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...Suspect in hiding after policeman’s tip-off

By Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

ONE of the men involved in the murder of senior counsel Dana Seetahal was reportedly tipped off by a police officer that he was wanted for questioning into her killing and has since gone into hiding. 

Intelligence officials who have been part of the large police team working on the case said the suspects were all from East Trinidad and that the hit originated from the Port of Spain jail. These suspects, police say, also have ties with a Muslim-based organisation.

“Hours after the killing, we had some persons of interest already on the radar but we later learnt that a police officer called (person named ) and tipped him off saying the police were asking questions about him and wanted to locate him,” revealed an intelligence source actively involved in the investigation to catch the killers.

The man from Curepe with the initials NM has since gone underground.

“We know he travels to Venezuela quite regularly and efforts will be made to monitor his movements by sea or air,” another police source indicated.

The other man with the initials DB from the Malabar area, police say, has also been fingered in recent kidnappings.

Police sources explained that contact was made with a Carapo man, who recently moved into the Laventille area, by an individual who is currently behind prison walls, and he was asked to spearhead the operation to kill Seetahal.

“The assassins had Ms Seetahal under surveillance for a few days monitoring her movements and patterns,” said an investigator. Sources noted that she had visited Ma Pau members club at the corner of Ariapita Avenue and French Street the night before (Friday) and left at exactly 11.55 p.m. 

On the night she was killed she returned to the casino, and once again left at exactly the same time. On that occasion, she was escorted down the pathway on the side of the Ma Pau building with a security escort from the casino, to her Volkswagen Touareg SUV, where she regularly parked in the fourth spot on the left of the car park.

“That was a regular spot, and me and her was really good,” said the casino’s parking attendant who didn’t want to give his name, noting that on the said night he was not on duty. 

From that scene, police are relying on CCTV footage from cameras set up along the roadway and from businesses along Seetahal’s journey including the Ma Pau members club, down French Street, across Wrightson Road, up Hamilton Holder Street, and onto O’Connor Street, where Seetahal’s vehicle made its final stop. This route, police said, is littered with CCTV cameras.

According to sources, in the footage, a vehicle which fit the description of one of the vehicles used in Seetahal’s  killing was seen parked along Wrightson Road. After Seetahal’s vehicle passed the vehicle, it could be observed driving off apparently following the Volkswagen. The other, police sources said, was strategically parked near the crime scene waiting for the call “to move in for the kill”.

Police sources told the Express yesterday that in the seconds that her attackers opened fire on her vehicle at the boundary of Hamilton Holder Street and O’Connor Street, to the time that her vehicle came to a complete stop along O’Connor Street—an estimated 20 feet away—Seetahal displayed “tremendous strength” as she deliberately brought her car to a stop, by pressing on the brake-pedal and pulling up her hand-brakes. In fact, the engine of the car was said to be still running, with her foot on the break pedal, when the police arrived.

Some police sources have said due to the position of Seetahal’s body in the car, she appeared to have been reaching for a bag which was next to her at the time the vehicle came to a stop...a bag in which it was believed she kept her licensed firearm. However, this could not be confirmed.

Sources close to the investigation also said the killing bore trademarks of the highway heist that occurred last November. The said the Nissan Wingroad motorcar that pulled in front of Seetahal’s SUV seemed to have been fortified with cement bags placed in the trunk in case Seetahal decided to ram the vehicle.

Police sources explained, “The SUV Touareg was quite capable of hitting and moving the Wingroad and if you look carefully at the footage of the car that was captured from one of the businesses, you would see the Wingroad appeared to be lower that normal, this leads us to believe that they tried to ensure that it was heavy enough to withstand a hit without moving.”

Sources said images of Seetahal’s killing were also captured, showing a gunman sliding open the door of the van and opening fire, hitting her several times.

Efforts are being made by police to clean up the CCTV images to profile the gunman and his associates.

Police said they hope within the next few days to make a major breakthrough in the case. No motive has been established.

Sources said that half a million was paid up front for the hit, but they could not say exactly how much money, in total, the hit cost. 

All 15 spent shells which were recovered at the scene of the incident were expected to be taken to the Forensic Science Centre in St James by yesterday to undergo ballistic testing.  

     —with reporting by Alexander Bruzual

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