‘If De Four was off base, just say so’
SOLDIER BEHIND BARS—PART 5
US private investigator, Joe Aronstamn leaves the Ministry of National Security earlier this year.
18 Nov 2009
United States private investigator Joe Aronstamn was brought into the Balram “Balo” Maharaj kidnapping case to assist in the defence of Special Forces soldier, Ricardo De Four.
As part of his investigations, he came to Trinidad at least four times. He went to the Santa Cruz forest to see the area where 62-year-old Maharaj was kept for several days after he was kidnapped from the Samaan Tree Bar, Aranquez, on April 6, 2005. Maharaj, a US citizen, died in the hands of the kidnappers. They later dismembered his body, which was not found until January 8, 2006, in two containers in the forest. Aronstamn gave an interview to the T&T Guardian in Washington DC last Tuesday, about the problems he encountered. He feels there is still hope that records of the military would be produced to show that De Four was at Camp Omega on the day that Maharaj was kidnapped, and therefore he could not have been part of the crime. He was also concerned how the United States was able to pluck T&T nationals from Trinidad, and take them to Washington DC to face trial.
I have been to Trinidad approximately four or five times?
While in Trinidad, what did you do?
When we first went down, we were just getting to know the family and the potential witnesses, soldiers. The second time we went down, and subsequent times, it increasingly became an issue about these records. That became the focus of our investigations.
Did you visit the scene where Balo Maharaj died?
I went there a number of times. I went there with another investigator, and with Jon Zucker at one time and with Mr Beshouri on another occasion.
So you found it strange you could not get these records?
It was a Herculean effort to get the co-operation from the Ministry of National Security, and the TTDF. I have never experienced anything like this before, and I have been an investigator for 21 years.
What was so strange about this matter?
What was strange was that both attorneys, Joseph Beshouri, Jon Zucker and I believed that the records existed, but we could not get them. It is different if records don’t exist, and then finding out during your investigations, that maybe, they don’t exist. But we had the distinct feeling that the more we dug, that more we felt that there were records that were in existence, but that we could not get them. The more we dug, the more resistance we were getting from the Ministry of National Security and the TTDF.
Do you think, even at this stage, anything would be forthcoming?
If the President of Trinidad gets involved, and has any means of influence over the TTDF, we believe records could be produced, if they are not already destroyed as a pre-emptive measure to their production.
You were making the point about the way the extradition was done, bringing Trinidadians here because an American was killed there. You think you would see that happening, if a Trinidadian was killed here?
That is what I was telling you from the beginning. From the very beginning of this case...I live in a neighbourhood in Washington DC, where there are many Trinidadian citizens, who are joint US citizens. I know, and if you do a freedom of information check, you will find that there were many Trinidadians killed in Brooklyn, in Washington, in California, there are a lot of Trinidadians who live in the United States. Some of them were unfortunately murdered. I can’t imagine a scenario that would involve the United States allowing investigators and detectives from Trinidad coming to the United States and extraditing United States citizens and bring them back to Trinidad to stand trial in Trinidad. I can’t imagine that..everyone I have spoken to cannot..that would be a science fiction scenario. That the United States would come down to your country, pluck your citizens from your country, bring them here. Initially, I understand that the Trinidad Anti-Kidnapping Unit was having trouble cracking this case and some other cases, so they asked for assistance. I understand that and perhaps, the United States went down to offer assistance. However, it is curious that assistance was not rendered for a Trini on Trini murder. It was a Trini on a US citizen murder. Why aren’t the FBI down there to assist with the Trini on a Trini murder, and help the anti-kidnapping unit, you see my point. It reminds me of the long arm of the United States coming down and doing as they will in these various countries.
Have you ever worked on a case like this before?
Never. I have never heard of my co-investigators working on such cases?
Has this case opened up the doors for you in Trinidad?
I think this interview will close the door, rather than open it. The more that Jon and I dug down there, we had the distinct feeling that we were less welcome.
Do you have any regrets at being involved in this case?
None, whatsoever. This was an interesting case, and moreover, I think we represented an innocent person.
What would like to see as the end result in this matter?