A grim anniversary

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It’s been one year and one month since Customs Officer Cornell Benjamin was accosted in his own yard by persons unknown. He sustained four gunshot wounds to his right leg and one to his left. Mercifully, he survived, but it is not clear as to the quality of life that he will lead hereafter. Of course, it is not difficult to imagine that, in addition to his physical wounds, for which he reportedly received treatment abroad, Benjamin has been emotionally wounded. It will be many moons hence, before his life can return to some semblance of normalcy, if ever.

What is particularly disturbing about this Benjamin tale is that, for the most part, the public has been kept in the dark as to the status of the investigation. True, we expect investigators to play it close to their vests when it comes to investigating crimes, especially brazen and heinous crimes such as this assault on Benjamin.  But the tight-lipped manner in which they are proceeding is a cause for concern, particularly because the assault on Benjamin came about a week after it was revealed that there was skullduggery at the Customs and Excise Division. It could be a coincidence. Yes, it is unclear whether the shooting of Benjamin had anything to do with the skullduggery – the shortfall of some $3M on account of forgery. Remember, Benjamin was once part of the Customs Enforcement Unit that investigated under-evaluations, false invoicing and smuggling.

The curious thing is that, some in high places declared that, notwithstanding the hanky-panky amounting to millions of dollars; and notwithstanding the serious crime of forgery, and the fact that it could be related to the attack on Benjamin, the administration was not seeking to prosecute anyone, but only to have the defrauded monies returned to the Customs coffers. Which inevitably beg the questions: Have those engaged in the hanky-panky returned the monies? Is there some deal to keep their identities a State secret? And was the shooting of Benjamin a part of a desperate cover-up? And is the fraud/forgery case now closed?

Of course, even if this administration, in its infinite wisdom, decided to sweep the $3M matter under the carpet and close the case, is there still not the question of who shot Cornell Benjamin, and why? We suggest that the public deserves answers to these pressing questions. At the very least, we deserve periodic updates, never mind how Spartan, as to the status of the investigation. Cornell Benjamin is a limb of the law. The assault on him is an assault on law enforcement, an assault on society. If Benjamin, can be assaulted with impunity, then woe are we. It is a frightening thought that will keep many of us awake at nights.

In the meantime, our hearts and prayers go out to Cornell Benjamin and his besieged family. We can imagine the terror that they must face every time that they venture out in the evenings. Not that cold-blooded thugs, along the order of the thugs that kidnapped and killed Nigel Christian, another Customs officer, are waiting for the cover of night to commit mayhem and murder. To be sure, we are not suggesting that the Nigel Christian murder is connected to the Benjamin shooting. We have no knowledge of that. Moreover, we have no knowledge that the assaults on the two Customs officers are connected to the $3M shenanigans. But we are concerned.

To that end, in the cause of justice, we are urging the authorities to pursue every lead; leave no stone unturned in making sure that the persons who attacked Cornell Benjamin are made to answer for that dastardly deed. Only then will all of Antigua and Barbuda be able to rest easy. After all, at least two men with guns, and murder in their hearts, are roaming the streets of our fair State.

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