Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission | 07 November 2019
Eight testify before Commission at yesterday’s hearing
Eight people appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) yesterday to give testimonies with regard to various cases relating to disappearances, malicious arrest, land acquisition issues, mis-treatment of soldiers at the Grand Police Prison, among others.
Disappearance of Hassanali
The first case before the Commission yesterday morning was in relation with the continued hearing into the disappearance of Hassanali.
His wife, Carlette Ball (formerly Tall), the complainant in case 005, gave a testimony of the accounts of the kidnapping and disappearance of Hassanali and her life after the incident.
Mrs Ball was accompanied to the commission by one of her sons, Fazal Tall, who also gave a testimony about his father’s disappearance. Mrs Ball met Hassan in the 1960s, stayed together for seventeen years and had four children.
She said that it all started on the night of June 5, 1977 when a car, driven by a friend of her husband’s, Bill Mohamed, who happened also to be the bodyguard of former President James Mancham, pulled up outside their home at La Louise with a guy by the name of Sok, carrying an AK 47, and asked Hassan for money which he had to borrow from the next door neighbour.
She noted that the same Mohamed, who later became a police officer, was the person who issued her with arrest warrants from President France Albert Rene to be imprisoned.
Mrs Ball continued her testimony on to August 13, 1977, when her sister Juliana Betsy had asked to borrow the family car. She said Hassan left the house at La Louise at around 6pm to bring the car to her sister who was living at the family resident at St Louis.
Mrs Ball said that half an hour later her sister called to inform her that Hassan had not showed up yet. Her sister went on the lookout and she came across the car on the St Louis road with the lights on, traces of blood inside the car, slippers on the road, bullet casing in the car and the door wide open. Mrs Ball said she was driven to her parent’s house at St Louis by a friend and on the way up they came across Hassan’s car with a heavy police presence around it.
She further said that upon arrival at her parent’s house where other members of the family had already gathered, Lina Bonnelame was seen loitering around the area and she was chased away by one of her brothers. Mrs Ball noted they had previously noticed Ms Bonnelame following them a few times to their residence at La Louise and that she was also seen at the scene of the disappearance that day.
The family and friends went on the lookout that night all over Mahé for Hassan but the search was in vain. Ever since, they’ve never learned of what really happened to her husband apart from different stories told by some people and those written in the press.
Mrs Ball also recalled her two arrests presumed to be at the order of President France Albert Rene in 1978 and in 1979 where she spent 3 months in detention at the Union Vale prison on both occasions.
She said the experiences and ordeal she had to go through during the one party state era were very painful where she had to fend for herself to raise her children. At one time, she noted, in her first detention in 1978, she had a nervous breakdown and had to be transferred for treatment at the hospital where visitors including her family were not allowed to see her.
Upon her release from detention in 1979, she was advised by the then commissioner of police James Pillay to leave the country or else suffer the same fate as her husband. She left for political asylum in the United Kingdom in July 1980, followed a year later by her children.
Mrs Ball said that at one time she and her family were under the protection of Scotland Yard for a period of time after the assassination of Gerard Hoareau. She came back to Seychelles after the country’s return to multiparty democracy in 1993.
Her son, Fazal, said he presumed his father was a target for the Rene regime because of his strong support for Mr Mancham. He said that the family is not seeking for revenge or compensation on behalf of his father but only to know the truth about his disappearance and to recover the body for a proper Muslim burial so as to bring closure to this sad chapter of their lives.
His mother said that for the time being she cannot forgive anybody involved in the disappearance of her husband and she is leaving that to God to do so.
Disappearance of soldier Andrew Pouponeau
Ex-Police officer Florent Servina came forward before the commission to present some information as a witness in the disappearance of soldier Andrew Pouponeau who went missing in 1982.
Mr Pouponeau was part of the army rebellion on August 17, 1982.
Mr Servina said he was working at the Central Police Station on August 18, 1982 when in the afternoon he witnessed the arrival of Mr Pouponeau who had come to the station to surrender.
He said Mr Pouponeau was seen by his superior at that time, Inspector Leon Bonnelame, who entered his testimony in the occurrence book that he was advised by someone to give himself up to the authority.
Mr Servina noted that Inspector Bonnelame related the surrender of Mr Pouponeau to the army and an army truck with soldiers came to pick up Mr Pouponeau at the police station and went away with him with his hand handcuffed behind his back.
Mr Servina said that he was in shock an hour later to learn on the radio that a search was being mounted for Mr Pouponeau who had jumped out of the jeep at the junction at National House on the way to the Bel Eau Army camp and has escaped towards the Botanical Gardens. He said that up to this day it is very hard for him to believe such a story, knowing the competence of the Sergeant in charge of the custody of Mr Pouponeau and for Mr Pouponeau to run away handcuffed from four soldiers with guns.
He said he only learned recently of what could have happened to Mr Pouponeau through the testimony of Paul Chow. Mr Servina also told the commission that coming down to work that day in a police car with another colleague, they came across a burnt car with a burnt body inside, stationed at the layby near the Indian high commission, Le Chantier.
As the lawyer who negotiated the release from prison of Conrad Gresle, the husband of Hester Gresle, in case 049, who was charged with treason and was also prevented from leaving the country for overseas treatment due to a tax invasion indictment against him, Bernard Georges said that he couldn’t locate the files on him in his archives
As recorded before the commission, Mr Gresle’s problem first started in 1983 when he was assaulted by the army in his house. He was later approached in 1991 by a presumed American man who stated he was a CIA agent and that there was a plan to overthrow President Albert Rene and that they wanted him to take over the radio station. He was called one afternoon to pick up a parcel at the Fishermen’s Cove Hotel sent by the American man and he was apprehended by the police and later charged with treason.
In her complaint, Mrs Gresle stated that it came to light that the whole scenario was a set up to get at her late husband.
Mr Georges said that he knew Mr Gresle had a tax problem which he assisted in his case and was able to go for his health treatment overseas. He noted though that he had a faint recollection of his arrest but with the permission of the commission he will go back in his archives to try to obtain some information to assist the commission.
In case 0058 of Marina Pool who claimed that without her consent, the government had built roads on her property and then later subdivided the property into plots which has reduced its value, Denis Barbe working with the Ministry of Habitat, Infrastructure and Land Transport was called in by the commission to answer those queries.
Unfortunately Mr Barbe said that he had not much information as some of the particulars date back to the 1970s and early 1980s. He noted that from the land files at the ministry, he had only been able to obtain the letter that he wrote to Mrs Pool in 2011 based on the query in regards to ruling encroachment onto the property. He further said that as far as the subdivisions are concerned, as to whether the roads were built on the property itself, he had no information on the matter.
On claims the he wrote her a letter to inform her that she was not entitled for compensation, Mr Barbe said that as a land surveyor at that time he couldn’t have written to Mrs Pool on matters regarding compensation as his job was only to establish whether or not there were encroachment of the public roads onto her property especially the one going up to Dam Le Roi at Baie Lazare.
Mr Barbe, who is now the principal secretary for housing, noted that he could not establish if Mrs Pool had put her complaint forward in regards to boundaries of the property, which was first surveyed in 1984, before it was registered on the new land register.
He noted that from a technical point of view in regards to the roads on the property from its original state till now, among other issues, the matter looks very complicated and it will take time to be resolved.
George Lefevre was a witness in case 009 of Jimmy Zatte who had identified Mr Lefevre as the person who was supposed to buy his unfinished reclaimed property at Point Conan in 1978 for a sum of R800,000 but was pressured by the ministry of land to sell it to the principal secretary for Foreign Affairs at that time, Emmanuel Faure, to only R110,000.
Mr Lefevre did confirm that he was prepared and interested to buy the land for around that sum but never knew what happened after as he was not in the country.
The commission wanted to clarify some of evidence given by Donald Bertin in relation to the shooting of Berard Jeannie in case 122, against other evidence given by other people that physically shows who shot him. The commission asked Mr Bertin to retrace the incident but he objected by saying that he is sticking to his evidence he previously presented.
Mr Bertin, who was armed with only a rope, was the first person along with Philippe Lucas, who had a gun, to enter the room where Jeannie and another colleague were sitting. He said that Mr Lucas had his gun over his shoulder and he was by his side and did not see him fire a shot. He noted that if Mr Lucas did shoot Mr Jeannie, he wouldn’t have a clue how he did it.
Mr Bertin told the commission that if he had seen who shot Jeannie he would have said so. He also said no one had instructed him on what to say to the commission.
According to the commission from the testimony of President James Michel, only Mr Lucas and Ogilvy Berloius had guns with them that night at the Police Mobile Unit but Mr Bertin claimed that there were more people who had guns with them that early morning.
The commission told him that from other evidence collected not one person mentioned that guns were being fired around except him who said so and why. He maintained his position that there were shots being fired before they entered the room where Jeannie was shot.
Mr Bertin said that he only learned about the coup on June 4, 1977 from France Albert Rene at his residence at L’Exile and did not see anybody taking any white pill contrary to those who said they were given the pills. He said he had forgotten who invited him to L’Exile and who drove him there. He also did not remember what was said in that meeting.
Mis-treatment of soldiers at Grand Police
The last witness to come before the commission yesterday afternoon was high ranking ex-army officer, Leopold Payet, who was named by Robert Ernesta in his testimony as his superior and who was present during the mis-treatment of persons brought to the Grand Police prison.
Mr Payet acknowledged that he was the commanding officer to Mr Ernesta but he never gave orders for the mis-treatment or assisted to any mis-treatment of persons at Grand Police prison. He noted that the prison was under the command of the late Colonel MacDonald Marengo from whom maybe Mr Ernesta could have got his orders.
Mr Payet said that if he was aware that people were being tortured at the prison he would have intervened. He noted that the prison had its own chain of command and he was based at the army headquarters at Bel Eau probably as a lieutenant or captain at that time.
Mr Payet said that he only heard of those beatings and torture from hearings of the commission. He noted that before, all that were to do with the security of the country came from State House and not the army. He said that he was not involved in the retrieval of stolen arms from the Malo vessel or involved in sending Mr Ernesta away to Ireland.
He categorically denied that he gave orders to Mr Ernesta for him to import drugs as dealing in drugs is an offence in the army. He also did not remember of the army being involved in any atrocities or in the disappearance of persons among other questions on the functions of the army under his leadership as a Brigadier until he left in December 2018.
The chairperson of the commission, Gabrielle Louise McIntyre also took the opportunity yesterday afternoon to address an issue regarding Andre Uzice who was arrested upon his return to the country to testify before the commission. Mr Uzice who was living in the United Kingdom, wanted to be a complainant but was concerned about coming back to the Seychelles for fear of an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
Mrs McIntyre said the commission made some queries in regards of the warrant but found no such arrest warrant. A communication was made to Mr Uzice who then decided to come to Seychelles about eleven days ago but has now been arrested and taken to court.
Mrs McIntyre clarified that the commission did not intend to mislead Mr Uzice to coming to Seychelles to be arrested as the information it got showed that there was no arrest warrant. She stated for the record, that at the same time, the commission cannot and will not interfere in the judicial processes.