KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – If U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks are to be believed, the policewoman who in 2008 accused Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of rape was offered US$185,000 in cash, a low-income house, and an opportunity to study abroad to drop the charge.
I Witness News was unable to contact the allege victim but a source close to her said “she is vehement that she never got paid off”.
“Further, I know of a regional attorney who works with the officer who says that she swears not to have received money,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“I know that this officer is still harassed by police high command. Recently she won a scholarship to go to a university to study and was turned down. These actions do not indicate a person with whom the state has made peace,” the source said.
However, four cables from the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown to Washington detail the alleged covert manoeuvres as lawyers sought justice for the cop, who claimed Gonsalves sexually assaulted her on Jan. 3, 2008 while she was on duty at his official residence in Kingstown.
According to the documents, lawyers Kay Bacchus-Browne and Nicole Sylvester asked U.S. officials to intervene and Sylvester claimed to have smuggled the woman’s police uniform to Trinidad for DNA testing.
However, according to the cables, Bacchus-Browne and Sylvester’s efforts were brought to naught when “an insurance company executive with ties to the Gonsalves government” likely struck a deal that reportedly led to the woman settling the case out of court.
The negotiator is said to have been “on the ULP’s short list to contest one of the constituencies held by the opposition” and chaired a statutory corporation. Further, an individual close to the cop, “no longer able to handle the stress and weakened by the entire ordeal, played a large role in convincing [her] to sell out,” the leaked documents allege.
“The cash portion of the payoff was deposited into [a] bank account in Canada,” the cables said.
The cables purport to document the developments that led to the policewoman on Sept. 12 retaining as her new lawyer Jaundy Martin of the firm Marks, Martin and Associates, the same firm of which former ULP senator Ronald Marks is a member.
The cop changed lawyers without consulting or informing Bacchus-Browne or Sylvester and while Sylvester was overseas. The new lawyer filed on Sept. 15 the relevant court documents discontinuing all of the claims against Gonsalves.
On Feb. 1, 2008, Gonsalves called a press conference declaring himself innocent of the sexual assault charge filed as a private criminal complaint against him on behalf of the female cop.
The charges stemmed from an alleged sexual encounter between Gonsalves and the female member of his security detail at his official residence at Kingstown on Jan. 3, 2008.
Director of Public Prosecutor (DPP) Colin William in February took over and discontinued the case and High Court judge Gertel Thom later denied an application for judicial review of the DPP’s decision.
In her March 12, 2008 ruling, the judge said that the DPP acted properly and within the parameters of the law and that she found “no arguable grounds for a review” of the DPP’s actions.
DPP Williams — “also an important Embassy contact” — in “a private phone conversation” with U.S. officials “elaborated that in addition to the contradictions in the accuser’s oral statements, she did not actually allege rape until twenty days after the alleged incident,” the cables said.
“In addition, Williams noted that the accuser is known to have made allegations against supervisors in two previous jobs (with Immigration both in St. Vincent and on Union island), which were both deemed to lack substance,” the documents said.
Sylvester reportedly told Embassy officials that a high-ranking female judicial officer close to the case had intimated to her that she too was the subject of intimidation and “pressure”.
“I may lose my job,” the judicial officer reported told Sylvester, who further claimed that the DPP refused to grant her access to the witness statements, and only asked for a written statement from the accuser after the charges had already been filed.
“While Ms. Sylvester stated she enjoys a good working relationship with the DPP, she speculated that he was under enormous pressure from high-level officials to take over and dismiss the case,” the cables said.
Nation, Police Force divided
Gonsalves, at his press conference named his accuser, said the charge was politically motivated as he claimed that Sylvester and Bacchus-Browne were NDP supporters. Further, his Unity Labour Party (ULP) staged an event — dubbed by opponents as a “rape rally” — during which the ULP rank and file came out in support of their leader.
“It is clear that what should have been a legal matter to be decided by the courts has become a political football, with opinions on the Prime Minister’s guilt or innocence depending on one’s party affiliation,” the cables said.
Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace is said to have — in private meetings with U.S. officials — expressed concern that the Prime Minister kept the National Security portfolio, where he directly oversees the work of the Commissioner of Police and the DPP.
U.S. officials described this as “a rather glaring conflict of interest”.
“While many Vincentians appear likewise outraged by this, many citizens believe Gonsalves’ claim that this is a political accusation manufactured by the NDP,” the officials commented.
They further quoted Kirby Jackson, then senior reporter “for the pro-government Searchlight newspaper” as saying that the NDP’s attempt to “use the accusation for political mileage has backfired”.
The cables said that many politically appointed/promoted senior cops backed Gonsalves while the rank-and-file were reportedly “deeply divided, with many beat cops supporting the accuser and expressing dismay at the damage to their reputation as a force and at the treatment of a fellow officer”.
The cables say that Bacchus-Browne and Sylvester, both “key Embassy contacts”, asked the Embassy for help with the case. They reportedly said they were threatened and intimidated and that the Police Force had refused to investigate the matter.
U.S. officials in Bridgetown asked Washington to say how they should respond to Sylvester’s request for any possible assistance in case.
Bacchus-Browne, the cables say, lamented that the policewoman was put on the street beat at night, “a position that puts her in further danger of reprisal violence, since her picture has been published in local newspapers and the PM named his accuser publicly”.
Bacchus-Browne reportedly also repeated requests for help in having evidence DNA-tested.
“We have no doubt what would happen if we trusted the (local) system,” the high profile lawyer reportedly told embassy officials, who said she also reiterated her claim that police had already destroyed what they believed to be evidence from the crime scene.
The cables say that Sylvester told embassy officials that she had smuggled the policewoman’s uniform — the key evidence –out of the country St. Vincent, while on a “secret” trip to Trinidad.
The documents further quoted Sylvester as saying that she had identified a U.S. company that did due diligence work and was willing to test the evidence outside of law enforcement channels.
The cable quoted Sylvester as saying in a Jan. 31, 2008 telephone conversation with Embassy staff that the police had demanded her client turn in the uniform she was wearing at the time of the alleged incident, but that she had intentionally handed over the wrong uniform to police.
She reportedly said on Feb. 5, 2008, that she still had the uniform, which presumably contained forensic evidence that would support her client’s claim of rape.
“Sylvester reiterated that both she and her client do not believe that the evidence can be trusted with SVG authorities, and asked for [U.S. government] in transporting the evidence out of the country and in having it tested,” the cable said, adding Sylvester’s actions would “break the ‘chain of custody’ and it is unlikely that any independent laboratory would be willing to test the samples”.
“Sylvester further noted that while in Trinidad, a reporter from the Trinidad Express who had interviewed Gonsalves claimed that he told the reporter off-record that ‘the whole thing was concocted by the CIA’,” the cables said.