Head of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACIB) Snr Supt Solomon Koon Koon led the seven policemen and two policewomen in the search of Newsday’s newsroom at Chacon Street, Port-of- Spain.
Bagoo’s home in Belmont was also searched, and Newsday’s management views the police action as intimidatory tactics to pressure Bagoo to reveal the sources of his story published last December. After Newsday first broke the story about Gordon’s decision to force Gafoor and fellow commissioner Seunarine Jokhoo to recuse themselves from the commission’s hearing of a matter involving Jeremie, headlined “Bitter Row” on December 20, 2011, Gordon made a report to the police, claiming there had been a breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act.
On January 20, the police wrote Bagoo asking him to disclose the source of his information about the story he wrote on Gordon’s row with Gafoor. Bagoo refused to reveal his sources.
The police took the probe further, executing the two warrants yesterday, starting first with the search of Newsday’s newsroom which began at about 9.57 am and ended at 12 pm.
Koon Koon and an officer, Cpl Phillip, arrived at about 9.57 and met Newsday’s Assistant to the Editor in Chief Camille Moreno and Human Resource and Industrial Relations manager Denzil Parris and informed them he had a warrant signed by a justice of the peace which authorised the search for documents and electronic devices in relation to Bagoo’s exclusive story.
The warrant stated that Koon Koon, the lead investigator, had reasonable grounds for believing that documents, written or electronic, laptop(s), hard drive(s), mass storage devices and audio recordings relative to information contained in Bagoo’s article were “concealed” on Newsday’s premises at 23A Chacon Street, Port-of- Spain.
The warrant stated that such material “will afford evidence as to the commission of a summary offence namely breach of protection of information under Section 35(2) of the Integrity in Public Life Act Chapter 22:01.
The warrant authorised Koon Koon and his officers to enter and search Newsday’s premises and to remove any of the listed items. It was signed by a justice of the peace and was dated February 8, 2012. During discussions between Newsday’s managers and Koon Koon about the warrant, seven other officers arrived, all in plainclothes except for one uniformed officer.
The officers were Sgt Sylvester, Ag Sgt Parris, Ag Sgt Matthews, Cpl Moses, Cpl Baldwin, PC Burgen and PC Banfield. The Newsday managers and Bagoo agreed to cooperate and, in the presence of company lawyers, Rishi Dass and Rajesh Ramoutar, the police entered the newsroom and searched Bagoo’s work station.
Koon Koon indicated that documents and equipment would have to be removed from the newsroom.
Newsday’s lawyers queried whether the officers would examine Bagoo’s computer files on the premises instead, but Koon Koon insisted the computer systems unit would have to be taken to the ACIB’s offices for examination. ACIB is a police unit of the Office of the Attorney General. An officer of the bureau’s information technology department removed the computer systems unit after Newsday’s IT engineer downloaded all data from Bagoo’s computer for his use on other stories he was working on. Koon Koon was queried on the security of the information of other data not connected to the material he sought on the Integrity Commission story.
He would only say that the police probe was focused on Bagoo’s reports on the Integrity Commission.
The officers also searched through stacks of parliamentary documents, including Parliament order papers, Budget reports, government press releases and other material Bagoo kept neatly on his desk and storage area. The officers however found nothing and removed none of the documents, but took away the computer systems unit. They also retrieved two flash drives Bagoo had in his bag and two his cell phones, one of which Newsday had issued to him. Bagoo expressed serious concern about the confidentiality of numbers for contacts he had on his phones. Newsday’s lawyers also queried the grounds of the search warrant in relation to the cellphones which were later returned to Bagoo. It was then Koon Koon revealed that he had a search warrant for Bagoo’s home in Belmont.
Bagoo was accompanied there by the officers, lawyers, Newsday’s senior editor John Babb and Denzil Parris, the HR/IR manager. They searched Bagoo’s bedroom in his home and took his three personal computers, one of which he said was old and was not in use.
They also raised questions about personal computer belonging to his sister but did not remove it.
Babb, a journalist for 65 years, said of the police action, “It is the first time I have witnessed this situation.”
Newsday’s CEO and Editor in Chief Therese Mills in a statement yesterday described the incident as “an abuse of our rights”. (See full statement on page 23A)
Mills said the company had been preparing a response to a letter from Koon Koon, on behalf of Bagoo, before the warrants were executed yesterday.
“Newsday stands by Mr Bagoo’s right to refuse to reveal his sources under any circumstances. If this offends the Integrity Commission, under its present Chairman, (or any other chairman) to the extent where police raids are made on our newsroom and on the house of our reporter, so be it,” Mills said. Mills defended Bagoo and all reporters’ rights to protect their sources.
“It is fundamental to the functioning of a journalist that she or he is able to protect sources of information. Without this, the work of the journalist, particularly the investigative journalist, is fatally impaired.”
Mills said the ACIB’s letter to Bagoo failed to establish any grounds to show that the story had breached integrity laws.
“In our view the letter despatched by the ACIB to Mr Bagoo fails to establish any reasonable basis to suspect that a corrupt act or potential violation of the Integrity in Public Life Act has in fact taken place.
Mills defended Bagoo’s reporting on the Integrity Commission, which as a public watchdog is not above scrutiny.
Bagoo was serving the, “public interest in (1) preserving the ability of journalists to function; (2) learning of potentially harmful developments at the Integrity Commission, a powerful watchdog body entrusted by the citizenry to perform crucial functions weigh in favour of the absolute maintenance of confidentiality. This is more so, given the ACIB’s failure to establish an offence in its letter to Newsday.”
Mills also noted the coincidence of the police searches and the suspension of Gafoor from the Integrity Commission yesterday.
“It is also instructive that on the same morning the police raided our newsroom and the home of our reporter, Mr Bagoo, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications issued a press release on the appointment by President Max Richards of a Tribunal to investigate the Integrity Commission’s deputy chairman, Gladys Gafoor who has now been suspended from membership of the Commission.”
The tribunal, led by former Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide, will investigate complaints about Gafoor’s conduct between March 15, 2010 and January 2012 and continuing.