PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday March 20, 2013 – National Security Minister Austin “Jack” Warner maintained yesterday that he had no knowledge of an illegal flying squad operating in Trinidad and Tobago and, like the rest of the population, he was “anxiously awaiting” the outcome of an investigation ordered by Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar into the matter.
Warner, who has consistently denied knowledge of the squad headed by a retired senior police officer, Mervyn Cordner, told the Senate he was unaware Cordner had stated publicly that he and other persons with the full knowledge and approval of the Ministry of National Security established the flying squad unit “and set about some covert operations in crime fighting for and on behalf of the ministry and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Mr President I am aware that Dr Mervyn Cordner has been saying several things publicly with each utterance different from the one he said previously. However, I am not aware of what has been referred to in this question,” he told the Senate as opposition legislators grilled him on the issue.
Warner said he has had no personal conversation or agreement with Cordner regarding the illegal flying squad, insisting “I never had any conversation nor agreement” with the retired top cop “in respect of any covert unit or activity”.
Cordner, speaking on a radio programme here over the weekend, insisted that he held at least five meetings with Warner, in the presence of now dismissed junior national security minister Colin Partap and other officials of the Ministry of National Security.
Cordner told radio listeners that Warner had even requested that his group of retired police officers present a budget for the operation of the unit, which they did and submitted.
But the National Security Minister said he had not instructed anyone in his ministry to hold discussions or agreement with Cordner, saying “I do not recall ever instructing any official in the Ministry of National Security to have any discussion and agreement with former inspector Mervyn Cordner”.
Warner said his ministry had also never approved or provide any “resources of any kind” in the establishment of the unit.
Warner quoting from a local newspaper of June 26, 2012 where he was quoted as saying he was exploring the possibility of bringing back a sanitised flying squad to the one that had operated within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) during the 1980’s, said he made “no promises.
“Mr President I made no promises. I said I would explore it and I did by discussing it with the Commissioner of Police and based on his advice the idea was abandoned,” he added.
Earlier this month Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar said she, too, had no prior knowledge of the existence of an “illegal flying squad” and that a report submitted by Warner on the issue had been passed on to the police for investigation.
“I also state unequivocally that as Prime Minister, any initiative considered by my Cabinet for combating crime will always be fully and completely within the laws and Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and under the jurisdiction where appropriate of the Commissioner of Police.”
In a brief statement to Parliament, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar, who has been under mounting pressure to dismiss Warner over the issue, recalled that she had asked Warner to produce the report upon her return from attending the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Inter-Sessional summit in Haiti last week, following widespread stories in the media.
“It was incumbent of me to obtain a full report from the Ministry of National Security on all matters involving that ministry and the alleged reintroduction of a flying squad”.
She said the National Security Council (NSC) had met and “amongst the several matters discussed was the issue of the alleged flying squad and the establishment of same.
“The Council had before it the report I requested from the Minister of National Security Honourable Jack Warner. He also had a report from Mr. Garvin Heerah former strategic advisor at the Ministry of National Security…and whom it was alleged had provided some interface with the persons who were desirous of reintroducing a flying squad to help in combating crime in Trinidad and Tobago”.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said that Warner has “consistently denied he was instrumental in establishing any new flying squad”.
“His report to the National Security Council reflected this and so today I wish to report that after full discussions and careful deliberations, the National Security Council took the decision to refer the said report to the Commissioner of Police for an investigation into any alleged wrongdoing, unlawful conduct and or action by any or all persons purporting to be involved in this matter,” she said then.
Warner told the Senate he was not aware that an official from the National Security Operations Sector (NSOC) had stated publicly he assisted in the acquisition of vehicles for the unit headed by Cordner.
“I don’t know what the official said or did not say. What I do know, however, the NSOC official had no official authority from the ministry for issuing any instructions to Cordner or anybody else.
“I want to say again, very slowly, probably I spoke to fast just now, let me say it very slowly. This minister is not aware of any official instructions given to any director of NSOC or anybody else with regards to giving instructions to Mr Cordner on any matter whatsoever,” he said in response to questions from the Opposition.
Asked if he was able to say on what basis was such assistance provided, Warner responded “I was not aware of any assistance which was provided.
“I said before I am not aware, I said it here, I am not aware, I will say outside I am not aware of any assistance provided by any official to Mr Cordner”.
Warner told legislators that he only became aware of statements made by the retired senior police officer “when I read them in the newspapers” and that “apart from what I read in the newspapers I am unaware” of any provision of vehicles to persons claiming to be associated with the flying squad.
“The Ministry of National Security did not procure any services for things for anybody outside the official remit of the ministry and definitely not for Mr Cordner,” Warner said, adding, like the rest of the population, “I await the outcome of this matter which has been sent to the police”.