UK team goes after police, soldier cartel

Special Operations Response Team officers monitor the scene where an inter-agency search of a house in La Horquetta took place on September 23, the day after $22 million was seized in a raid but later returned without consent of the police commissioner. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB -
Special Operations Response Team officers monitor the scene where an inter-agency search of a house in La Horquetta took place on September 23, the day after $22 million was seized in a raid but later returned without consent of the police commissioner. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB -

NEW INFORMATION has surfaced during a multi-agency probe against a "criminal cartel" operating within the police service and the defence force which investigators say could cripple the economy.

Intelligence uncovered within the first two weeks after police busted a pyramid scheme in east Trinidad have now linked three politicians to the complex money-laundering scheme involving key players of known criminal gangs "washing" millions of dollars from various illegal sources.

Probers have found several similar pyramid schemes across the country, many run by soldiers, which distribute thousands of dollars weekly to mainly poor and vulnerable people who see the "investment" as a golden opportunity to get rich quick.

To protect the integrity of the police investigation, the matter has been assigned to acting Deputy Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob and the case will now be referred to EdmondsMarshallMcMahon (EMM), a specialist team of forensic investigators from the United Kingdom hired to crack complex white-collar crime, according to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith.

He said the agents from the foreign team have all been sworn in as special reserve police and will have all the powers of police officers to do the investigation. They have not had any interaction or involvement in any of the "sou-sou" schemes in TT.

EMM was hired by Griffith in 2018 to help the police complete serious fraud cases, including allegations of bid-rigging at the Estate Management Development Company, LifeSport, and other high-profile white-collar criminal investigations.

On the eve of the 2020 general election, the multi-million-dollar contract was renewed to allow the firm to complete its work on several pending investigations.

Top police sources confirm that a number of officers, who have been identified as being involved in the scheme and facilitated the return of over $22 million which had been seized by the Special Operations Response Team on September 22 at a house in La Horquetta, will be requested to undergo polygraph testing this week and will likely be transferred from their current stations to give investigators unhindered access to information and possible witnesses.

Investigators said since the money was returned to the sou-sou operators hours after it had been confiscated, they have been unable to pinpoint the new location. They said as intelligence comes in, it is being leaked and the money is moved again.

The foreign team will be assisted by the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) and the Financial Intelligence Bureau to trace the source of the funds, identify the corrupt police and soldiers linked to the scheme and liaise with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions as evidence is gathered, according to a high-ranking police source.

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has launched an independent investigation into the conduct of officers who have been identified through wire taps and other sources as having links to the criminal operation. One senior officer who is currently on suspension for an unrelated offence has been identified a key person of interest in the probe.

Seasoned investigators said the scope of the criminal network bears a resemblance to the findings uncovered by the Scott Drug Report in 1986, in which scores of officers were identified as being part of a gang operating in the police service trafficking drugs and being involved in murder, transshipment of cocaine and other heinous crimes.

One investigator said the current investigation was "worse than police unlawfully killing someone" owing to the level of cover-up and collusion taking place, and seems to justify a statement once made by the PCA director David West that the police service is the "biggest gang" in TT.

According to intelligence reports seen by Sunday Newsday, criminal gangs have pumped millions of dollars into pyramid schemes run by a group of soldiers across the country. Many unsuspecting people have invested varying sums for inflated returns and the legitimate and illegitimate money has been mixed and paid out, with receipts being given to legitimate investors.

The matter triggered a meeting of the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, last week and led to the cancellation of the Police Commissioner's month-long vacation.

National Security Minister Stuart Young told Newsday on Thursday that the probe into the sou-sou bust was of "major concern" to him and he has been in constant contact with the CoP and Chief of Defence Staff Air Commodore Darryl Daniel.

Daniel has not commented publicly on the allegations involving members of the Defence Force except to issue one release that it was co-operating with the police. Four soldiers who were part of the September 22 La Horquetta raid were detained last Wednesday for questioning after one was seen stuffing an envelope into his crotch, but later released pending further investigations.

Police said no one has reported any money missing during the raid, nor has there been any formal report of people being beaten by officers.

There were reports that a woman suffered a miscarriage after she was struck during the raid but no official report had been made about that either.

On Thursday, Griffith said even though there were no official reports, the police intend to look into the allegations and had video footage to support some of the claims. Investigators assigned to the PSB and the PCA have already obtained statements from people allegedly assaulted during the raid.


"UK team goes after police, soldier cartel"

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