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Local group behind ‘coke’ in juice tins

By NALINEE SEELAL Monday, January 20 2014

A LOCAL group of criminals has been identified as the mastermind behind the exportation of TT$640 million in cocaine, concealed in 700 sealed tins of Trinidad Juice which arrived at the Norfolk Port in Virginia USA on December 20.

This was revealed to Newsday yesterday by high level National Security sources who confirmed that US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents are in Trinidad working with agents from the local Strategic Services Agency (SSA) and the National Operations Centre (NOC) to weed out the persons behind the shipment.

The cocaine was found on December 20 at the Port of Norfolk inside a shipping container bound for New York. Officers used advanced technology to perform an initial inspection of the 20-foot container which arrived from Trinidad and Tobago.

The cocaine, which weighed 332 kilos is worth US$100 million (TT$640 million) and the drug bust was described as the largest in the history of the Norfolk Port.

The drugs were earmarked from New York.

Sources said a group of persons involved in organised crime is responsible for the shipment and it is believed this is not the first such shipment by the group.

Sources said a breakthrough in terms of arrests is imminent as a check of the paper trail regarding the shipment documents has provided “very helpful” information to investigators.

The information, sources added, was cross-referenced with information on persons on a blacklist as being suspects in big time smuggling operations in Trinidad which is a critical transshipment point for drugs and other illegal items origination from South America and destined for North America and Europe.

Newsday was told the police and Border Protection agents in Norfolk are also a part of the investigating.

Major local drinks producer SM Jaleel has since distanced itself from the particular consignment of goods which included 700 sealed tins bearing the labels of its popular Trinidad Juices in which the drugs were found.

The company, which acquired the Citrus Cooperative Growers Association, representing all major estates and farmers growing oranges and grapefruit started producing tinned juices under the Trinidad Reconstituted Juices brand, in 2009, has received stout support from the TT Manufacturers Association (TTMA).

The TTMA in a release over the weekend described SM Jaleel a company which for over 90 years gave “dedicated service to the socioeconomic landscape of Trinidad and Tobago” which is a substantial employer as well as the largest non-petrochemical exporter in the country.

As a means of controlling the scourge of drug trafficking and to protect the name of law-abiding manufacturers, the TTMA said it now wants to work with the Ministry of Trade and Industry as well as the Comptroller of Customs and Excise, Shipping Association and freight forwarders to determine how best to address the issue of consolidated shipments not originating from a manufacturer.

Local manufacturers are all vulnerable if this practice is not stopped, the TTMA warned. The TTMA said it is confident that this initiative will go a long way to preventing the kinds of instances which can hurt not only a local manufacturer, but the good name of all of Trinidad and Tobago.

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