Guyanese political power broker accused of sexual assault by another woman

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A powerful politician in Guyana has been accused of sexual assault for the second time in less than a year, following his resignation last July over separate allegations.

The accuser, economist Sarah Aneesah Hakh, told an online press conference held in the capital Georgetown that former Minister Nigel Dharamlall sexually assaulted her in 2020 and 2021. Hakh said the first alleged incident occurred during a business meeting when Dharamlall was Guyana’s senior minister of regional development.

“The fact that he is still in that party is mind boggling to me,” Hakh said.

Dharamlall, a Guyanese politician seen as a power broker in the country, was recently appointed to the executive committee of Guyana’s ruling People’s Progressive Party. He has been photographed recently with Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo.

Dharamlall rejected the allegations in a statement posted on his Facebook page, saying “I wish to categorically and most vehemently deny each and every one of the allegations made.” He accused Hakh of being on a “campaign to tarnish my reputation,” claiming that “her demeanor towards me changed fundamentally after I rebuffed her advances and spurned her attempts to engage in an intimate relationship.”

Dharamlall resigned from Guyana’s cabinet and parliament last year after an indigenous teenage girl accused him of rape in an unrelated incident, which he has denied.

The girl later withdrew the claim according to officials and no charges were filed, President Ali said in a video statement last July. He emphasized at the time that his government had “allowed the system to work. We have not intervened; from day one,” apparently referencing public criticism over how the girl’s case was handled by authorities.

Her withdrawal however was seen by some as a sign of government corruption, with the public speculating her family had been paid off.

In a March statement, Guyanese women’s rights group Red Thread criticized officials for failing the accuser.

“It is of great concern that the public nature of this complaint, the powerful political status of the suspect, the discontinuance of the matter at this early stage and the haste with which this investigation was ended, will reinforce the perception of impunity, and inevitably discourage other victims of sexual violence from coming forward,” it wrote.

‘Violated against my will’

Hakh, who was seen as a rising star in Guyana, said she was first assaulted by Dharamlall during what was supposed to be a meeting about her taking a role as a regional executive officer in September 2020. She alleged that Dharamlall took the then-25-year-old into his bedroom, disrobed and forcibly performed oral sex on her without her consent in the Anna Regina State House, a town on the country’s coast.

Hakh told reporters on Friday that she told Dharamlall to stop several times, saying she is a lesbian and “this is not something I came here expecting to do and can’t offer anything.”

“I was violated against my will by a man who exploited my situation and tried to entrap me in a compromising situation due to my future contract with the ministry,” she said.

Hakh also alleged that a second incident took place in 2021, in the Cummings Lodge neighborhood on the outskirts of Georgetown, when she says she met Dharamlall to discuss several grievances she had with the ministry of local government. During their meeting, Hakh alleges Dharamlall tried to remove her clothes.

“I knew I was going up against something that was dangerous and my whole strategy was that if I made a report that was preemptive, and it didn’t go anywhere, I automatically had no credibility,” she told the press conference on Friday, adding that she finally filed a police report on May 9.

Hakh said she decided to go public with her allegation because “I need to give victims the strength to know that they’re not alone, and that there is no shame in what happened to them.”

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