Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
Acting Commissioner of Police (ACP) Irwin Hackshaw never ordered any search of Express House by the Finance Intelligence Bureau (FIB) police officers.
Senior police sources on Thursday told Guardian Media that the search, which took place on Wednesday evening, was in fact done independently by the FIB after receiving advice from Director of Public Prosecutions(DPP) Roger Gaspard in its ongoing investigation.
The raid took place three days after a Trinidad Express investigative story by journalist Denyse Renne revealed that ACP Hackshaw had been flagged by three local banks for suspicious activity.
The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) was alerted by the banks about the activity and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has also initiated an investigation into this matter.
Police officers of the FIB, headed by Supt Wendell Lucas, said on Wednesday that the search warrant was issued to secure any materials which could be used as potential evidence in the commission of an indictable offence.
The search warrant indicated that the offence was “tipping off,” which is absolutely prohibited under Sections 51 (1) and 52 (2) of the Proceeds and Crime Act, Chap 11:27. This section of the act, “makes a person liable on summary conviction to a fine of five million dollars and imprisonment of five years if he knows or suspects that a police officer is acting or proposing to act in connection with an investigation or proposed investigation concerning money laundering, and discloses to any other person, information or other matter which is likely to prejudice that investigation or proposed investigation.”
The FIU also issued a release on Monday stating that there could also be a breach of the law under the Financial Intelligence Unit Act Chapter 72:01, which indicates “that any person other than an FIU officer, who, in the course of his business obtains or receives information from the FIU, and knowingly discloses the information to any person, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and to imprisonment of three years.”
Senior police sources told Guardian Media that the media was only focussing on press freedom but if they had looked carefully at the specific laws they would have understood “just cause for the police action.”
“They have committed an offence. There must be a line drawn and the media house is a suspect in a criminal investigation and so too is the person who leaked the information to the media,” a senior source explained.
Guardian Media understands that police officers are under probe for their role in allegedly leaking the information to the media.
The source added, “The same people who are exposing police misconduct are themselves encouraging police misconduct.”
The senior source said this could have damaging effects on the FIU and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) could be asking questions about this issue, in light of the fact that Trinidad and Tobago was recently removed from the FATF grey list.
FATF is an inter-governmental body which sets standards for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, who spoke with Guardian Media via telephone, clarified the role of the commissioner as it pertains to any operation.
“The vast majority of operations that take place would not be based on the directives and orders of the CoP,” he said.
Sources confirmed that although Hackshaw is acting Police Commissioner, he was not informed about the raid beforehand since the investigation also concerned him.
Griffith said, “It would be inappropriate for me to criticise, or cross-reference this or any other police investigation and I can tell you I was not aware.”
Speaking frankly, Griffith added, “There are several files of high-profile people that come to me from the FIU and then it is sent to the Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau (ACIB) of the FIB. If the finances are not verified there would be an investigation. This does not mean that these persons are criminal.
“In the majority of cases, there was a justification of the finances. The FIU submits reports about people involved in criminal activity and if there is an irregularity in the accounts then we take action. In this one situation, because the officer was so senior it was sent to the Police Standards Bureau (PSB). Therein lies the problem. Sensitive information was leaked and the case was contaminated. We have senior officers passing information to the public.”
He added, “We have a few police officers compromising an investigation. Had it been any citizen’s personal finances revealed in such a matter there would have been a breach of two laws. Police cannot sit idly by as it can erode the trust of police by the public and the role of the FIU.
“The main thing to clarify here is there is a lot of misinterpretation and misinformation. It is not about freedom of information, of police witch-hunting the media, but rather serious laws have been breached and police officers revealed confidential information.”
Sources at Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) told Guardian Media that two days ago, lawyers for the media house met with editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder and expressed concerns following the publication of the story.
Meanwhile, One Caribbean Media Limited, the parent company of the Express and CCN TV 6, has obtained an injunction against the Commissioner of Police and Supt Wendell Lucas to desist from further searching the Express House pending the hearing of its claim over the search.