A MONTH after police warned the public to be wary of a growing trend of pyramid schemes in TT – also called “sou sou” schemes – nine people including a member of the defence force were held and a large quantity of cash seized by police after a raid at a house in La Horquetta on Tuesday afternoon.
Police said members of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) and officers of the Northern Division co-ordinated by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, DCP Jayson Forde and Supt Ramkhelawan, went to a building along Kathleen Warner Drive at 11.40 am.
According to a police media release, the exercise was launched in response to reports that people were violating the covid19 regulations by gathering outside the house to collect money from the get-rich-quick scheme, but the crowd dispersed when they saw the police.
Sources said while they could not determine the exact quantity of cash seized in the building, they estimated it to be “in the millions” and said it was hidden in the ceiling and in a water tank. It was originally reported that ten people were arrested, but one was later released.
Of the nine still in custody, a 45-year-old man identified as a senior member of the defence force was arrested for possession of a gun and ammunition. Those detained are expected to be interviewed by investigators from the Financial Intelligence Branch and other units to explain how they came into possession of the cash.
When Newsday visited the scene, residents questioned the accuracy of the information given by police and claimed the system was not a pyramid scheme but a legitimate sou-sou organised by trusted members of the community including established money lenders.
A sou-sou is a community-based form of savings in which a group of people agrees to pay a sum of cash either fortnightly or monthly, to each other, in a set, rotating pattern.
Newsday understands the pyramid scheme which police are concerned with see participants in a social media group, usually WhatsApp, giving up their money (usually $600 or $700) with the promise of returns on the “investment” as high as $56,000 only to be told later via WhatsApp that the scheme had failed and such is the risk with these kinds of investments.
According to Section 57 (2) of the Proceeds of Crime Act, someone convicted of illegally obtaining cash is liable to be fined $500,000 on summary conviction or imprisonment for two years or $3 million and seven years’ imprisonment on conviction on indictment.
In August, Newsday reported that hundreds of people had “invested” thousands of dollars into a pyramid scheme with promises of double and even triple returns.
One Fraud Squad officer said the scheme was designed to target vulnerable people whose sources of income were affected by the covid19 pandemic and confirmed several meetings were held by police to discuss ways of investigating the network.
In the media release on Thursday, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith warned the public that police can seize large quantities of cash if the owner cannot give a proper account for it. Efforts to reach Chief of Defence Staff, Air Cmdr Darryl Daniel for comment on the raid were unsuccessful.