The affidavit is at the centre of one of two ongoing probes by the ACIB. The other probe is in relation to former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart.
Newsday yesterday reported exclusively that ACIB had interviewed Manning and Imbert and investigators are expected to also interview former Housing Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Local Government Minister Hazel Manning. Mrs Manning is mentioned in the Bakr affidavit in her capacity as the former Minister of Education.
Imbert was one of several former PNM Cabinet members who, in 2002, opposed Manning’s decision to give the Jamaat land at Mucurapo, Port-of-Spain. Such Cabinet members included Rowley, former Trade and Industry Minister Ken Valley, former Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis and former Health Minister John Rahael who all attended a meeting at the old Prime Minister’s residence at La Fantasie, St Ann’s on September 14, 2002.
All present expressed their opposition to Manning’s decision, which he had already publicly announced, and Manning, who at the time was presiding over a hung Parliament, was forced to hold a press conference that Saturday night at which he announced to the nation that he had retracted his decision to give the Jamaat land.
The press conference, which was broadcast live and covered in newspapers the next day, saw the striking image of all of the Cabinet ministers who pressured Manning into retracting his position standing behind him.
Mere days before, on September 12, 2002, at a post-Cabinet briefing at Whitehall, Manning said the land would probably be handed over before the general elections which were due in October that year. He later stated that he would welcome the support of the Jamaat in the elections.
“This is what democracy is all about. You go after every vote,” he said. The PNM later won.
On September 26, 2002, Manning told reporters at a post-Cabinet press briefing at Whitehall that he had “about three or four meetings” with Bakr. He said that as PNM leader he saw members of the public twice a week, including once at Balisier House.
“Whoever comes through my door I see, and this is how I got to be talking with Abu Bakr,” Manning said. “He walked through my door as a citizen. And he did raise with me questions about the social sector.”
The incidents are referred to in the affidavit sworn by Bakr while incarcerated at the Maximum Security Prison, Golden Grove, Arouca, on June 7, 2006, when he was then facing a conspiracy to murder charge which later collapsed at the High Court.
On Wednesday this week, Manning and Imbert were interviewed by investigators over the claims in the affidavit. Information Minister Neil Parsanlal, at the post-Cabinet press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s yesterday confirmed the interviews but said they were in relation to the Bakr probe and not the ACIB Hart investigation.
Investigators yesterday maintained that both interviews were related to both probes which are being conducted simultaneously.
Sources insist that Imbert was interviewed in relation to issues surrounding Udecott and on issues relating to the events of September 2002 as touched upon by the Bakr affidavit.
The affidavit, which was filed in the course of sale proceedings brought by the State against the Jamaat in order to get them to pay damages for destruction during the 1990 attempted coup, was last year referred by then Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Carla Brown-Antoine to Acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert. Yet, action on the document appears to have only been commenced this month.
In the affidavit, Bakr alleges a deal with Manning in which the Government would bestow three things on the Jamaat in exchange for the Jamaat’s assistance during the 2002 elections: the transfer of title of State lands at Mucurapo to the Jamaat; the inclusion of a Jamaat school under the Concordat and the suppression of the enforcement of an earlier High Court order which had called on the Jamaat to pay $15 million in damages.
But, according to Bakr, Manning reneged on his agreement.
“Sometime thereafter, I watched in amazement as the Prime Minister gave a press conference which aired on television where he indicated that he was not going to give the lands at Mucurapo to the Jamaat as there had been a public uproar,” he said. “As I watched on television Mr Rahael, Mr Imbert, Mr Rowley, Mr Valley and Ms Robinson-Regis stood behind the Prime Minister during the press-conference.”
“Following the press-conference I received a telephone call from someone who identified herself as Ms (former Community Development Minister Joan) Yuille-Williams and whose voice I recognised to be hers. During this telephone call I was told by Ms Yuille-Williams that I should not be worried about the press conference and that everything would be explained to me at the next meeting with the Prime Minister.”
At that meeting, according to Bakr, Manning said, “He had enemies in his own Government, Cabinet and party and that there had been an attempted “palace coup” when he sought to resolve the land issues. He informed me that the other persons were interested in the land at Mucurapo and stated that the only reason for the press conference was that persons had put pressure on him to publicly withdraw from his previous position regarding the land.
“He used the phrase ‘palace coup’ repeatedly and claimed that they wanted his job and “to take over the party”. He also informed me that the reason why he was surrounded by Messrs Rowley, Valley, Imbert, Rahael and Robinson-Regis at the press conference was so that everyone could see who exactly were the ‘trouble-makers’.”
The affidavit had been struck out of the sale proceedings by the Privy Council because of its irrelevance to the proceedings, however the Law Lords commented on the legality of the agreement as alleged by Bakr.
Lord Carswell, in a judgment delivered on May 2, 2009, stated, “The essence of the agreement between the Prime Minister and Mr Abu Bakr on behalf of the Jamaat was that certain advantages would be given to the Jamaat out of State property in return for securing voting support for the Prime Minister’s political party.”
Carswell continued, “In the opinion of the Board this was corrupt within the meaning and intendment of Section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1987 and each party to the agreement was acting in contravention of the section...the whole purpose of this agreement was to obtain electoral advantage for one political party, the PNM, by means of using State property and as such it was clearly illegal.”
Brown-Antoine, who was later vetoed by Manning for the post of DPP, referred the matter to Philbert since May 21, 2009 on the basis of the Privy Council ruling. In the affidavit, Bakr alleges that he was once met by Mustapha Abdul-Hamid (now the Public Utilities Minister) whom he described as a member of the Jamaat. According to Bakr, following the General Election of 2001 which resulted in an 18-18 tie, Abdul-Hamid acted as a go-between between Bakr and Manning, as did Yuille-Williams.
Bakr alleges that he met with Manning at his office at the PNM headquarters Balisier House, Port-of-Spain.
“Mr Manning indicated to me that his Government wanted to focus on (the matters of crime and the mobilisation of young voters of African descent) before any election was called and that he was of the view that the Jamaat exercised influence in certain areas,” Bakr alleges.
Later, at another meeting, Bakr alleges, “The Prime Minister informed me that the remaining portion of the lands at Mucurapo would be given to the Jamaat before the coming election; that the Jamaat school would be included within the Concordat with the other denominational schools and provided funding from the Government.”
“In this respect he informed me that I should see the Minister of Education, Mrs (Hazel) Manning, who would see to that and make the necessary arrangements. With regards to the judgment for damages (made by the Supreme Court years prior) owed by the Jamaat...the Prime Minister stated that he regarded that judgment as a ‘paper judgment’ that would never be enforced and he referred to it as a ‘dead issue’ for the Government,” Bakr alleges.
“He stated very clearly that his Government had no intention to enforce the judgment and that there would be no attempt to enforce the award of damages.”
In exchange, the Jamaat would, “go to the people and ensure that they voted and voted for the PNM” and “would work within the poor areas in the marginal constituencies to mobilise the young persons to vote.”