Police officers outside DSS in La Horquetta during a raid on the premises last Wednesday. SHIRLEY BAHADUR

MARK BASSANT

Critical phone recordings between a high-ranking police officer and a Drugs Sou Sou (DSS) official discussing the actual amount of money seized and a deal to release some of the cash, after it was seized and hauled to the La Horquetta Police Station, are just some of the crucial information revealed to Guardian Media as the probe into the case continues.

A person close to the DSS operations yesterday claimed that the police actually seized close to $92 million from the La Horquetta apartment where they operated from and there are phone recordings to prove this.

The revelation came even as a video surfaced on social media of a member of the T&T Police Service led raiding team stuffing his uniform with money in one of the rooms during the operation.

Guardian Media had been reliably informed about the phone recordings and reached out to a DSS official with knowledge about the operations and raid. The DSS official confirmed the phone recordings and also said there was further video evidence to prove other wrongdoing by law enforcement personnel.

“When the police had done the count up to that night at the station, it was between $22 to $24 million. But there were two other cases of money unaccounted for and the actual amount of money that the police seized was near to $92 million,” the DSS source told Guardian Media on the condition of strict anonymity after questions had been sent for their response.

The official was asked if a certain police officer (name called) contacted someone at DSS.

“I will neither confirm nor deny the name of the officer, but there were at least two conversations with this police officer,” the DSS source claimed.

“The officer was told there was a large sum of money not recorded in the receipts and the person informed the police officer there was actually $92 million.”

Asked about the second phone conversation, the DSS source said, “In that phone call, some kind of arrangement was made where $74 million would be returned to DSS and the other $18 million would be kept.”

Sources told Guardian Media that the remaining money was to be split between law enforcement personnel involved in the DSS operation and others they co-opted into the act to retrieve the seized money.

Apart from two officers who had visited the DSS location during the count of the seized on Tuesday night, a phone call was also made by the high-ranking officer to ensure the money was released to the DSS handlers after the alleged deal was struck.

Sources told Guardian Media that there are several audio recordings and videos over a period of time allegedly proving wrongdoing.

“There was no verifying of the source of funds in this instance but it was released in the wee hours of Wednesday morning,” said a senior police investigator involved in the case.

Officers of the Financial Investigation Branch (FIB) were present when the initial count began at 8.30 pm on Tuesday but later left, leaving mainly Northern Division officers at the station.

Up to the time FIB and SORT officers left the La Horquetta station, the total counted thus far given by the Northern Division officers was $22 million and this was the information passed on to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith.

But a senior FIB investigator made it clear that they were not involved in the actual counting of the seized funds, noting they would only have been able to take possession of the cash after the count was finished and all necessary protocols were observed. The FIB had hoped to do that the following morning but the money was released before they could return to the station.

A legal source told Guardian Media that under the Proceeds of Crime Act, there was perhaps a case for the DSS to answer under the Securities Act since the company identified itself as an investment company but may not be registered under this act.

Another source added there were questions to answer on the culpability of alleged money laundering.

An army intelligence source also said yesterday that three days after community leader Cedric “Burkie” Burke died, some of his relatives and associates visited DSS in the hope of getting money he had poured into the scheme.

Sources claimed Burke had deposited $12 million and when his associates arrived at DSS they were told they would be given only some of the money. Burke’s associates wanted all the cash and so left and returned a few days later, only to be still told that DSS was unable to pay since Burke, who had died from COVID-19, never left any instructions to pay anyone out when he died.