ONE BULLET, GOOD AS SIX
By Andre Bagoo Friday, June 15 2012
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj declared Hindu Credit Union (HCU) president Harry Harnarine ordered a hit on him, in 2008, during yesterday’s heated session of the Colman Inquiry which saw Maharaj scold Har-
narine’s attorney Farid Scoon and call for Harnarine to be held accountable for his “corruption” at the HCU.
Testifying at the Winsure Building, Port-of-Spain, Maha-
raj also said two former PNM ministers were fired from their post because former Prime Minister Patrick Manning wanted to court Harnarine, a self-styled “kingmaker”, on the local political scene.
Maharaj, 81, said he received a series of death threats on the phone and one source, described as a bodyguard of Harnarine’s, told him Harnarine had issued an order for him to be killed.
The threats marked the dramatic breakdown of his relationship with Harnarine which came after members of the Hindu community began to receive reports of “kickbacks” being received by Harnarine through the use of credit union funds to purchase real estate at inflated prices.
Maharaj confronted Harn-
arine, who denied the reports.
But then Harnarine, who had lobbied Maharaj to get the Maha Sabha to back the HCU under the pretext that it was a Hindu organisation, opened the credit union to non-Hindus without, according to Maharaj, consulting the nation and the Hindu community.
When Maha Sabha members started getting bounced cheques, Maharaj said he urged people to place the funds elsewhere. Things got hot fast.
“Not only was our relationship acrimonious, it was life-threatening,” Maharaj testified. “Somebody called and told me that Harry had paid for a hit to be taken out to kill me. I received one call from somebody perceived to be his body-guard. I won’t name him (the informant) because I don’t want to expose him to reprisals.”
The report of a hit was referred to the office of the Police Commissioner by way of a letter dated July 11, 2008. The police replied saying a “comprehensive threat assessment” and “systemic analysis” were conducted, revealing that a “low level of threat” was detected.
“I really didn’t understand what was a low level threat,” Maharaj remarked. “One bullet is as good as six.”
Maharaj rebuked Scoon during a garrulous cross-examination after Scoon sought to put to Maharaj that the real cause of the collapse of the HCU was Maharaj, whom Scoon accused of orchestrating a run on the HCU.
“You are attempting to sanitise all the wrongdoings that took place,” Maharaj said. “I want to put on the record the man who brought down the HCU is sitting next to you. He came to me saying he met a membership of 2,000 and the credit union had $5 million.
“That is the man who broke it down. Many of us were interpreting that HCU means Harry’s Credit Union. My view is that that is a corrupt man sitting next to you!”
To Scoon, he said, “You are fighting a losing case. You have no case and you are filibustering. You are in the (witness) box too. It’s a two-way thing. You see as a lawyer you have a weak case and as a result you have to prevaricate all over the place. I think what is happening is you are embarrassing your profession.”
Maharaj continued, “The tragedy is that Harry’s Credit Union is an ongoing tragedy. If you are talking to me about the general good of the public let’s talk about the general good of the public. Do you know how many people have died because they could not get their money out of the HCU to do their surgery?”
Scoon replied, “It seems I am now under cross-examination.”
The attorney maintained it was because of Maharaj that the HCU failed.
“Based on your advice, persons began to take their money out of the credit union,” Scoon said.
“Those were the smart ones,” Maharaj retorted. Maharaj said he had a letter from Harnarine’s wife but was advised not to read it.
Scoon, during his cross-examination, several times mentioned that Maharaj once underwent heart surgery and may have been thinking about death and what legacy would be left behind him. Though he had a lawyer, Maharaj testily objected on his own.
“What I going to do with you? Are you trying to give me a heart attack? If I had surgery how come it is repeated here 30 times? I am also diabetic — you want to raise that too? This is angering,” he said.
Pointing at Harnarine, he said, “The fact of the matter is the State of Trinidad and Tobago is expending large amounts of money here because of the incompetence of the man. He was running the credit union like a private firm.”
Maharaj said members of the Hindu community were “lured” by Harnarine into becoming a part of the credit union. The Maha Sahba’s own credit union was allowed to fall into decertification as its members migrated to HCU.
But Harnarine, behind closed-doors, then fundamentally changed the nature of the credit union by opening it up to non-Hindus.
Objections to this move, Maharaj said, were being wrongly cast as racial.“Race is being used to cloud this issue,” he said. “There is a misconception in this country that Hindu equals Indian. But in North America the majority of Hindus are white. You have Hindus of every shade.”
He continued, “a Hindu credit union is a Hindu credit union. I joined because it was a Hindu credit union. If I was a Catholic I would join the Catholic Credit Union. If Mr Harnarine, in a closed boardroom makes a decision that fundamentally changes the nature of the credit union we have a right to withdraw our funds.
“I told our membership it is wrong that Harry Harnarine could lure us into joining a credit union called Hindu Credit Union and then, with his bodyguards, change the nature of the union,” he said. “We have a constitutional right to say to him ‘we withdraw our support’.”
He denied ever objecting to any Muslim broadcasts on the HCU radio station, a claim made by Harnarine in a witness statement.
“That is absolutely false,” Maharaj said. “Why should I object to him or anything else? It is an old clever ploy: isolate the Maha Sabha and put us against the Muslims or the Africans. Machiavelli would not even try to do something like that today.”
The tangled political web around the HCU also took centre-stage yesterday with Maharaj claiming Harnarine was a kingmaker of sorts wielding influence over two former prime ministers: Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday.
“In a subtle way he was trying to influence the course of the Maha Sabha just as he was influencing politics.
“He felt he was omnipotent. He felt he could appoint Manning and dismiss Manning; that he could appoint Panday and dismiss Panday. He seems to be existing in the atmosphere where he believes he is all things to all people,” he said.
He said Conrad Enill and Larry Achong, two PNM ministers that had moved to regulate the HCU, lost their jobs.
“I know for a fact that they lost their jobs. Manning fired them and made them apologise to Harry Harnarine because Manning wanted his support,” Maharaj said. “Harry thought he was the kingmaker.”
Maharaj recounted Harnarine’s apparent invasion of a Maha Sabha radio station studio.
“He came to the station with four men whom he considered his security detail. When we asked them to leave they refused. He said ‘is either they stay or I go’. We had to call in the police. He left after they left,” Maharaj said.
Scoon alleged that the HCU was subject to a “conspiracy” from Devant Maharaj and Anand Ramlogan (now the Transport Minister and Attorney General respectively).
“This is a red herring,” Maharaj flashed back. “You want to mislead people. It is pure fiction.”
Inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Colman cut short the cross-examination at about 3.30 pm.
“I am going to guillotine you,” Sir Anthony said to Scoon.
To Maharaj he cheekily said, “Thank you for coming. I appreciate it might have been a stressful experience for you.”
Maharaj left the witness box and shook hands with Scoon. He ignored Harnarine, who had been seated next to his lawyer.