headquarters: The New Flying Squad Investigations Unit was based at Factory Road, Piarco.

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Investigations reveal New Flying Squad operated without ministry’s and top cop’s authority

By BY Anika Gumbs CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

Investigations conducted by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) have both confirmed that the New Flying Squad Investigations Unit (NFSIU) was operational. 

And while the NFSIU had no authority to function and was not sanctioned by acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams under whose remit covert units fall, both reports concluded that officials from the Ministry of National Security facilitated the operations. 

Both reports obtained by Sunday Express have absolved former minister of National Security Jack Warner of any wrongdoing and also found that fired Minister in the National Security Ministry Collin Partap (who denied any knowledge of the NFSIU) is not answerable. 

However, based on the findings of the investigations, the reports concluded that the conduct of then strategic adviser at the ministry, Commander Garvin Heerah should be examined. 

The PCA report said civilian members of the NFSIU, who admitted to the PCA to being involved in (reconnaissance/intelligence gathering), may be said to have been “pretending to be police officers” under the words of Section 62 of the Police Service Act. 

The TTPS report, however, recommended that the conduct of retired police inspector Mervyn Cordner should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions  (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC.

The Sunday Express learned that both reports were referred to the DPP in February to determine if criminal charges should be laid arising out of the findings. 

The Flying Squad was first formed in the 1970s but was disbanded in 1980 after charges of conspiracy to murder were slapped on former police commissioner Randolph Burroughs.

Cordner had repeatedly claimed he was recalled by Warner to head the NFSIU in July 2012 but operations were forced to shut down due to lack of funding. 

Warner denied any knowledge of the NFSIU. 

Following a series of newspaper articles, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is also head of the National Security Council, referred the matter to the CoP for an investigation into any alleged wrongdoings, unlawful conduct and/or action by any or all persons purported to be involved in the matter. 

However, Williams opted to step aside after various quarters criticised his involvement in the investigations, citing a possible conflict of interest after he was named in Heerah’s report submitted on the matter. 

Deputy Commissioner of Police Simon Alexis was assigned to lead the investigation. 


The PCA report on Warner’s involvement

The report by the PCA noted that while Heerah distanced Warner from any involvement with the NFSIU, the former minister did not totally disassociate himself. 

According to the report, when the PCA questioned Heerah as to who authorised or directed him to meet Cordner, he replied: “No one.”

“Thus, Heerah admits that he was on a frolic of his own or acted without authority and on his own volition,” the report said. 

In response to another question by the PCA as to whether Warner was present at any of the meetings relative to the NFSIU, the report said Heerah’s response was: “No, not that I can remember.”

The report noted: “Thus, while Heerah’s comment essentially distances Warner from the NFSIU and any involvement or its establishment for that matter, it contradicts, to an extent, what Warner himself said in his report to the Prime Minister on the alleged NFSIU dated February 25, 2013.”

Referring to an excerpt in Warner’s report that read “...Dr Mervyn Cordner approached the Ministry of National Security and met with me offering his services to assist me as minister in the fight against crime....I sat and listened to what they had to say...”

The PCA report noted that Warner in his report indicated that he “...will have to seek the advice of the CoP before we can proceed...”

Another important factor the PCA noted in Warner’s report was a meeting held with Cordner in October 2012. 

Warner, the PCA stated, further said: “...At that meeting (Warner) informed Cordner in the presence of his adviser that the CoP had informed him that he was not in favour of the special unit.”

On the basis of statements made by Warner in his report the PCA found: “Warner did not completely distance himself from the entity as he admitted to entertaining Cordner and others at meetings in the fledging stages but, as soon as Warner learnt of the CoP’s lack of support, he communicated same clearly to Cordner. Thus, Heerah distances Warner but Warner does not totally disassociate himself.”


Heerah’s role

On the issue of whether a criminal offence of misbehaviour/misfeasance in public office is made out, the PCA report concluded: “Heerah willfully or deliberately misconducted himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the public office of strategic adviser, without reasonable excuse or justification and the consequence was that a pseudo police unit or civilian unit was facilitated in its operations by the said office holder despite there being no approval or authorisation (formal or otherwise) from the requisite authorities, the CoP and the Ministry of National Security.”

In its findings the PCA said that Heerah, in his capacity as strategic adviser to the Ministry of National Security, where issues relative to law enforcement and bodies dedicated to same were dealt with, was under a duty to know and to adhere to established protocols, procedures and policies within the ministry pertaining to the establishment of units intending to carry out police activities as well as any regulatory framework concerning the operationalisation of such units. 

“By his own admission, as evidenced by his ability to outline the protocol, procedure and/or policy regarding the treatment of information received by the ministry from informants, Heerah had knowledge of the proper course to be followed. Also, in light of the position held, Heerah ought to have been au courant with regulation 35 of the Police Service Regulations which suggests that police units or units intended to conduct police activities, must be constituted by the CoP with the approval of the minister of national security.”

Listing reasons for its conclusion, the PCA report added that despite knowledge of the foregoing and of the fact that the NFSIU was not a unit constituted by the CoP nor did it receive approval from the then minister, Heerah facilitated Cordner and/or the members of his unit by:

•Entertaining meetings with Cordner and others upon visits to the ministry;

•Providing the contact information for an individual who would assist with transportation of the unit’s members on surveillance and intelligence gathering exercises for example the marijuana field operations;

•Responding to e-mail chains favourably when Purnell Pacheco, the accountant for the unit, enquired as to whether Heerah was still interested;

•Purportedly advocating on behalf of the unit to make the members special reserve police officers and requesting a list of the potential members of the unit; and

•Operating essentially as the point person in the ministry by promising to seek sign-off for a request for a computer and printer (though Heerah claimed he never actually followed through on the said promise) and receiving the proposed budget for the unit to review enlisting the aid of a ministry official Wayne Riley to provide Cordner/the unit with guidance on how the plan was to be constructed, handing over the plan to the said official, on behalf of the unit, to the ministry official for review and utilising the ministry contact Sham Mohammed, to supply the unit with vehicles for use in their operations. 

Giving further reasons for its conclusion, the PCA report added: “Heerah admitted that he was informed by Riley to cease all further meetings and requests relative to Cordner and others yet Heerah admits that even in his capacity as National Security Operations Centre (NSOC) director, a position he assumed on November 1, 2013 he facilitated Cordner by meeting him.  Thus, Heerah (without justification or excuse) consciously, willfully and deliberately facilitated Cordner and the unit despite having knowledge of the direct instruction to cease and in spite of his awareness that the requisite approval had not been granted.

The consequence is that the public’s trust in the office holder was betrayed and it casts the ministry in an unfavourable light as the clear message sent is that one of its officials circumvented the requisite channels through which information   on   criminal activity must be dealt with and facilitated a unit which did not have approval to function.”

The question of a mistake, even a serious one, the report said, does not arise as Heerah admitted to meeting with Cordner of his own volition. 

  

Police officers’ roles

The report also found that two police officers who accompanied members of the NFSIU to a marijuana field operation at Matura on October 9, 2012 neglected their duties in breach of regulation 150 of the Police Service Regulations made pursuant to the Police Service Act. 

Both officers, the report said, were also in breach of regulation 133 because they failed to report for duty on October 9, and acted without the permission of senior officers. 

“The lending of assistance to a unit purporting to perform police functions without approval from the CoP or minister brings the service into disrepute and conflicts with the interest of same. Moreover, the aid to an unauthorised unit, in a sense, demonstrates endorsement of the activities of the unit which in this case had no authority to function.  The unit was one essentially operating parallel to the TTPS conducting typical police activities (surveillance and intelligence gathering etc) without approval to so operate,” the PCA report said. 


The TTPS report

Meanwhile, the TTPS report found that former and current officials of both the Ministry of National Security and the NSOC played a role in seeking to advise the NFSIU for consideration of its proposal. 

However, the report said, while the NFSIU did not function under the authority of the ministry, Heerah may have overstepped his remit/role, for example: 


•The meetings in relation to the NFSIU proposal;

•Arrangements for vehicles;

•Being kept apprised of various locations being looked at by the NFSIU to house its operations;

•The meeting facilitated at NSOC by Heerah between members of the NFSIU and the TTPS with respect to the murder of the Chinese couple (Yang Jiang Hua and Wu Xia Hua, who were shot dead in July 2012 at their family’s home and business place, Tiger’s Chinese Restaurant in Cunupia)

•Heerah’s role in the provision of helicopters to assist the NFSIU to conduct reconnaissance exercises at the marijuana fields. The communication Heerah had with Major Paul Brown regarding the use of the helicopters;

•Heerah indicating to a police officer that he could have arranged for him to be seconded to the NFSIU; and

•Twenty-five purported e-mails sent from Heerah’s e-mail account with respect to the NFSIU, requesting certain documents and acknowledging receipt of communication from Pacheco. 

From the evidence unearthed the report concluded the following:

•No criminal offence in respect to Warner and others has been committed;

•The conduct of Heerah should still be examined by the DPP based on the foregoing; and

•Since it has been positioned that the NFSIU was not established as a division, section, branch or unit of the Ministry of National Security, Cordner had no authority to contract on behalf of the ministry in respect of:

-The acquisition of vehicles from Miscellaneous Marketing Ltd; and

- The rental of the property at Factory Road, Piarco and the property at Shoppers Distributors Ltd, Macoya.  


In its recommendations, the TTPS report stated the following:

•The conduct of all police officers should be referred to the Police Complaints Division and the PCA to determine whether any disciplinary offence was committed in relation to  their activities in the NFSIU;

•The conduct of T&T Defence Force personnel should be referred to the Chief of Defence Staff to assess whether any disciplinary offence was committed by serving personnel;

•The conduct of personnel involved in the NFSIU attached to the T&T Prison Service, Customs and Excise Division and the Immigration Division  should be referred to the respective heads of departments;

•Entries of all persons visiting the Ministry of National Security should be made in the visitor’s registrar and all firearms coming into the building should be recorded in the firearm’s registrar and lodged in safety boxes with a key being provided to the owners of the safety boxes;

•Authorisation for use of and access to police buildings must be provided in writing by the lawful authority;

•Protocols must be developed and put in writing for engaging the use of helicopters by TTPS officers;

• Whenever there is involvement in any specialist policing area, the specialist department concerned should be contacted; and

•Public officials should be made to answer questions within the realm of an investigation as it pertains to their public function. 

 

Cordner: Conflicting reports

Briefly commenting on the findings of the reports yesterday, Cordner said he was satisfied that evidence produced confirmed that the NFSIU existed. 

However, Cordner said he disagreed with the view that the NFSIU was acting illegally. 

“The findings of the reports are not corresponding with the documents they received...we never acted on our own. Now that the reports are out I am going to initiate legal action,” Cordner said. 


Heerah: I have not seen the reports 

When the Sunday Express contacted Heerah yesterday to get a comment on the findings of the report and any role he may have played with regard to the NFSIU, Heerah said: “I have no comment to make at this time. I have not seen the report.”

Told that both reports found that the NFSIU existed, Heerah said: “I have no comment to make.”

 

 Background

The NFSIU was secretly revived in July 2012 and operated from the premises of Donrich Security Kennels Ltd located at Factory Road, Golden Grove Road, Arouca, but was shut down in January 2013 because of lack of funding.

Businessman Richard Koorn, the owner of the premises from where the NFSIU operated at a monthly cost of $200,000, corroborated Cordner’s claims.

Koorn claimed he was privy to several discussions and meetings surrounding investigations by the NFSIU. 

It was an internal e-mail trail at the Ministry of National Security that stated the NFSIU was up and running.

The e-mails showed a base was being sought for the NFSIU in Aranguez.

Heerah arranged for the NFSIU to be equipped with vehicles to carry out operations.

Miscellaneous Marketing Company Ltd, a company that leases unmarked vehicles to the T&T Police Service, supplied eight vehicles to the NFSIU to carry out its operations.

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