation in the matter.  

The IC told the country it was exercising its mandate under “Section 33 (a) of the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) and  has commenced an investigation to determine the authenticity of alleged electronic mails as provided to the Commission by the former president Richards”.

The Commission said it has had response from an international electronic mail service provider and was moving ahead with its investigation.

Like the police, the IC had written to the government ministers asking them to write to their internet providers to waive their rights to secrecy for the period alleged in the e-mails. 

As 2013 draws to a close Khan believes the matter is “stuck”.

He argues that the e-mails from Dr Rowley “are not e-mails at all”.

According to him, neither the police nor the Integrity Commission or the police can pursue an investigation without first establishing that they are emails.

But what about the issue of “content of the e-mails?”

Khan believes the police can get to the content but “they must show reasonable and probable cause that the persons named did something wrong. In order to get an application to service providers they (police) have to go to court, but since they cannot show reasonable or probable cause, they can’t go to court. What has happened is that either somebody make up this whole thing. So they are stuck at that.”

Khan said the Integrity Commission on the other hand indicated to him they investigating on their own initiative, but they can only do that if it is decided that a prima facie case indicating that that either party did something wrong. 

His advice to the Commission is “to pass the files back to the police”. 

He has also indicated that following his last letter to the Commission, they confirmed to him that Housing Minister Moonilal is “not a suspect”.

So what of the police’s plans for 2014?

 Asst Commissioner Hackett assures the heat is still on. 

“There are some investigative avenues we still have to pursue, however we will be pursuing those avenues with advice from the DPP’s office. 

“We have the Deputy DPP who will guide and advise with regards the legislative issues with respect to these investigations.”

Hackett added: “We would pursue the investigations with the vigour that is commensurate with its importance.”

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