The Police Service is now investigating a claim that some 27 Arima business owners and some residents were threatened by a Muslim organisation, forced to sign a document and extorted for protection or security money.
The complaints were made to officers during a police walkabout in the communities last Thursday. A senior officer close to the case said it was under investigation by several branches of the service. However, he said many of the business owners and residents feared for their lives and did not want to give “evidence” against those committing the crime, which was a problem.
One of the victims yesterday claimed he was approached by the men and asked to pay a zakat although he was a Christian.
“Several men came about paying zakat. They came with a paper with a letter head asking for an agreement to pay the money. It did not have any money on it and I told them I not paying it,” he said.
However, the man, who did not want to be named, confessed he was afraid because he was robbed before and recently a man’s house in the area was burnt down because he did not pay the money.
“They burnt down his house because he did not want to pay it. If they could do that to him they could do that to anybody,” he said, adding he applied for a firearm license to protect his property after he was robbed years ago but did not even receive a reply. The police reportedly held the men recently for questioning in the matter but eventually released them.
A woman in the area hid while giving information to the T&T Guardian on her own case. She said the men approached every business in several communities and also claimed they burned down a man’s house because of non-payment.
ACP Northern Division McDonald Jacob yesterday confirmed the issue was raised with him during a walkabout in Carapo last week. He said four men were held in connection with the crime but they had to release two due to insufficient evidence.
“They were acting as a watch group and asked people to pay protection money. They asked 27 businessmen to pay them money, $300 per week and from $300 a week for the month and multiply that by 27....That’s a lot of money,” Jacob said.
Jacob said two of the suspects held were also later charged for a double murder in the area. Asked if the homicides had something to do with the extortion racket, Jacob said no. He said the officers are looking for eight more men wanted in connection with the incident.
Commenting on the issue, Arima Business Association chairman Reval Chattergoon said this was unacceptable to the people of Arima.
“This is the first time I heard of it and if they are extorting money from businessmen this is wrong and they (business owners) have to look at what they (businessmen) can do and the law-abiding people cannot be held at ransom by a number of people. This has to stop,” he said.
Chattergoon said it was only a matter of time before they spread their wings and multiplied to other communities.
“These people have power and expand and grow if they do not nip it in the bud,” he said.
He called for more police patrols and for business owners to get firearm licenses so they could protect themselves.
“We need more police and firearms. We have to be our neighbours keeper and know how to deal with it,” he said, adding some business owners wait between six and eight years for firearm licenses, which was unacceptable.
Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Camille Clarke)