Police have been advised to file fresh criminal charges against A&V Oil and Gas CEO Hanif Nazim Baksh—a friend of Prime Minister Keith Rowley—and his son-in-law after cases against them collapsed prematurely two weeks ago.
Guardian Media has been reliably informed that the Office of the DPP had requested the police files involving the assault charges that had been laid against Baksh and Cpl Billy Ramsundar after a complaint from Guardian Media senior photographer Kristian De Silva.
The case began two years after the alleged assault of De Silva by Baksh. The fresh charges have since been laid and the two men are expected to appear in court on September 3.
When the matter was last called before Magistrate Margaret Alert, she freed Baksh and Ramsundar because the State was not ready to proceed.
The Office of the DPP received all the police records last Friday, sources said.
After reviewing the police files, DPP Roger Gaspard advised the police to re-lay the charges against the defendants, Guardian Media was informed.
The development comes in the wake of public concern after the case ended.
On Saturday, the Media Association in a statement called on Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and the DPP to provide a thorough explanation for their failure to prosecute the cases.
MATT said it was disturbed by the reasons leading to the dismissal of the case.
“The discharging of these men is, at best, a shocking example of negligence by institutions responsible for criminal prosecution. At worst, it is a tacit endorsement by law enforcement of attacks on journalists and press freedom, and a suspicious development, given that one of the accused is a wealthy friend of the Prime Minister and the other a member of the TTPS,” MATT stated.
The organisation added: “Journalists pursue news to serve the public’s right to know.
There can be no argument that allegations, where A&V Drilling charged the now-defunct Petrotrin approximately $100 million for oil not supplied, was a public interest story deserving of dogged pursuit by journalists. In this matter, the free press was fulfilling its democratic function in service of the public interest. We call on the TTPS and the Office of the DPP to do the same.”
In response, Griffith took umbrage to MATT’s statement saying that the organisation should have sought to get the facts first before issuing a statement.
He said he had already commenced an investigation into the matter.
He also assured that the police would do all that is required to ensure the safety of journalists and he reminded the public that they cannot debar the media from doing their duties, especially if they are in a public space.
De Silva had said he was unaware that the matter had been fixed to begin and had not been so informed by the main police investigator ASP Ruthven Hunte.
Ramsundar, a police officer with 25 years’ service, was charged with assaulting De Silva and damaging his company-owned Canon DSLR camera valued at US$1,600.
Baksh, who is the father of former PNM Senator Allyson Baksh, was charged with assaulting the photographer and maliciously damaging De Silva’s eyeglasses valued at $2,400.
Baksh also faced an additional charge of using threats to influence Khusial Motiram to give false evidence and withhold true evidence, knowing or reasonably believing he was a potential witness in a criminal investigation into the assault of De Silva and the malicious damage of property belonging to De Silva.
On September 15, 2017, De Silva was standing outside A&V’s compound along Nazim Avenue, Penal, gathering photos for coverage of the “Fake Oil” scandal between the company and Petrotrin, when he was allegedly assaulted by Baksh.
He sustained a busted lip, bruised face and his camera was damaged.
After the media broke news about the allegations against A&V Oil in September 2017, the Prime Minister said he had called, Baksh, whom he acknowledged is his friend, to find out what the report was all about.
He said then if a person was his friend he would not “deny or disown” the person on the grounds that an allegation has been made against them.
In May, Rowley said in Parliament it was up to the DPP to decide whether or not criminal charges will flow from the investigations into A&V claims for payment from Petrotrin.
Reporter: Darren Bahaw