$90M extortion probe: Journalists slapped with conspiracy charges, released on bail
Two journalists, 49-year-old Alex Wayne and Gary Eleazar, 41, were on Tuesday slapped with two counts of conspiracy charges when they appeared at the Cove and John Magistrate’s Court.
The duo was arrested on Saturday after they were caught extorting monies, during a sting operation, from an auto dealer in exchange for the removal of a “libellous” article from a social media platform.
However, they pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were read to them by Magistrate Fabayo Azore. As such, they were granted bail in the sum of $100,000 each and the matter was adjourned to November 1, 2022.
It was reported that the article in question was published on the Facebook page of Guyana News Network (GNN), which purports to be a “news agency”, with the auto dealer’s photograph alleging that he is involved in illegal activities – something which he said is untrue but caused him to be “embarrassed” and his “reputation was tarnished”. The site is said to be operated by an overseas-based political activist.
The Police on Sunday confirmed that as investigations intensified, investigators would have obtained voice recordings of the political activist, who has ties to the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), and an overseas-based Guyanese businessman, both demanding $90 million from the local auto dealer in order to remove the article published about him.
As such, investigators said that they were looking for an overseas-based businessman, who is presently in Guyana. He was taken to court last year for allegedly importing illegal fuel into Guyana, for further questioning into the matter.
It was further reported that Eleazar, who has access to the social media page, along with Wayne approached the auto dealer separately and requested $10 million instead to remove the article from social media.
It was at this point that the auto dealer went to the Police on August 29 and filed a report about the extortion. This resulted in the Police setting up the sting operation to catch the two journalists, who are reportedly close associates of the overseas-based businessman.
The intelligence-led operation was conducted on the East Coast of Demerara on Friday. During the sting operation, both Wayne and Eleazar went to the businessman to extort cash.
As a result, investigators then gave the businessman some money, along with certain instructions. The two reporters were then seen arriving at the location and going to the businessman. The trio engaged in conversation during which Wayne and Eleazar demanded $1 million in order to remove the post from the GNN Facebook page.
In fact, Wayne took out his computer and handed same over to Eleazar, who went to the website and attempted to remove the post but then claimed that the password that he was in possession of, was not working at the time for some reason.
As a result, the $1 million was handed over to the two journalists as a down payment in keeping with their demands. The duo collected the money and indicated to the businessman that they would return sometime after to remove the post and collect the outstanding monies.
However, as Wayne and Eleazar were about to leave the business establishment, they were intercepted by the Police and told of the allegation. The officers then conducted a search during which a portion of the money was found on Eleazar, while another amount was found on Wayne.
Additionally, two cellular phones and a laptop were immediately seized from the duo. Further searches were conducted at their homes. A laptop and three hard drives were recovered from Eleazar’s residence and nothing further was found at Wayne’s home.
During a video and audio interview, Wayne admitted to investigators that he acted in concert with Eleazar and the overseas-based businessman to create and publish the false article about the local auto dealer on GNN’s Facebook page.
According to Wayne, the two businessmen have “an ongoing issue”.