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SHEILA RAMPERSAD

The Media Association of T&T (MATT) has sought to intervene in on ongoing lawsuit, in which the publishers of a daily newspaper are challenging the constitutionality of two recent raids on its organisation.

In the application, filed earlier this week, MATT’s lawyers Michael Rooplal and Ria Mohammed-Davidson sought to join their client as an interested party in the lawsuit brought by One Caribbean Media (OCM), its newspaper Trinidad Express and the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Omatie Lyder against the Office of the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police and Superintendent Wendell Lucas, of the Financial Investigations Bureau ( FIB) that executed the search warrants.

Rooplal sought to illustrate MATT’s role as the local professional organisation for journalists and significance of the case to public and the local media fraternity in terms of the constitutional right to freedom of the press.

“As such, this case will be historic and landmark litigation. The protection granted by section 4(k) is unique to our Constitution; it protects press freedom as a distinct right, separate and apart from the right to freedom of expression/free speech,” Rooplal said.

He also noted that OCM and its subsidiary have already consented to their proposed involvement in their case.

In her affidavit attached to the application, MATT President Dr Sheila Rampersad sought to further justify the organisation’s inclusion.

“While the raid in question targeted one particular media house, the potential ramifications to all manner of media, whether they be print, radio, television or digital, are far-reaching,” Rampersad said.

The raid on the newspaper was related to an 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 Hackshaw had been moonlighting as a security consultant whilst on vacation leave without the permission of the Police Commissioner.

The FIB investigation allegedly was to determine who leaked the information as 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.

Both Hackshaw and the newspaper have denied any wrongdoing.

The companies initially obtained an injunction blocking further action but it was varied after both sets of parties gave a series of undertakings.

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

Last week, the PCA issued a press release stating that the criminal investigation is still ongoing but nearing completion.

It also stated that the police misconduct probe was completed earlier this month with the PCA recommending disciplinary proceedings against Hackshaw.

Earlier this week, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith stated that the process has been initiated but is being stymied by Police Service Commission (PSC)’s delay in appointing a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) to oversee the process.

Hackshaw formerly held the post but his acting appointment was not renewed by the PSC.

High Court Judge Frank Seepersad was scheduled to deal with the case in July but the timeline of the case was varied.