Friday, February 23, 2018

'Nizam sought landing rights for Libyan aircraft'


awaiting publication: Nizam Mohammed

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INFORMED: Former acting clerk of the house, Raphael Cumberbatch, at the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Henry Street, Port of Spain, yesterday. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK.

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Former house speaker Nizam Mohammed sought to facilitate the granting of landing rights to a Libyan aircraft during the height of the July 27 attempted coup in Trinidad and Tobago.

This was told to the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt by former acting clerk of the house, Raphael Cumberbatch yesterday.

The enquiry is being held at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Henry Street, Port of Spain.

Cumberbatch said he was informed of this by a "high official" of the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in Barbados. "I bring it (the information) to the commission with the clear knowledge that I am fully aware of the person who gave me that information but I would not wish to disclose it in open session," he said.

In response to questions from the commission's lead attorney Avory Sinanan, Cumberbatch said Mohammed sought to get the landing rights for the Libyan aircraft "very soon after July 27, somewhere within a few days, if not within a day or two after the events of the 27th".

In response to questions from Sinanan, Cumberbatch said he never "had the opportunity" to discuss it with Mohammed since he (Cumberbatch) received this information years later.

Contacted yesterday, Mohammed said he would like to cross-examine Cumberbatch but would wait to read what is published about his testimony before commenting.

Cumberbatch also told the commission that a subordinate member of the staff of the Parliament who served in the office of the Speaker informed him that on at least two occasions, the late Andy Thomas (who was the beneficiary of two pardons for different offences before these events (of July 1990) ) visited Mohammed in his Chamber. Cumberbatch said he was told that it was sometime around February or March 1990 that Thomas made these visits to the Speaker's office. He said he also never discussed this information with Mohammed.

Cumberbatch said shortly after the coup attempt he made the arrangements for Mohammed to travel to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of one of the princes. Asked when was this, he said "almost as soon as" the crisis ended, and before the Parliament had reconvened to approve the extension of the state of emergency. (Under the Constitution the Parliament must meet 12 days after the declaration of a state of emergency to approve the emergency and if necessary an extension).

Cumberbatch recalled that when the Parliament met to approve the extension it had neither the privilege of Mohammed who was out of the jurisdiction "on personal business" (in Saudi Arabia), nor Deputy Speaker Anselm St George who was too badly traumatised and was unable to attend the sitting.

He said the House therefore had to elect a Speaker for that sitting which resulted in the Theodore Guerra (now deceased), presiding.

Cumberbatch also recalled having a conversation with (former acting President) Emmanuel Carter when he resumed office as Senate President.

He said Carter told him he was concerned that as Commander-in-Chief, if he had agreed with recommendations that had been made to him to have an attack on the Red House, many persons would have lost their lives, including the then prime minister Arthur NR Robinson.

He said Carter said he was not in favour of this option and wanted to negotiate a way out of the crisis.

However Cumberbatch said Carter was very clear that he did not grant an amnesty. He said Carter told him that he had merely initialled the Heads of Agreement document before giving it to Canon Knolly Clarke.

Cumberbatch said among the unsung heroes of 1990 was the staff of the Parliament. "They came out under very difficult circumstances and they served creditably. Some of them actually fell down on the job and had to be hospitalised simply by the passing of a jet over the Central Bank building (where the Parliament met to debate the extension of the state of emergency) . "The noise, the roar that ensued, tripped her (a member of staff) and we had to call an ambulance to send her off in the middle of the sitting dealing with the extension of the state of emergency. So that officer was still very much affected" he said.

He added that the stench (of death) existed in the Red House long after "the thing had finished". He noted that the staff had to go into the Red House and take out things in order to prepare the Central Bank for the sitting at which the state of emergency was extended. "So there was a toing and froing that was taking place," he said.

He said members of Parliament staff were traumatised and those who were so inclined were able to avail themselves of counselling.