"They're lying" - Former military chief denies authorising shooting range visit of Al-Rawi's children

Monday, June 5, 2017 - 10:00

The head of this country’s Defence Force and his immediate predecessor are now in a war of words over Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi’s children use of the shooting range at Camp Cumuto, where they were eventually photographed holding what appeared to be high-powered weapons.

Former chief of defence staff Kenrick Maharaj yesterday denied having anything to do with the situation, despite a letter from current Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier General Rodney Smart saying he (Maharaj) “acting on his own volition” authorised the visit.

Maharaj said the letter from the T&T Defence Force signed by Smart claiming he authorised the visit, was written with “an underlying intent to cause mischief” and is “disturbingly misleading.” He is now calling on Smart to “retract and amend” the statements made.

Photographs of Al-Rawi’s children holding what appeared to be high-powered weapons were brought to the national spotlight by Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Roodal Moonilal during the budget debate last October.

This prompted Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to slam the TTDF about the situation, saying the leak of the photographs was a serious breach of security. Rowley and the TTDF have said Al-Rawi’s children were the ones who were photographed, but to date Al-Rawi has neither confirmed nor denied this.

The TTDF convened a board of inquiry (BOI) to investigate the situation and report was presented to Smart “as a Top Secret document.”

On March 27, exercising his rights under the Freedom of Information Act, Opposition Senator Wayne Sturge wrote the TTDF asking that the inquiry findings be made public. Sturge also posed six questions to the TTDF on the situation.

In response, Smart wrote a letter to Sturge, dated April 25, stating that the report could not be made public because of security reasons, but answered the other questions posed to the TTDF.

In the letter, Smart said Maharaj “acting on his own volition” authorised Al-Rawi’s children to use the shooting range at Camp Cumuto on October 31, 2015, when the photographs were taken.

Yesterday, Maharaj said this was the furthest thing from the truth as he was not even there.

“I did not authorise the range practice that was conducted at Cumuto Barracks on October 31, 2015 and which was attended by the Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and members of his family,” Maharaj said.

“I did not invite the Attorney General to any military base to attend any range firing activity on October 31, 2015, or at any other time during my tour of duty as Chief of Defence Staff.”

Maharaj said he in fact never had any “communications with the Attorney General on this matter at any time.”

“I was not at Cumuto Barracks on October 31, 2015 and I am not aware who would have received the Attorney General and his family at that military installation on that day and what protocols were observed accordingly,” he said.

Maharaj said he was also never requested to testify before the BOI on this matter, nor was he contacted by Smart “in order to offer information or advice on this matter.”

On April 27, two days after Smart wrote to Sturge, Maharaj said he called Smart to talk about the “erroneous contents” of the letter.

“I communicated with Brigadier General Smart Chief of Defence Staff via telephone on April 27, 2017, voicing my concerns about the erroneous contents of the TTDF response and the damaging effects it would have should this document enter the public domain,” Maharaj said.

“I trusted that Brigadier General Smart would have taken the corrective action.”

But this did not happen.

Maharaj said he was “gravely concerned” by the letter.

“I am gravely concerned, from a position of absolute denial in granting such authorisation, that I was not informed of testimony to that effect in the BOI and therefore a fundamental requirement for me to attend the BOI to confirm or deny such an allegation/accusation,” Maharaj said.

“Notwithstanding this, it is noted that the statement ‘acting on his own volition’ is language commonly associated with the criminal law environment and therefore has negative connotations in that regard. It is highly unusual to ascribe such language to the decision making process of a Chief of Defence Staff, and so leaves one to wonder in this circumstance, if there was an underlying intent to cause mischief by the person who drafted the TTDF response to Senator Sturge.”

Maharaj added: “Even if a Chief of Defence Staff exercises his ‘initiative’ in any given instance, his ultimate decision is usually based on staff advice (feasibility, suitability etc) and the subsequent execution by personnel down the chain of command.”

Maharaj said he is “deeply concerned that the disturbingly misleading statements made in the TTDF response carry the potential to do serious harm” to his “character and reputation.”

Most importantly, Maharaj said the TTDF letter still has not addressed the issue of whether there was a breach of the Military (Prohibitions) Act 14 of 1996 by allowing minors to handle TTDF weapons.

Although Al-Rawi’s children were photographed holding what appeared to be weapons, the letter to Sturge stated that “the BOI deduced that the Attorney General’s children were not allowed to have high-powered weapons belonging to the Defence Force in the presence of the Attorney General and members of the TTDF.”

Maharaj called on Smart to have “all the statements in the TTDF’s response to the FOIA request retracted and an amended document prepared and re-submitted” to Sturge. He also called for “an official public statement, guided by the pursuit of truth and based on the facts, be made by the Defence Force to undo the hurt caused” to him and his family “in light of this painful and unfortunate but avoidable faux pas.”

SOURCE: www.guardian.co.tt (Joel Julien)