Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
Five weeks after police first raided the Drugs Sou-Sou (DSS) headquarters in La Horquetta, officers of the Professional Standards Bureau and Financial Investigations Branch returned to the venue yesterday and seized millions of dollars, several receipt books and other documents as they intensified their investigations into the matter.
This time, however, the two Bajan police officers and one UK investigator now here on the invitation of the Government to assist officers in the case, were instrumental in co-ordinating the operation, according to Ag Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob.
“They were somewhat of the brainchild in this operation, though they were not there physically,” Jacob told Guardian Media hours after the raid.
Questioned about the UK investigator’s arrival in T&T, since this was not revealed before, Jacob confirmed one of them was already here and on the ground.
“He came just after the officers from Barbados arrived and has been helping since then,” Jacob said.
Asked about the arrival of the other UK investigators, Jacob said they were currently assisting “virtually.”
Guardian Media was told that a Professional Standards Bureau team under Sgt Silver returned to the house where DSS operates, along Kathleen Warner Drive, Phase One, La Horquetta, shortly after 10.30 am yesterday. They later called in members of the Financial Investigations Branch to assist after money was recovered. The officers, armed with the appropriate warrants, spent close to four and a half hours at the house and seized millions in cash, hundreds of receipt books, documents containing line payments to thousands of individuals and other relevant documents.
The cash, seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act, was secured by Financial Investigations Branch officers and taken away to be checked and properly verified. This was done to prevent what occurred five weeks ago, when money a purportedly $22 million seized at the site was taken to the La Horquetta Police Station, only to be returned to DSS head Kerron Clarke mere hours later by junior cops at the station unauthorised to do so before the amount and source of the funds could be verified.
The return of the seized money to Clarke during the first raid on September 21 triggered a major investigation by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith with the help of the Professional Standards Bureau and Financial Investigations Branch. This after one member of the raiding unit was caught on video allegedly stuffing money into his uniform and other TTPS and Defence Force members were named as affiliates of the DSS operation who were paid to protect its operations. Four cops were suspended and 10 others transferred during the early stages of the probe by Griffith, who is expected back from vacation in Ireland on the weekend.
Jacob, who is overseeing all the probes in Griffith’s absence, yesterday confirmed they wanted to confirm the figure this time before identifying the quantity.
“It is millions, so the FIB has to count the money, so we cannot say at this point the exact sum,” he said.
Jacob acknowledged that the Financial Investigations Branch and Professional Standards Bureau were working together in the DSS investigation, which is not only looking at why police officers released the seized money in the first raid before it was counted but the TTDF member accused of theft during the raid. Added to this, Financial Investigations Branch investigators are still trying to piece together the DSS’ source of funds and are tracing complex financial trails and banking transactions associated with several banks during their investigation.
A senior investigator told Guardian Media that during yesterday’s operation, Professional Standards Bureau officers called in the Financial Investigations Branch after discovering close to $6 million in cash on the premises. The money was taken to the Financial Investigations Branch headquarters in Port-of-Spain and Clarke, along with lawyer Sio Sookdeo, accompanied them there, where the money was to be checked and verified in Clarke’s presence.
Earlier on, when police arrived at the DSS base, Clarke, clearly perturbed by their presence, live-streamed the raid on Instagram to show officers were there a second time and briefly remarked in the two-minute video, “I am being raided again.”
Several people commented during his live stream.
One person said: “All I want to know is what going on with Tobago.”
Another remarked, “Like Barbados reach,” while another viewer said, “I dunno why I cyar get my money, all yuh police sickening.”
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said Government had sought foreign assistance with the DSS investigation due to the allegations of corruption levelled against TTPS members.
Speaking at a PNM post-Budget forum in Belmont, Rowley had warned, “For a member of the Defence Force to stand up on the front page of the newspaper telling the country I am the one organising this, that is not a sou-sou, that is a threat to the national security of Trinidad and Tobago and if we don’t investigate it properly it will be cancer that will eat the soul of this nation.”