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Derek Achong

High Court Judge Frank Seepersad is expected to deliver judgment on January 13 in a lawsuit in which the publishers of a daily newspaper are challenging the constitutionality of two recent raids on their organisation.

Seepersad reserved his decision in the case after attorneys representing the State, the Media Association of T&T (MATT) and One Caribbean Media (OCM), which publishes the Trinidad Express newspaper, presented submissions during a virtual hearing yesterday.

The lawsuit relates to two raids on the newspaper due to a series of investigative reports by journalist Denyse Renne, which revealed that Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Irwin Hackshaw had been flagged by three local banks for suspicious financial activity.

The reports also alleged that Hacksaw had been moonlighting as a security consultant while on vacation leave without the permission of the Police Commissioner.

They also alleged that Hackshaw solicited “donations” from businesses to fund annual social events for police officers.

The Financial Investigations Branch ( FIB) investigation allegedly was to determine who leaked the information, as the Proceeds of Crime Act makes it an offence to disclose information in relation to an active money-laundering investigation.

The “tipping off” offence carries a maximum penalty of a $5 million fine and five years imprisonment.

Presenting submissions on behalf of the companies, Senior Counsel Sophia Chote claimed that the T&T Police Service (TTPS) continuously breached the rules related to search warrants despite numerous judgements on the issue. She claimed that search warrants for media houses had to be carefully obtained and executed as freedom of the press is protected under the Constitution.

She suggested that a proper preliminary investigation should have been conducted before they went to seek the warrant.

“Why didn’t they launch an investigation within his own office to try to ascertain who was the person who leaked the information to the press. Surely that would be have been the starting point,” Chote said.

“The second step would have been to ask questions to the person it was leaked to (and) that would have been Denyse Renne but you jumped two steps ahead and you go to the media house,” she added.

Responding to Chote, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein sought to defend investigators’ handling of the case.

While he admitted that freedom of the press is a feature of the Constitution, he stated that it did not prevent the police from investigating media companies, who may have broken laws such as Section 51 of the Proceeds of Crime Act.

“The press does not have some super constitutional protection. We are all about freedom of the press. I am in support of freedom of the press. We support it but they must play by the rules,” Hosein said.

“Freedom of the press does not allow you to be a part of a Section 51 leak. What you should do is challenge Section 51,” Hosein said.

Chote challenged his position as she questioned why the media should not be allowed to report on such investigations as it played an importing role in bringing topical issues into the public domain.

“Certainly police officers do not fall in some type of special category where the allegations against them must be swept under the rug,” she said.

Chote also suggested that the police could have contacted her clients and ask for the information before conducting the raid.

Hosein dismissed the suggestion saying such cooperation was unlikely. He also claimed that the company had employed delay tactics during the raids.

“They had the officers going in circles, they may not have been intimidated but what the effect was there were several hours of frustrating them in terms of the legitimate conduct of their activities,” he said.

In March, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) initiated two independent investigations into Hacksaw’s alleged conduct, one into possible criminal conduct and the other into possible breaches of the Police Service Regulations.

Both investigations have since been completed by the PCA.

In terms of the police misconduct probe, the PCA recommended internal disciplinary proceedings against Hacksaw.

The findings of the probe into possible criminal charges were shared with Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Hackshaw was suspended pending a probe ordered by Griffith. However, he retired late last month, without it being complete as he was reportedly on sick leave and could face the disciplinary tribunal.

The companies were also represented by Peter Carter and Vahni Seunath while Rishi Dass appeared alongside Hosein. MATT was represented by Ria Davidson and Michael Rooplal.