AN Irish teenager who took a gap year to do charity work in South America has been charged with threatening to shoot and kill the president of Guyana.
Cillian James Crosson (17) travelled to the small country as a volunteer teacher with the UK-based group Project Trust.
The teenager, who was a high-achieving Leaving Cert student at De La Salle College Dundalk, has now appeared before a magistrate in Guyana where he pleaded not guilty.
The court was told he was heard making the threat to shoot President Donald Ramotar in the head on March 29 last at the City Boy Club at Tabatinga, Lethem.
A lawyer for Cillian, who comes from Lambtown, Ardee, Co Louth, claimed the teenager was joking and it was an alcohol-fuelled conversation.
Cillian is currently out on bail of around 60,000 Guyanese dollars (€220) and has been ordered to report every Monday to the Lethem police station.
The offence is classed as a misdemeanor and he faces a maximum sentence of a fine of no more than €800.
It is understood Cillian is due to return to his voluntary work teaching primary school students maths, English and science with Project Trust in Shulinab in Guyana in the next few days.
He will not be returning to Ireland until August and will complete his year-long volunteer programme as planned.
He is understood to be in good spirits and his main concerns were whether the charity had suffered any damage to or problems arising from the incident.
The Project Trust said it was in close contact with Cillian's parents – Colm and Perpetua – and also with the Irish Consul and the British High Commission.
Cillian's father last night declined to comment.
His defence lawyer, Glenn Hanoman, told the court an alcohol-fuelled conversation took place. An incident arose with two men who stated they were bodyguards of the president and were trying to place him under arrest – yet had no official identification.
It is understood Cillian called the police himself, but was then detained. Mr Hanoman said Cillian was joking when he said he would shoot and kill the president and only said it as he did not believe the two men were really bodyguards.
"He had been drinking beer since early in the morning and had even mixed rum and beer and had them at the same time," Mr Hanoman said.
"I think that was the main factor at play when he argued with two of the guards."
It took place before a rodeo in the remote Rupununi region, along the country's border with Brazil. The president was not present at the time.
Prosecutor Vishnu Hunte objected to bail. "The threat was directed to none other than the president of Guyana, his excellency Donald Ramotar, by a foreign national," Mr Hunte said.
"There is therefore a likelihood that he may flee the jurisdiction since he is not a resident of Guyana."
Cillian had taken a year off after achieving 595 points in his Leaving Cert and had deferred his course of maths and English at Trinity College.
He then signed up with Project Trust, one of the longest established UK gap-year organisations based off the west coast of Scotland on the Isle of Coll.
"He has been enjoying the work hugely. The place is very remote and the children would have very few resources including very few teachers so the volunteers are filling a gap in that regard," a family friend said.
"His relationship with the Guyanese people and his commitment to the project is undiluted. He is enjoying it."
The charity's chief executive, Ingrid Emerson, said the charity had more than 45 years' experience in sending young people abroad. The link with Guyana was established in 1995.
She said that last Thursday a group of students went to an Easter Rodeo festival in Lethem.
"During the course of the festivities a Project Trust volunteer was arrested on suspicion of using threatening language," she said. "The 17-year-old has since been bailed. Project Trust is working closely with the volunteer's family and is in constant contact with the Irish consul and the British High Commission."
Before travelling he told 'The Argus' newspaper that he raised €6,000 to fund the trip and spoke of his excitement at travelling.