Derek Achong

The Financial Intelligence Branch (FIB) has agreed to release a little over $1.2 million in cash which was seized from the elderly wife of a former businessman from Tobago, when her son attempted to exchange the old cotton notes for polymer notes in late 2019.

Guardian Media understands that the cash, which was detained under the Proceeds of Crime Act, was returned to the woman, who cannot be identified due to concerns over her safety, after the FIB completed its investigation, earlier this month.

In an affidavit filed in the case before the FIB applied for the detention order to be lifted earlier this week, acting Inspector Suzette McKenzie sought to identify the circumstances in which the cash was held.

McKenzie claimed that on December 22, 2019, her colleagues were on duty at the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC)’s branch in Scarborough, Tobago, when they were contacted by an official from the Central Bank, who indicated that a man had expressed interest in changing a large amount of cash which was stored in a safety deposit box.

The officers interrogated the man, who claimed that he was assisting his wheelchair-bound mother in exchanging the bills. The man also claimed that his father owned several bars and pharmacies in Tobago and chose to save the profits at home as he did not like banks.

After questioning the man’s mother, the officers applied to the Scarborough Magistrates’ Court for the cash to be detained.

The officers applied for extensions of the order, with the most recent being granted in September.

In the document, McKenzie said that the FIB’s investigation revealed that the money was not obtained through illegitimate means as initially suspected.

The investigation included the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) indicating that the taxes for the family’s businesses were up to date.

McKenzie said that investigators believed the family’s explanation over their reluctance to use banks as their financial records showed activity in their businesses’ commercial accounts but limited personal banking activity.

The family was represented by Om Lalla, Dereck Balliram, and Sue Chin Hing Ramdhanie of KR Lalla and Company.

During the Central Bank’s demonetisation process in 2019, the Branch seized and detained almost $28 million in cash, which Longdenville pastor Vinworth Dayal allegedly attempted to change for new notes.

In July, Dayal, the head of the Third Exodus Assembly Church in Longdenville, was charged with two offences for allegedly being in possession of the cash knowing that part or all were the proceeds of criminal activity under the Income Tax Act.

Dayal has been released on $10 million bail pending the completion of his case.