HOURS after police counted and ascertained that the money found hidden in a house in La Horquetta on Tuesday amounted to a staggering $22 million, eight of the nine people held in connection with the find were released and under the cover of darkness, all of the money was returned.
An incredulous Police Commissioner Gary Griffith responded immediately by ordering a high-level investigation to ascertain why the money was returned, why the suspects were released and who was the police officer who gave La Horquetta police instructions to do so.
This amazing turn of events came hours after a high-powered team of officers including those from the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) – all co-ordinated by Griffith – went to the house at Kathleen Warner Drive after reports that there was a large gathering of people in contravention of covid19 public health regulations.
Police raided the house and found bundles of cash – predominantly $100 notes – hidden in the ceiling and in a water tank. It took them all of Tuesday afternoon and into the night to count the cash.
Before daybreak on Wednesday, not one dollar remained in the police’s custody.
COPS MAY BE INVOLVED
A police press release stated the cash was returned to the administrator of the sou-sou scheme sometime Wednesday morning, but questions were raised as to who authorised this return, as investigators from the Financial Investigations Bureau (FIB) were not consulted beforehand.
The cash was seized under suspicion that it was involved in a pyramid scheme and obtained through illegal activities. After the raid, social media was lit with posts and memes most of which were critical of the police raid.
Contacted for comment on Wednesday, Griffith said investigators did not have enough time to check through the cash properly before it was returned. He vowed a thorough investigation will be done to find out who authorised the return, as police officers may have been involved in the sou-sou scheme.
“The mistake I made was to send it (the money) to a station and have someone from the same region give the clearance. That should have been sent directly to the FIB for proper financial investigations to take place, not just for someone from a station to say, ‘Yeah, the receipts look good.’
“I also have reports of several police officers being involved in this scheme as well. The scheme is not illegal, but the fact of the matter is that when you find someone with $22 million, you need to verify that all $22 million is from legitimate means, because if that is not the case, we can open a Pandora’s box where anyone can have tens of millions anywhere and they can say, ‘My two friends gave me two receipts.’”
WHO TO TRUST?
Griffith said the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) was notified and was expected to seize receipt books and documents related to the cash as part of enquiries. The FIB will also be involved in the enquiry.
“I am also looking for an external financial auditor to be able to assist me because after what has taken place with this investigation, I really don’t know who to trust,” Griffith said.
He also defended the police’s response to the scheme, saying the actions were justified based on the crowds that gathered outside the building and intelligence they received.
Contacted for comment, a senior police officer said he was disappointed with the return of the money before adequate investigations were done.
“You had a case where a minister with $140,000 in cash and that took two years to investigate, yet you find $22 million in a house and return it hours after the raid?”
Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) Nigel Stoddard said while his agency does not carry out enquiries, he is prepared to assist the police if necessary.
“This is a police investigation and if they are sourcing resources in terms of forensic investigators that is their prerogative in terms of the conducting the enquiry..,the investigation part is outside of our remit, but if they need our assistance they can request that and we will help as required by us in accordance with the FIU legislation,” Stoddard said.