Businessmen blocking million-dollar drug probes

The mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar co­caine find abroad a Span­ish tanker at At­lantic LNG in Point Fortin in April has un­hinged a so­phis­ti­cat­ed drug smug­gling op­er­a­tion fa­cil­i­tat­ed by a net­work of in­flu­en­tial lo­cal busi­ness­men with po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions on both sides of the fence.

High-rank­ing in­tel­li­gence sources, cus­toms of­fi­cials, and se­nior po­lice sources speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty con­firmed the pat­tern of this or­gan­ised net­work, that is al­so en­gag­ing the at­ten­tion of US law en­force­ment of­fi­cials.

“This is a tight net­work of three ma­jor busi­ness­men who are well con­nect­ed not on­ly here but they have ties in Eu­rope and North Amer­i­ca,” the source said.

Some of these in­di­vid­u­als, he ex­plained, have been liv­ing the high life pos­ing with fast cars and pri­vate jets all over the world. “They al­so use their dirty mon­ey to spon­sor high-end events in Eu­rope, North Amer­i­ca and even all the way on the oth­er side of the world in New Zealand,” he re­vealed.

Though these in­di­vid­u­als have a fleet of le­git­i­mate busi­ness­es lo­cal­ly and abroad, a source de­scribed it as “a per­fect cov­er for them to op­er­ate their ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties”.

Over the last few months, law en­force­ment sources said these busi­ness­men have been at­tempt­ing to thwart their in­ves­ti­ga­tions by reach­ing out to sev­er­al in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines.

They said that a par­tic­u­lar busi­ness­man and his busi­ness part­ners are not on­ly “cocky” but well con­nect­ed to sev­er­al in­flu­en­tial peo­ple that “could make any prob­lem they have dis­ap­pear”.

In fact, sources in sev­er­al arms of the lo­cal law en­force­ment are­na said that sev­er­al in­flu­en­tial peo­ple had been try­ing to get de­tails about the probe in­volv­ing the busi­ness­men in ques­tion.

“The idea we are get­ting is that they will stop at noth­ing to mash up cer­tain elite units that have been work­ing around the clock to piece to­geth­er this il­le­gal trail. Be­cause of their mon­ey and in­flu­ence, they think they could buy any­one,” ex­plained a se­nior po­lice source who has been ac­tive­ly in­volved in look­ing at the busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties of these par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­u­als and piec­ing to­geth­er a pa­per trail.

But the of­fi­cers told the Guardian that they were hold­ing the in­for­ma­tion “close to their chest” and they would not be swayed by any­one to re­veal any par­tic­u­lars about this far-reach­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The op­er­a­tion

The scope of their op­er­a­tion on­ly be­came more ap­par­ent af­ter au­thor­i­ties found the co­caine ship­ment aboard the His­pania Spir­it at the At­lantic LNG port in Point Fortin on April 3 around 9 am.

Cus­toms sources had in­formed Guardian Me­dia that sev­en bales of co­caine with a street val­ue of close to $120m were found at­tached to the rud­der of the ship. The rud­der is a big met­al flap at­tached to the tail of the ship that as­sists in the steer­ing of the ves­sel.

The stash was found just be­fore the ves­sel’s de­par­ture to Spain. The cap­tain was con­duct­ing safe­ty checks when he saw what ap­peared to be sus­pi­cious pack­ages in the rud­der well area. The cap­tain alert­ed an agent who lat­er con­tact­ed the au­thor­i­ties. Coast Guard divers re­trieved the co­caine, which weighed some 200 kilo­grammes.

Sev­er­al for­eign tankers en­ter the At­lantic port fre­quent­ly to col­lect LNG be­fore leav­ing for their des­ti­na­tions.

Sev­er­al lo­cal law en­force­ment arms have been in­volved in this in­tri­cate in­ves­ti­ga­tion piec­ing to­geth­er bit by bit the trail of these busi­ness­men.

One Cus­toms source re­vealed that based on the in­for­ma­tion they have now ob­tained the drugs were placed un­der the ves­sel while it was wait­ing to en­ter the At­lantic port. “The in­for­ma­tion is that the co­caine came from Venezuela and some­one would have told the per­sons that the ship will be stop­ping there for a while be­fore com­ing to port. Be­cause there were fre­quent se­cu­ri­ty pa­trols in this area of the Gulf of Paria that night, the smug­glers did not have enough time to se­cure the drugs prop­er­ly, ” the Cus­toms source re­vealed.

Sources said these well-net­worked busi­ness­men have been able to es­tab­lish con­tact with sev­er­al Venezue­lan un­der­world fig­ures and “through their men of busi­ness, they are able to fa­cil­i­tate these mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar il­lic­it trans­ac­tions”.

An in­tel­li­gence source said in this in­stance the co­caine was sup­posed to be tak­en off the His­pania ves­sel, brought in­land and prop­er arrange­ments then made by the in­flu­en­tial busi­ness­men to have this ship­ment sent to Eu­rope.

“We have been mon­i­tor­ing sev­er­al of these car­go ship­ments for a while now. How this works is that in sev­er­al cas­es the drugs are hid­den in parts of heavy end equip­ment. The part they or­dered, would be lat­er opened up through weld­ing, the drugs placed in­side and then they would weld it back shut and say it was the wrong part and then re­turn to sender,” said the well-placed in­tel­li­gence source.

He ex­plained that this way, not even snif­fer dogs could de­tect the con­tra­band.

“When the drugs are sent through this medi­um. The “right” part is then re­sent in the same man­ner and the mon­ey for the trans­ac­tion is hid­den in­side a weld­ed com­part­ment for the busi­ness­men to then col­lect ei­ther in US cur­ren­cy, pounds or Eu­ros, de­pend­ing on the coun­try that the ship­ment was sent to.”

On­ly last week, the source said, a co­caine drop was made in south Trinidad in the dead of night by a Venezue­lan man and a lo­cal. “The in­for­mant told us that they drove to the lo­ca­tion and dropped off sev­er­al bags of co­caine. The busi­ness­man who wasn’t in the coun­try was con­tact­ed by his man of busi­ness via Skype and he con­firmed to him that the stuff was re­al by taste test­ing it while he looked on,” said the in­tel­li­gence source.

No com­ment from Grif­fith, PM

Ear­li­er this week, Guardian Me­dia con­tact­ed Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith to com­ment on the claims be­ing made. How­ev­er, he said it was an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and he did not want to com­ment.

Guardian Me­dia al­so reached out to Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley, head of the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Coun­cil via text mes­sage on the claims be­ing made. He, how­ev­er, did not re­spond up to late yes­ter­day.