Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
Drug Sou Sou officials have recordings of at least two conversations with a high-ranking police officer in which a deal was brokered to secure the return of some $92 million that was seized by the police, minus $18 million that was paid as hush money to the officers who organised money’s return.
The DSS source said in crucial telephone recordings Guardian Media were informed about, DSS personnel told the high-ranking officer, “that there was a large sum of money not recorded in the receipts and the person informed the police officer there was actually $92 million.”
There was a second telephone conversation, the DSS source said, in which the high-ranking officer struck a deal to ensure that $74 million was returned and the other $18m was to be split between law enforcement personnel involved in the DSS operation and others they co-opted to retrieve the seized money.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith said after speaking with several internal sources of his own, he was now convinced that the sum he was informed about up to midnight on that Tuesday was close to $22m but noted he felt that was never the final amount. He even believes that he might have been misled by officers involved in the act.
The $22m figure was given to him by officers attached to SORT, who later left the La Horquetta Police Station with Financial Investigations Branch (FIB) officers, while Northern Division officers remained at the station to continue the count.
Griffith said he was also questioning the counting of that quantity of money in such a short space of time between 8.30 pm and midnight. To him, there was something amiss about this process.
Yesterday, Griffith said he was convinced there was far more money taken to the station than what was initially reported to the media.
“Based on information coming to hand and my intelligence sources, it cannot be confirmed that is was $22,157,000 million as claimed by the officers. It is virtually impossible for us to verify that at this time,” Griffith said.
He said three parallel investigations are now taking place into the matter, which included, “the $22 million via the source of funds, taxes et cetera, the officers who returned the funds and the officer who put the envelope in his pocket.”
While the police are continuing their probe, the T&T Defence Force (TTDF) finally broke its silence yesterday, two days after a Sunday Guardian exclusive story fingered members of the TTDF as being involved in the DSS operations and helping to transport the money to a house in Talparo and then to a fortified state location for safekeeping.
The TTDF acknowledged that they were “fully co-operating with the TTPS in the DSS investigation.
A release also said, “The TTDF has launched an internal investigation into the possible involvement and alleged misconduct of Defence Force members.”
The Sunday Guardian had sent several questions to various TTDF communications personnel, including PRO Lieutenant Sheron Manswell, asking specific questions.
The TTDF’s response yesterday was rather general and they steered clear of answering specific questions Guardian Media had posed to them.
LATT wants probe into warrant
Meanwhile, the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) has urged the Commissioner of Police to also open another investigation or include, as part of his ongoing investigation, whether there was a legal requirement to obtain a warrant before the search on the DSS was initiated.
In a media release yesterday, LATT said a warrant obtained after a search has started does not legalise what has already occurred.
LATT added, “The privacy of a citizen’s premises is protected by the Constitution and ought only to be violated when carried out strictly in accordance with the law. The failure to obtain a warrant when required, and the failure to disclose it when obtained, violates the Constitution, on the one hand, and engenders distrust, on the other. As things stand, it remains unclear what offence the officers leading this raid on private premises suspected was being or had been committed and what were the considerations that led to the return of cash seized.”
LATT also supported Griffith’s stance to investigate the return of the money from the DSS raid and also urged him to do a thorough investigation into the officer, “seemingly stuffing cash into his apparel.”
“The Commissioner has made the statement that the individual is a member of the Defence Force and not the Police Service. Whether that is or is not the case, the Commissioner ought not to belabour the point lest it appear that he is shirking responsibility for the conduct of an individual carrying out a search as part of a unit under his command,” LATT said.
They also appealed to Griffith to address concerns highlighted in video recordings of the raiding unit allegedly physically abusing occupants during the search of the premises.
LATT said, “Except in necessary self-defence or to impede escape or where the police are being obstructed in the performance of their duties, there is no justification for physical abuse on the part of any member of the protective services.”