Sawak Maraj, the Trinidad and Tobago national who was accused of conspiring with others to fake his own kidnapping after travelling to Guyana, was yesterday ordered to serve more than five years in jail after a city magistrate found him guilty of giving false information to the police and conspiring to commit a felony.
It was alleged that Maraj, 35, at Georgetown, knowingly gave false information to the police that he had been kidnapped and that his abductor requested US$700,000. It was also alleged that on the same date, at the Madewini Resort, he conspired with other persons to commit a felony by knowingly assisting in a negotiation to obtain the ransom of US$700,000.
At the conclusion of his trial yesterday, Magistrate Fabayo Azore told Maraj that the court believed that the story he told was a premeditated plan to extort money from his parents, hence he was found guilty of both offences.
Magistrate Azore noted that one of the main reasons Maraj was found guilty was the testimony of the main witness, who told the court that he did not appear nervous during the time of his alleged kidnapping by the two Guyanese men. In fact, she said, the witness testified that Maraj appeared quite comfortable with the two men during the alleged kidnapping. Further, she said, if he was indeed kidnapped, based on the observations by the main witness, Maraj had multiple opportunities to escape his kidnappers, which further proves that he concocted a “story filled with lies.”
The magistrate subsequently sentenced Maraj to four years in jail for the conspiracy to commit a felony charge. She then imposed an 18-month sentence for the offence of knowingly giving false information to the police and said that the sentences will run consecutively.
Upon hearing his fate, a trembling Maraj, who was represented by attorney Brandon DeSantos, rushed to hug his parents, who were present in court. His mother later fainted when she saw the policeman placing the handcuffs on his wrists.
During the trial, Maraj opted to give unsworn evidence, in which he proclaimed his innocence.
Maraj told the court that he was a qualified engineer and had travelled to Guyana to seek a job with ExxonMobil. He claimed that he had been contacted by a person identified as Jason Abraham, who was acting on behalf of ExxonMobil. Abraham, he noted, emailed him and he would have responded and he later gave the police a copy of the correspondence.
“I came to Guyana with legit expectations and full confidence of the extensive findings ExxonMobil made in the offshore exploration area,” he stated. Maraj added that once he landed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, he was met by a person who identified himself as Abraham and he was led to a taxi in which the driver and another person were present.
Maraj said he was driven to several locations and soon realised that something was wrong. He said he was subsequently taken to a hotel, where a cutlass was held to his throat and he was threatened.
“I became very afraid,” he told the court. “I knew no one and was very confused. I was visibly relieved when the police came shortly before my captors had fled,” he added.
Maraj then told the court that the taxi driver gave a statement just to clear his own name and to assist the police in concocting a case against him. He further stated that at no time did he agree with anyone for anything to happen and that at all times he believed that Abraham was a bona fide employee of ExxonMobil.
After Maraj, of Lot 131 Sandyways Fairways, Maraval, Trinidad, arrived in Guyana in October, 2017, his parents were contacted by an unknown person, who indicated that their son was in custody in Guyana and a sum of money was later demanded for his safe release. A photograph of Maraj, who is seen sitting with a cutlass being placed to his neck, was also circulated online.
After being alerted, the police launched an investigation and searches later led them to Maraj at the Madewini Resort, where he was reportedly found sitting comfortably on a chair drinking juice.
Stabroek News understands that after arriving in Guyana, Maraj was reportedly picked up from the airport and taken to the resort.