Lovell calls on officials to act to resolve ‘gangster-style’ murder attempt

Political leader of the opposition United Progressive Party Harold Lovell (File photo)

The Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, officially wrote to five key government officials on Monday, urging them to “spare no effort” in arresting the perpetrators of the “gangster-style” attempted murder of Customs Officer, Cornel Benjamin.

An alleged attempt was made on Benjamin’s life one month ago as two gunmen shot and severely wounded him.

The letters, all-dated 11th November, 2019, were sent to the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Public Safety Minister, the Acting Commissioner of Police and the Comptroller of Customs.

“The attempted murder of a civil servant,” said an impassioned Lovell, “who was doing his duty cannot be allowed to be brushed under the carpet.”

The alleged gunmen have yet to be identified, much less brought to justice, and Lovell said, “We have not heard the police put out any bulletins. We have not heard any ads saying ‘if you see something, say something’… and I believe that there’s some attempt to cover this thing up.”

The letter addressed to the Acting Commissioner of Police, Atlee Rodney requested that the police force should, “spare no effort in tracking down these criminals”.

“I beg you to reach out to your regional counterparts for the necessary assistance,” Lovell entreated. “You may consider seeking help from the Canadian, British or American criminal investigation agencies also.”

With public speculation rife Lovell is also asking for an investigation into whether the shooting incident is somehow connected to an investigation into a $3 million Customs fraud.

Benjamin was attached to the Enforcement Unit of the Customs and Excise Division and was a member of the investigative team which was conducting a probe into the missing money that the Cabinet brought to the public’s attention just three days before he was shot.

In one of the five letters, the UPP leader petitioned Governor General Sir Rodney Williams to exercise the powers vested in him through section 80(1)(a) of the Constitution and by Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act (Cap 91), “to appoint, immediately, one or more commissioners to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the attempted murder of Mr. Cornel Benjamin.”

“There must be an independent arbitrator… an independent referee,” Lovell expressed, “some independent institution, body or person that stands above the fray, that, at some point, must be able to say that this thing needs to be checked out. [Because] if the prime minister, himself, is implicated, there is no way that he would ever call for any kind of inquiry. Let’s be clear about that.”

Lovell described the attempt on the Customs Officer’s life as an, “act of intimidation and terrorism”.

The UPP leader’s said he has serious concerns which, if left unresolved, this act of terrorism may usher into Antigua and Barbuda a new criminal culture not experienced on the island.

“We cannot allow for this to become a part of the culture of Antigua,” Lovell said.

“One thing that we pride ourselves on in this country… is that we have observed peaceful coexistence and a peaceful decorum. We don’t want to have a country where people are intimidated for doing the right thing.”

Benjamin who sustained injuries to both legs during the attack, is still receiving care and treatment at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre for the gunshot wounds.