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AG: Panday was given a chance to turn himself in to police

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June 3 Port of Spain Trinidad: Attorney General of this twin island republicJohn Jeremie said Opposition leader Basdeo Panday was given every opportunity to give himself up to the police but declined.

Asked to disclose when Panday would have known of his arrest in order to surrender to the police, Jeremie said: "It is my understanding that he knew on the morning that the warrant had been issued. He had been interviewed (sometime before) under caution, which is usually a good indication that the police feel that they have sufficient grounds to proceed to arrest, and that his response at that time was 'I thought you had come to arrest me' and that 'I know nothing of the accounts'."

Jeremie was responding at yesterday's post-Cabinet press conference at Whitehall to questions from reporters about Panday being arrested shortly after a meeting and in the presence of the visiting Speaker of the Indian Parliament and 14 MPs on Tuesday.

"That is not correct. My information is that the police officers gave Mr Panday every opportunity to surrender, that he refused that opportunity and the police officers say that they were virtually taunted so that they exercised considerable restraint. They waited until the (Indian) delegation had left. They then exercised the power which is vested in them and made the arrest," Jeremie added.

According to the Jeremie, "Mr Panday was treated very well, he was not handcuffed, he was treated with difference, respect and he chose ultimately despite the offer which was made to him (for) bail to decline that offer for reasons which were best known to him."

Jeremie said the investigations which led to the latest arrests were started in 1998 by Panday's former attorney general, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and continued under another UNC attorney general, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Dealing specifically with the timing of Panday's arrest, Jeremie said: "It was a police matter, it had nothing to do with the Executive. It is not a government decision what happens in respect of police charges."

He said the Anti-Corruption Bureau "executed the warrant when the circumstances allowed and I think in a very restrained fashion."

Jeremie admitted knowledge of the imminent arrest of Panday, saying this information was conveyed to him by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Geoffrey Henderson.

"In a conversation with the Director of Public Prosecutions he mentioned that these charges were close to finalisation, and I might add that the investigations into these matter have been going on for a considerable period of time, since 1998."

He said however that he did not know the exact day and hour of Panday's arrest.

Jeremie later said he did not know exactly who was going to be charged.

The AG insisted that nothing was wrong about the manner in which Panday was arrested. "My view is that every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago is subject to the rule of law and that a great deal of what is going on in the nature of crime can be attributed to the myopia which has attended the prosecution of certain individuals and groups in the society."

He said it was "a sign of a mature democracy" that "the rule of law is vibrant, the institutions which are charged with maintaining the rule of law are vibrant, that you have an independent Judiciary which is charged with determining guilt or innocence and that these institutions are alive and well."

Jeremie said the State should not be in the position "where it has to tell the police that you ought not to arrest at this time or you ought to arrest at another time, that is not the job of the State in any but a fascist State."

He said making Panday's arrest a "political event" would only serve the interest of some.

UNC MPs have described the police as PNM police, and in response Jeremie said that was "unfortunate, divisive, a further attempt to erode the institutions of governance in this country".

Jeremie said Trinidad and Tobago "owes" former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj "a debt of gratitude" for establishing the Anti-Corruption Bureau in 1997.

Jeremie said Panday's incident alleged took place on Christmas eve in 1998 so he was given some six years due process.

On moves by the Opposition to engage in a public protest next week outside the prison in support of Panday, Jeremie said "the police are quite capable of dealing with that matter".

The AG also said Government is taking all steps to ensure Panday's safety while in prison, adding that his safety was the Government's concern.

"There was no political decision taken to give Mr Panday special treatment in prison, but this is a small country, you have a man who was a prime minister and you want to ensure that if he chooses to be in prison, that he is safe and as comfortable as the circumstances which he has selected for himself would allow," he said.

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