Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
Four Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) members were yesterday detained for questioning into video footage showing one of them allegedly stuffing stacks of money into his tactical uniform during the raid on the Drug Sou Sou (DSS) headquarters in La Horquetta last Tuesday.
Several senior investigators said the four men were picked up for questioning by officers of the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) of the T&T Police Service after instructions were given by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
Sources familiar with the investigation said they were picked up at Teteron Barracks in Chaguaramas shortly after 2 pm yesterday and taken to the PSB office to be interviewed.
A sergeant, 39, two lance corporals, 30 and 31 and a corporal, 29, who were part of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) raiding unit, were taken in.
Contacted late yesterday, Griffith confirmed the men were in police custody. He said he had been in constant contact with PSB head Senior Superintendent Samaroo and had written to him on September 30 after the footage of the officer had gone viral after it was reported in the media.
Griffith said, “I immediately contacted the head of SORT (Sgt Hernandez), who confirmed that they were not police officers but soldiers from the TTDF.”
The names of at least two corporals were later identified along with their regimental numbers.
“That same morning, I contacted the head of TTDF personnel who work alongside SORT(warrant officer Adams) who also confirmed that the personnel seen in the video were two corporals from the TTDF,” Griffith said.
Senior investigators said they will be awaiting instructions from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on the way forward after the interviews.
What might be particularly complicated in this matter, according to a senior source, is “that there was no report made by anyone in the house of any money stolen. If this is so, we have no victim and then there’s no crime.”
There is also the call by the Law Association of T&T for Griffith to investigate whether there was a legal requirement to obtain a warrant before the search on DSS was initiated and claims of abuse by police officers on civilians at the apartment.
Guardian Media understands that several statements have already been taken by PSB officers from civilians who were in the apartment during the raid and SORT officers could also be questioned by PSB personnel.
But the investigations don’t end there. Guardian Media also understands that the Central Intelligence Bureau (CIB) and PSB have also been tasked with a second investigation involving several top-ranking police and army personnel, who, along with others, co-opted others to retrieve the seized money and move it to a safe house. The movements and the phone conversations of these officers are now all under investigation.
A DSS insider familiar with the operations told Guardian Media several days ago that when the seized millions were taken to the La Horquetta Police Station, several telephone recordings involving senior officers with someone inside DSS reveal a deal being brokered to release the money mere hours after it was seized by police.
“I am also directing the investigation of senior officers who released millions without proper procedure. I see this as either incompetence or contributing to a crime. Whichever one, action will be taken,” Griffith said of this aspect of at least three separate probes into the DSS fiasco.
Griffith said the third investigation is being spearheaded FIB to verify the source of the seized funds and to ascertain in some measure the actual amount. As part of that investigation, the bank accounts of law enforcement personnel will also be under scrutiny.
Griffith had said on Tuesday that “based on information coming to hand and my intelligence sources, it cannot be confirmed that it was $22,157,000 million as claimed by officers. It is virtually impossible for us to verify that at this time.”
A DSS insider with knowledge about the company operations said the figure seized by police was closer to $92 million. The source claimed after a deal was struck with law enforcement officers, some $74 million was released to DSS and the other $18m to police and army personnel to be split up for their assistance in releasing the cash.