May 16, 2007 issue

Trinidad & Tobago

Nine charged with Vindra murder
Police confirm kidnapped businesswoman dead
Vindra Naipaul-Coolman...kidnapped...murdered

By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo Caribbean World
Port-of-Spain - Almost six months after businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman was kidnapped, police have arrested and charged nine people with her murder. Naipaul-Coolman, CEO of Xtra Foods Ltd, was kidnapped outside her home in Lange Park in Chaguanas, on December 19, 2006. Nine people were charged on May 13 with her murder, a statement from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service said.
Police confirmed that bits of bones from the dead woman were found in a house in La Puerta, Diego Martin. They also confirmed that evidence taken from an area dug up last Thursday, and which was rushed to London for DNA testing, conclusively proved that Naipaul-Coolman had been temporarily buried in a shallow grave.
Apart from the DNA results, the gun fired during the kidnapping of the businesswoman was sent for ballistic testing. Police said the spent shells retrieved at Naipaul-Coolman's, Lange Park residence matched the gun found on men on January 2, at John Peter's Road, Charlieville.
Officers said investigations have revealed that Naipaul-Coolman's body was removed from the shallow grave and buried further in the Diego hills.
Confirmation, through DNA testing, that the bone fragments belonged to Naipaul-Coolman came on Saturday afternoon from forensic officers in England. Blood samples swabbed at a house in La Puerta were tested and matched Naipaul-Coolman's.
It is the first time since her abduction that police have acknowledged the missing woman is dead. The police also said the nine men were charged after police received advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The suspects, all from La Puerta in Diego Martin, were held during police raids in the area last week. They are between the ages of 20 and 29.
The men who snatched Naipaul-Coolman hid behind masks and wore bullet-proof vests. Items taken during the raid are still being analysed.
A man confessed to police that a woman was the mastermind behind the kidnapping of Naipaul-Coolman. The man also told officers that Naipaul-Coolman died at the same house in La Puerta Road, Diego Martin.
He said the body of Naipaul-Coolman was chopped to pieces at the same house, and then placed in a sheet and taken to Central Trinidad where the abductors disposed of her remains. The man is expected to be granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.
The man said that after Naipaul-Coolman was snatched outside her Lange Park home, he and 11 others were given instructions by a woman to take the victim to the same house at La Puerta Road, Diego Martin. Sources said the man said at no point in time were instructions given to kill Naipaul-Coolman, but she was shot in the left side of her breast while seated in the vehicle in her driveway on the night she was kidnapped.
On December 20, the kidnappers got a doctor to visit Naipaul-Coolman, but her health started deteriorating. The businesswoman succumbed to her injuries on December 21.
The man told officers that everyone panicked, and a decision was taken to chop the body into pieces and dispose of it in a grave in central Trinidad.
The man who is assisting the police is closely affiliated to the three men who confessed to attorney Odai Ramischand about their role in the kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of Naipaul-Coolman’s body. On March 1, three men met with Ramischand at a secret location and revealed all the details from the time Naipaul-Coolman was snatched to the disposal of her body.
On Sunday, a team of forensic experts attached to the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago was seen spraying the suspect house with what appeared to be a special liquid. The officers, some in short pants and barebacked were heard pounding and scraping the house. It was heavily guarded by police officers. They were visited by homicide officers.
The owner of the house, who only gave her last name as Cruickshank, said the house was occupied by her three grandsons, and they are not criminals. She accused the police of maliciously destroying her home.
In response to her claims ACP Maurice Piggott said: “If we do receive any reports from residents concerning unacceptable police behaviour, they will be fully investigated, and the appropriate action will be taken.”
Richard Sellors of the Police Public Relations Department said: “The police know what they’re looking for.”
Rennie Coolman, husband of Naipual-Coolman said he was eagerly awaiting closure in the matter. Coolman last week responded to reports that he was involved in his wife’s disappearance.
“I want to say categorically that I have never been questioned as a suspect in the kidnapping investigation of my wife Vindra,” he said. “It is heartening to see that the investigative efforts by the police are paying off. We hope that those responsible for the kidnapping of my wife will be found soon and brought to justice. We continue to pray and hope for closure soon,” Coolman said.
Coolman has recently returned to work as a lecturer at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. He added: “I have been using my weekends to relax and re-energise myself through reading, meditation and being with close friends who are very aware of my stress and are very supportive to me.”
Coolman said his recent silence “is not intentional.” He added:“There have been no developments on the kidnapping that I can comment on.”
Naipaul-Coolman’s abductors fired on her SUV as she pulled into her garage. She was pulled out screaming. She told them she was unafraid. They struck her in the jaw and possibly shot her. Coolman opened the door of his house and saw the car in which she was taken as it left the driveway. A ransom was paid that night.
There has been no trace of her since. Many believe she was killed.
A 32-year-old woman has also been charged with defrauding Coolman of thousands of dollars. Alisha Chunu, of Rich Plain Road in Diego Martin, appeared before Magistrate Ejenny Espinet in the First Court charged with defrauding Coolman of (Can) $30,000.
She is also charged with soliciting a total of (Can) $35,000 for the forbearance of charges against Coolman for his wife’s kidnapping and murder. The matter has been adjourned to July 12.
It is alleged that Chunu pretended to be an attorney with the office of the DPP, and made an offer to lose the case file against Coolman, committing nine fraud offences in the process.
Chunu was freed of the murder of 47-year-old Public Administration Ministry employee Menon Hingoo, on July 19, 2006.
The report of Naipaul-Coolman’s disappearance has touched everyone. Kyla Ramkessoon of Lange Park wrote to the newspapers, saying, “It’s saddening to know that even in your time of grief, you have to answer to people rumours. Everyone besides those people who are saying negative things are still praying for Mrs Coolman’s return... Good luck, God’s blessings and may God shed some positive light and closure to everything soon. Keep praying for God is the only one who can help.”
Some readers are wary of Coolman himself. “I think it’s important to look at every angle when you have such a high-profile case. No one is exempt, even her husband. Hopefully, they can find out from the number of arrest, who did this awful crime and get to the bottom of it,” one reader wrote.
Another agreed: “I think he should have been the first suspect. Aren’t the husbands and wives usually the first suspects questioned?” A third sympathised with Coolman: “The man is obviously still suffering from post-syndrome trauma. Leave him alone. So he tried to pay his way out from another burden! Who wouldn’t? But as soon as good sense prevailed, he quickly reported the matter.”


Quiet neighbourhood gets bad name in Vindra's murder
Port-of-Spain - Residents of Upper La Puerta Avenue in Diego Martin say their once-peaceful community is now carrying a bad name. This comes after several houses were raided by the police as they launched a massive search for evidence linking to kidnapped businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, who police subsequently said had been murdered.
Nine men, ranging in ages from 20 to 29, have been charged with Naipaul-Coolman’s murder. They appeared on Monday in Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court.
Naipaul-Coolman was snatched outside her home at Radix Street, Lange Park, in Chaguanas, on December 19, last year.
Residents told the media the police searches did not affect them, because the officers were doing their job. A few supported the men from the area who were arrested.
A resident, known only as Dan, said the La Puerta community was now stained, because of media reports concerning the kidnapping of Naipaul-Coolman.
“Up here now stained... It is a decent place. The police were doing their work, but they did not find anybody."
But, as Dan reflected on the young men charged with murder, he added: “You can make a child; you can’t make their mind.”
Another resident, who declined to give his name, said the La Puerta men were not interested in murder.
“These men here will smoke a little weed, or be with one set of girls at the same time; nothing else. They are not interested in murdering anybody. The police did not find anything here.”
A teenager said he knew the men who were charged, and if something had happened in the community he would not say anyway, “Because I know how to keep my mouth shut.”
However, the teenager added he would not rule out people in the area being involved in the Naipaul-Coolman incident.
UNC in walkabout in Diego Martin
Port-of-Spain – Diego Martin has been PNM territory for a while and the UNC wants to win it over. UNC Opposition Senator Wade and UNC executive member Dr Daphne Phillips along with a group of about 20 supporters walked along St Lucien Road in Diego Martin on Sunday to establish their presence and put residents on notice of the UNC Monday Night Talk Back Forum at the Diego Martin Junior Secondary School.
The Elections and Boundaries Commission has divided the region into Diego Martin West, Diego Martin Central and Diego Martin North/East.
At present the PNM's Dr Keith Rowley, Kenneth Valley and Colm Imbert are for Diego Martin West, Central and East (to become North/East) respectively.
Mark told reporters that they are still in the process of screening 90 candidates for the possible 41 constituency seats up for grabs nationwide and could not say who will be going up for where as yet.
Based on the UNC's own research, Mark said 75 percent of the people believe the PNM government is on the wrong track and 68 percent believe that the economy is on the wrong track.
At the start of the march he said he expected a warm reception since people want to stop breathing the "carbon dioxide" that is “oozing out” of the current government and want some fresh air instead.
Dwayne Marcano of Mendez Drive said it was nice see them coming out but he prefers that they did not come out only at election time. He added that all parties have a positive outlook and it is left to see what their positions were.
"It is the first time I actually see them in the vicinity of St Lucien Road," said Koline Arneaud as she added that she didn't think it would make a difference given that the area is a PNM stronghold.
But Antonio Nadur had a different view and said that although the area is one of the PNM's strong spots, people want change. "I hope that they do change their minds," he said of his neighbours. "The way they going, this government is heading for disaster," he added.
COP will probe State projects – Yetming
Port-of-Spain - Should the Congress of the People form the next government, it will conduct a full-scale inquiry into the PNM’s major State projects, St Joseph MP Gerald Yetming says.
He made the statement in the House of Representatives last week as he criticised the government’s disclosure that the Brian Lara Academy was now likely to cost some (TT) $558 million, more than double the original price.
“The COP will do it alone,” Yetming declared while contributing to debate on the Police Service Amendment Bill, one in a package of three pieces of legislation aimed at minimising crime.
During last Thursday’s post-Cabinet news conference, Sports Minister Roger Boynes told reporters that the cost of the facility - part of the Tarouba Sporting Complex - had risen from the original estimate of (TT) $275 million to approximately $558 million.
Boynes noted that the $275 million initial cost was an estimate, but noted there were some challenges with regard to the increase in the cost of construction materials and labour and other considerations.
However, the Opposition backbencher queried the huge increase, saying the recently-completed Providence Stadium in Guyana - similar to the Brian Lara Stadium with a seating capacity of 15,000 - had cost $176 million.
Yetming then reminded members of a Sunday Guardian article on April 14, which said the International Monetary Fund was seriously concerned about the government’s policy to create new State enterprises to execute major development of projects.
To this end, the St Joseph MP called on the government to introduce legislation to address white-collar crime.
Probe not yet over - ACP
Port-of-Spain - A tenth suspect has been detained and is likely to be charged by police in connection with the murder of businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman.
ACP (Homicide) Maurice Piggott, who made the disclosure during a press briefing at the Police Administration building in Port-of-Spain on Monday, said the suspect was being interrogated by members of the Homicide Bureau.
However, Piggott warned that investigations into the Naipaul-Coolman case were “far from over.”
While not wanting to divulge much information, the ACP said the police were still following leads into the Naipaul-Coolman probe. “This investigation is far from over. It does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that kidnapping charges would not be laid,” said Piggott.
Naipaul-Coolman, chief executive officer of Xtra Foods Supermarket in Grand Bazaar and Chaguanas, was kidnapped from her Lange Park, Chaguanas, home on December 19, 2006.
Commenting on the length of time it took law enforcement officers to make arrests, Piggott described the case as “complex.”
“This investigation is very complex, and certain events gradually unfolded. From Day One police officers, including members of the Special Anti-Crime Unit, were unrelenting in bringing this case to a close,” the ACP added.
Asked if bones or blood reportedly found at Diego Martin in fact belonged to Naipaul-Coolman, Piggott said he was unable to comment, as the matter was before the court.
He assured that the matter would “endure the test in court.”
Said Piggott: “I am most certain that this matter would stand up in court. I have no doubt about that. The investigation was conducted very professionally, and quality investigation would lead to quality prosecution.”
Piggott said about 150 officers from different law enforcement units had been involved in the probe, and commended them for their support. Police Commissioner Trevor Paul, who also spoke during the briefing, pleaded with the media to exercise responsible reporting.
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