Allegations of Russian meddling surface

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Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramttan, and Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes, addressing media operatives at the APNU+AFC Command Centre

…three deported after being found with spy equipment

By Svetlana Marshall
ALLEGATIONS of Russian interference in Guyana’s General and Regional Elections surfaced on Thursday with the Ministry of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan reporting that cyber equipment has been seized and three persons with Russian background, deported. A fourth Russian operative, he said, has not been located. The cyber equipment included computers and flash drives.

Ramjattan, who is also the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the APNU+AFC, addressed journalists on the issue during a press conference at the APNU+AFC Command Centre in Georgetown on Thursday.

It is alleged that the American Chamber Association of Guyana (AmCham Guyana) were facilitating four suspicious Russians since their arrival on Saturday, February 29, 2020 but AmCham has strongly rejected the allegation. Immigration, based on directives from Ramjattan, subsequently detained and questioned three of the suspects before deporting them.

The Public Security Minister not only implicated AmCham, but also the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), even as he pointed to Winston Brassington, who was reportedly, photographed speaking with a Russian. “We had three persons who were speaking to leading members of the PPP at the Marriott Hotel – one out of Libya [with Russian background), one out of Russian, one of America with a Russian background that came into this country and we had to deport them on Elections Day after our intelligence realised that there was some conspiracy to tap into GECOM’s computer system. They were immediately deported,” Ramjattan told journalists. The fourth Russian is on the run, he further stated. The men reportedly alleged that they were in the country to work for US oil-giant ExxonMobil – the company currently leading oil and gas production in Guyana.

According to him, based on the ministry’s intelligence, Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, was also speaking to the questionable individuals in Russian. He also singled out AmCham member, Anter Narine, for engaging the now-deported individuals. PPP/C aligned lawyers had also reached out to the Guyana Police Force to make representation on behalf of the Russians.

Questioned whether the Russian Embassy has been informed and representatives from AmCham Guyana called in for questioning given the seriousness of the allegation, the security minister responded in the negative.

“We did not call in the Russian Embassy neither the AmCham…We don’t think that there might be any Russian Embassy connections here. I think the connection is straight to the PPP,” Ramjattan said. While the Russian Embassy and AmCham were not contacted, the security minister indicated that ExxonMobil was contacted by the Commissioner of Police, Leslie James to confirm or negate the information provided by the Russians.

Questioned why the Russians were deported and not detained to allow for a thorough and complete investigation, the security minister said he made a judgment call. “Because I thought that to be the wisest thing at that moment, judgment calls have to be made and when you are a minister these are the decisions you have to make at an executive level,” he said.

Pressed for more answers, Ramjattan said “Yes, I thought it was a wise decision; don’t ask me the reason behind it.”

Minister Ramjattan, who was backed by Public Telecommunications Minister, Catherine Hughes, said while the Russians were deported on Elections Day (Monday, March 2, 2020), the government took a decision not to make the reports public. Both ministers said it was only until the government was approached by sections of the press on the matter, was a decision taken to publicly address the matter.

“It would not have been appropriate,” Minister Hughes said, when pressed for answers. She added: “We have very clear security channels, the requisite organisations were contacted, fortunately they examined the situation and the information that they received, they deemed it credible and they found three of the four persons, and given that this was occurring on the early morning of the most important day of our history, the decision was taken that they had no grounds for these persons to be here and they were deported.” Minister Hughes said chaos would have ensued if the information was made public on Monday.

Meanwhile in a statement, AmCham said it took note of Minister Hughes’ remarks which attempt to impugn the character and integrity of AMCHAM. “AMCHAM wishes to assure every Guyanese that all of the persons accredited as observers by the Guyana Elections Commission went through a high level of scrutiny by the organisation before their names were submitted to GECOM, and further wishes to state that no Russian citizens (or any of the individuals referred to in Mrs. Hughes’ statement for that matter) were submitted by AMCHAM to the Guyana Elections Commission to be accredited. This can easily be verified with the Guyana Elections Commission,” the organisation said.

It maintained that none of Amcham’s members have been deported, charged with a crime, or otherwise. “In the unfortunate event it is found that there in fact were individuals or their associates working against Guyana’s sovereign interests, AMCHAM joins Mrs. Hughes in strong condemnation of any such attempts,” it emphasised.