October 21, 2020

Controversial sports program may be linked to prominent lawyer’s assassination in Trinidad

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dana_seetahal5By Eve George Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent From Caribbean News Now

PORT OF , Trinidad — In June 2012, the former People’s Partnership government in Trinidad and Tobago, led by then prime minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar, launched a program called “Rio 2016: The Journey Begins Now”, which was drafted and created by the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee and then advisor to the prime minister, , to assist local athletes representing Trinidad and Tobago in the Rio Olympics.

However, the entire design and implementation of the program changed when the project was handed over to the ministry of sport, resulting in the then minister of sport, Anil Roberts, taking the program to help and educate underprivileged young men in society, under a new name: Lifesport.

What started out as a worthy and benevolent social program was transformed by questionable management into a vehicle for murders, money laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds and financing of criminals by government for illegal purposes.

Now it appears that the 2014 assassination of prominent local lawyer, former senator , may be linked to individuals financed by the Lifesport program, which was riddled with claims of criminals running the program and hundreds of millions of dollars being diverted to criminals to purchase arms and contraband — some of the many issues that Seetahal was investigating.

Seetahal was a former state prosecutor, senior counsel, a down to earth individual, a woman who made everyone she interacted with feel special, a prosecutor who developed one of the strongest legal portfolios in Trinidad and Tobago by heading some of the highest profile cases in the nation, but at the same time developing a list of potential, political and powerful enemies.

Her frequently expressed and strongly held principles resonated with many in Trinidad and Tobago, especially in relation to extreme inequality, which corrupts politics, hinders economic growth and stifles social mobility; it fuels crimes and violent conflicts; it touches a moral nerve in threatening the very existence of mankind, the very health of democracies.

When political and economic power is captured by weak elites, they undermine the institutions necessary for a fair and unbiased society. Critically, the rapid rise of extreme economic inequality stands in the way of eliminating global poverty.

On May 3, 2014, minutes before midnight, security video footage showed Seetahal leaving the Ma Pau Casino, nestled among other bars, clubs and eateries in the middle class environment of Woodbrook, Port of Spain. She was a frequent visitor to the casino, as one of her very few forms of relaxation.

Driving her Volkswagen Toureg SUV, Seetahal headed towards Wrightson Road in Port of Spain and her apartment in One Woodbrook Place. However, her short drive home was interrupted when a Nissan Wingroad wagon suddenly stopped in front of her, coming to an abrupt stop in front of the Woodbrook youth facility on Hamilton Holder Street, a complex of mainly grey buildings with a basketball court and soccer field.

A panel van pulled alongside Seetahal’s Volkswagen and two men emerged, one carrying a pistol and the other a 5.56 calibre assault rifle. This high powered rifle is a weapon used by NATO forces and is designed exclusively for military use.

Seetahal was shot five times. Twice in the head, twice on her right forearm, which she lifted to protect herself, and once in the chest. She was shot at such close range that there was visible gunshot residue on her face. The quiet neighbourhood was shocked out of bed by the sounds of crackling gunfire.

At 12:05 am on May 4, 2014, Seetahal was dead, the victim of a brutal murder described as a local JFK assassination.

A mathematician has theorised that, judging from the location of a speed bump to where her vehicle came to a full stop, the road showed no skid marks. Therefore the speed at which the victim would have hit her brakes and came to a full stop did not allow for any momentum to build up. Therefore, she would have been going at 10km/hr (6 mph) or less.

He said this was such a well planned hit that they may have followed her several times beforehand to learn her likely momentum, routine and speed habits. He said the perpetrators would have timed exactly as she crossed the hump, slowing her vehicle down, stopping in front of her that she couldn’t run over the wagon with any force.

The fact that the blocking vehicle may have been in the parking lot at the casino did not make the victim suspicious when the vehicle stopped in front of her, and perhaps the perpetrators may have been regular visitors at the casino and Seetahal was familiar with them and their vehicle.

He also said the fact that her vehicle did not show any signs of damage to the front indicated that there was no collision. The reaction time of the shooters would have been 1.5-2.5 seconds from the moment the door of the panel van opened to the moment the fatal shot was fired. It was exact precision. He said that requires a lot of skill and military training. The victim had no time to react. He said the kind of training that was applied in the way the operation was carried out is consistent with a SWAT team and Special Forces.

Many theories about Seetahal’s assassination being linked to the police service and the elite in the country included all or some of the following potential components:

1. Drug traffickers in South America. Transnational drug gangs figured out that Trinidad was an easy way to ship bulk cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia, break the cocaine into parcels at safe houses on smaller islands in Trinidad and other points, reseal, package and send them to the United States and Europe.

2. Government officials aligned to more than one political party tied to human trafficking and the illegal drug trade with counterparts outside of Trinidad. Seetahal was investigating this.

3. In December 2013, agents from US Customs and Border Protection were conducting routine X-rays of containers coming into the port at Norfolk, Virginia, when they detected suspicious patterns emanating from a 20-foot shipping container full of cans of orange juice. Investigators opened the cans individually and found a strange mix of orange juice and white powder pressed into cylindrical molds. Homeland Security officials said, “This was a very unique concealment effort.” When the cocaine was weighed and valued, it weighed 732 pounds and carried a street value of US$100 million.

Local government financiers with ethnic backgrounds from the Middle East were said to be behind this shipment. Officials at the US DEA confirmed that the juice brand in question had an unblemished proven track record around the world for over 30 years. They were a natural, innocent target. Seetahal was in partnership with the US DEA investigating this matter.

4. A Mexican drug cartel with local links. Seetahal was investigating this.

5. One of the most talked about issues in the country. A May 2, 2014, Trinidad Express newspaper column was written by Seetahal, calling for an investigation into letters sent to the then prime minister Kamla Persad Bissesser by the then solicitor general Elanor Donaldson-Honeywell, headed “Report proposing the need for an investigation into litigation against the state arising from incidents in the Prison Service”.

The solicitor general highlighted the need for an investigation into circumstances that may “amount to breaches of professional ethics by attorneys involved that may have the effect of perverting the course of justice in litigation against the state”.

Institutions the solicitor general said should be investigated were: (1) The Police service; (2) Inspector of Prisons; (3) The Law Association.

Former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, the subject of a scandal he was involved in called “The Prison Litigation Scandal”, said he was being wrongfully accused of plotting Seetahal’s assassination. Seetahal and her sister , director of the finance ministry’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), were investigating this case. One day after the column was printed Seetahal was shot dead.

6. The murder-kidnapping of a Chaguanas business woman Vindra Niapaul Coolman. Seetahal was working on this case.

7. And finally, a Muslim group working under the Lifesport program, called Jamaat al Muslimeem, a group that was said to have received large sums of cash to assassinate Seetahal. A Muslim Lifesport coordinator Rajee Ali is now behind bars accused of her murder. Investigators said they found sufficient evidence connecting him to Seetahal’s murder. Thirteen men from Jamaat al Muslimeem were arrested on suspicion of carrying out that assassination, causing many to ask why 13 men were accused of a murder that took one or two shooters using one or two guns to kill one person.

In a Trinidad Guardian newspaper article dated May 25, 2003, Seetahal accused the Jamaat al Muslimeen for being responsible for most of the crime in Trinidad and Tobago. Reading the headlines from a local newspaper in a Senate debate that day she recited, “Jamaat in heroin trade; Jamaat in smuggling heroin in Trinidad and Tobago; ATF trained; Traced guns for Trinidad and Tobago government; Jamaat in gun trafficking and Jamaat with terrorist cell in the US.”

In a televised broadcast following Seetahal’s murder, Persad Bissessar and then minister of national security Gary Griffith addressed the nation, describing the assassination as a well orchestrated mafia style killing.

Persad Bissessar stated: “As prime minister, I am resolutely committed to meeting the viciousness which Dana Seetahal’s brilliant life was cut down on the terms she would have wanted and fought so courageously and fearlessly every day. Dana Seetahal would have fought with her last breath to ensure justice was served. By our response let us preserve that legacy. Mere expressions and sympathy and regrets are not enough. It is with profound sadness and shock that I learned of the tragic death of a dear friend and colleague. It is a reprehensible act which has robbed us all of one of our nation’s best and brightest daughters.”

However, key evidence has already gone. Officials cleaned the blood stained SUV, repaired the bullet holes and put the vehicle up for sale at public auction, widely reported as “Dana’s Death Car For Sale”, on January 30, 2016.

Some asked, “If UNC officials alone had everything to do with Dana’s killing as the local media painted, why did the PNM government conceal and sell the evidence and not hold the evidence in a forensics lab after gaining supremacy in the 2015 general elections and by not fighting to bring the masterminds and hit men to justice?”

Meanwhile, a Special Branch officer, who was one of the police investigators into Seetahal’s murder stated that the police have done all they could have done. Now everything and all the evidence is in the hands of the present attorney general Faris al Rawi and it’s up to him now to do something.

“What we have seen thus far is nothing is being done by him to address this matter,” the officer stated.

Many are now asking if Seetahal’s murder will ever be solved to public satisfaction. Or is it that her murder was planned by persons she was investigating on both sides of the political fence?

In reality, the truth of what actually happened may be lost forever by the inaction and silence of officials from both sides of the political divide.

Her flesh may be gone but Seetahal’s spirit and legacy will undeniably live on and on in every individual heart and mind who knew of her and the contribution she made to society. Dana Seetahal will always be one of the most respected senior counsel the nation of Trinidad and Tobago has ever produced.

IMAGE: The late Dana Seetahal

For more on this story go to: http://www.caribbeannewsnow.com/topstory-Controversial-sports-program-may-be-linked-to-prominent-lawyer%27s-assassination-in-Trinidad-32659.html

 

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