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 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.