When the $22 million was mysteriously returned to the CEO of DSS by police officers at the La Horquetta Police Station in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning, it triggered at least two parallel investigations to determine what exactly happened on that day.
And while police mull over the whereabouts of the money and the man behind the Drugs Sou Sou (DSS) scheme, army intelligence sources said that on the morning the money left the La Horquetta Police Station it was taken to a house in Talparo for safekeeping while other arrangements were being made.
Guardian Media was told that on Friday at approximately 9:15 pm, a Black Toyota Fortuner bearing a Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) number plate (registration number withheld) with at least two individuals loaded the money from the house and allegedly drove to a heavily fortified and guarded state location (name withheld) where the money is now being kept. This particular vehicle is frequently used by one of the DSS admins, who is also a member of the TTDF.
Investigators returned to the La Horquetta apartment on Wednesday afternoon with a search warrant in hand hoping to speak with the DSS CEO and presumably take possession of the money, Guardian Media was told. But four days later, the police cannot locate the Lance Corporal or find the millions once stored at the apartment.
So what exactly happened on the day of the seizure?
Senior investigators told Guardian Media that officers of the Special Response Operations Team (SORT) arrived at the apartment after obtaining information about several people gathering and breaching the Public Health Ordinance due to COVID-19.
The DSS CEO and owner of the property was not at the apartment when police arrived, but investigators said a phone call had been made to the owner of the apartment and he indicated that he would be returning shortly with his lawyer.
SORT officers were later confronted by a 47-year-old man who they later found out was a warrant officer with the TTDF. He explained to them that he was merely cleaning the yard in the absence of the owner. The man who was later searched was found with a pistol, usually only licenced to be used on a firing range, and 28 rounds of ammunition. One can legally carry up to 25 rounds of ammunition.
A SORT officer later searched a nearby knapsack which the TTDF soldier claimed contained a coverall. In the knapsack, police found huge stacks of $100 notes which amounted to $700,000. That quantity of money was later handed over to the Financial Investigations Branch (FIB).
At the apartment, police noticed the movement of people through a window, even when the owner of the property had indicated he was not at home. The people in the house were later detained but no one said who the money belonged to.
Senior police sources said that the police secured the premises and contact was made with officers of the Northern Division to get a search warrant.
Sometime after, an inspector and a police constable arrived on the scene and met with SORT officers. It was only later a woman who was detained as one of the suspects told police she was the common-law wife of the owner of the apartment, who police said never showed up.
Police later executed the warrant and during a search of the premises, they found millions of dollars hidden in the ceiling, the water tank, and in boxes in the apartment.
Hours later the money was prepared for transport by the joint team of officers on the scene from the Northern Division and SORT.
The money arrived at the La Horquetta Police Station at approximately 6:35 pm. However, the counting of the money did not start until 8:30 pm since police officers were awaiting the three money counters that would be later brought by officers of the FIB. An inspector attached to the FIB who visited the station later left. Two officers of the FIB together with four officers of the Northern Division and the lawyer representing the DSS CEO and his common-law wife were in the room during the counting of the money.
Sources familiar with the investigation told Guardian Media that close to midnight officers of the FIB left and they indicated they would return in the morning to secure the money for further investigation.
Police sources said investigations revealed that while the money was being counted, a senior officer and a constable from the Northern Division visited the DSS CEO at his La Horquetta premises where there was a conversation.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, according to investigators, an entry was made in the police diary in which the money was released to the DSS CEO who appeared at the police station for the first time.
Guardian Media understands that the officers’ conduct and the conversation they allegedly had with the DSS CEO earlier at his apartment is now the subject of an investigation by the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).
Sources said that the officers could face disciplinary action and if found culpable could also face criminal charges of perverting the course of justice and misbehaviour in public office.
Senior investigators confirmed all relevant personnel will be interviewed about this matter.
Questions to TTDF:
Guardian Media called and sent a WhatsApp message to Captain Cleavon Dillon of the TTDF for a comment on the matter.
1. Good afternoon Sir, in reference to the officer from the TTDF who is also the DSS CEO, is the army considering any disciplinary action?
2. There are also allegations that a TTDF vehicle was used to transport the money after it was taken out the police station on Wednesday and moved to the house before a TTDF vehicle was loaded up with the money on Friday night and transported to a secure location. Please comment?
3. Considering the huge amounts of money and allegations of money laundering what is the TTDF’s position?
4. Was the officer given permission to become a licenced money lender while serving as a Lance Corporal? Is this permissible in the eyes of the TTDF?
Up to late last night, there was no response from the TTDF.