After four days of being in police custody, the ruling PNM’s deputy leader Marlene McDonald and her common-law husband Michael Carew were charged last night.
And Government issued a statement at 12.40 am, saying Prime Minister Keith Rowley will be advising President Paula- Mae Weekes to revoke McDonald’s appointment as Public Administration Minister. A new minister will be announced, the Communication Ministry stated.
Government said the State had been reliably informed that based on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Police Service was charging McDonald and others with several offences.
Police sources said McDonald faces as many as seven charges including alleged misbehaviour in public office, conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
Carew and three other people also face several charges arising out of the alleged disbursement of state funds from the Community Development Ministry to “help” at-risk youths.
The three others charged include Victor McEachrane— who was listed as a director of the Calabar Foundation, along with Carew— former Self-Help Commission chairman Edgar Zephyrine and a contractor Wayne Anthony.
Police sources said they tracked public money which allegedly ended up in persons’ private bank accounts. Charges were being formulated up to midnight.
All five are expected to appear in Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court this morning.
The initial Calabar Foundation matter had been under investigation by the police’s Fraud Squad since March 2016 after Fixin’ T&T’s head Kirk Waithe requested an investigation into the establishment and running of the Foundation, monies paid to the entity and its operations.
At that time, then-acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams wrote Prime Minister Keith Rowley indicating a criminal investigation had been launched into the Calabar Foundation.
Ultimately, investigations were expanded to probe the alleged distribution of monies to organisations, to “help the needy.”
The three- year probe peaked last Thursday when police executed a search warrant at McDonald’s Maracas, St Joseph home in the wee hours of the morning.
She and Carew were held for questioning, arrested and taken into police custody. Information was taken from the house. McDonald’s cell phone and computer were confiscated
Over the next three days, both were questioned for several hours at a time, separately. They were taken to the Professional Standards’ Bureau Port-of-Spain building for questioning last Friday by Assistant Commissioner of Police Totaram Dookhie (former Fraud Squad head) who’d spearheaded the probe. They were later taken back to St Joseph Police station.
Police had also detained other people— including contractors—for questioning. Interrogations were completed last Saturday and McDonald and Carew remained in separate areas at St Joseph Police Station most of yesterday while decisions were made by the Director of Public Prosecutions. (DPP).
Sources said police had informed the trio of the charges while they were at St Joseph Station. They added, McDonald lost her composure when the news was delivered.
Last night, Carew was the first to be brought to the PSB office. He arrived at 9 .10 pm in an unmarked police vehicle. Dressed in casual clothing, Carew was escorted into the building. He wasn’t handcuffed.
McDonald arrived shortly after at 9.27 pm, in a silver SUV driven by a male officer. Dressed in a pink top and black pants, with a black shawl over her shoulder, she was escorted by a female officer who shielded her from cameras.
McDonald who looked exhausted struggled to climb the building’s steps and was assisted by the female officer.
Other accused people arrived after her, up to 11 pm. ACP Dookhie arrived at 10.46 pm.
Elder told media the arrangement had been that McDonald would have left the St Joseph Police Station at 7 pm to get to PSB’s office. But McDonald didn’t arrive there until 9.27 pm. Elder herself didn’t emerge from the PSB building after she went in.
Government officials hinted a statement on the future of McDonald’s Public Administration post is expected today. The revocation will be her third dismissal in this term.
While McDonald had been visited by several ministerial colleagues in recent days - up to yesterday- the lone Government presence near the PSB building was Public Utilities Minister Robert Le, Hunte.
He was there for about an hour before McDonald arrived. Le Hunte said he’d also visited her at St Joseph Police station earlier in the day.
Speaking in a sad tone, he told Guardian Media, “I’m here solely to lend (McDonald) moral support, I’ve known Marlene as long as I’ve been in the PNM- for over 20 years - so I’m providing support to my colleague. Nothing else.
“This is a very emotionally traumatic situation, I feel very much for my colleague. I can just imagine the trauma she’s going through. The fact it’s taking so long is a bit disturbing,” he said, speaking before McDonald arrived.
Dismissing perception that he was there to take McDonald’s bail, he added, “I visited her at St Joseph Police Station at 10 am (yesterday) and spent two hours with her. I brought her some snacks and tried to provide moral support. She was in good spirits and I was happy to help.”
“We chatted, just regular conversation - nothing about the matter - I just wanted to keep her spirits up. Marlene has been a good friend and colleague of mine. We’re a team and if one member of a team is hurting, the right thing is to offer moral support,”
Le Hunte remained outside the PSB building after midnight. McDonald was also visited earlier in the day by Communication Minister Donna Cox. Cox said after her visit, she left McDonald with the words to trust in God and “talk to him.
Other colleagues, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and D’Abadie/ O’Meara MP Ancil Antoine, who also came to see McDonald, were also at St Joseph Police Station.
Opposition MP Barry Padarath also said last night, “The Prime Minister must now act to remove Ms McDonald from the Cabinet and she must resign her Port-of-Spain South seat. We’ve seen precedent on this from the tenure of former prime ministers (Kamla) Persad-Bissessar and (Basdeo) Panday and it’s in keeping with the Westminster system.”
“On a human level I feel a great degree of concern for her, but as public officials, we owe a greater duty to T&T and the people who elect us all.”