By Nalinee Seelal Thursday, January 23 2014
Concerned about leaks of sensitive information relating to the investigation of the seizure of 700 cans, labelled Trinidad juice, containing cocaine in the United States, Minister of National Security Gary Griffith yesterday ordered a media blackout to prevent the probe being compromised. Even, his fellow Government colleagues are not to be told anything about the investigation.
The cocaine weighing 332 kilos is worth an estimated $640 million.
Newsday understands that early yesterday Griffith instructed the heads of local intelligence agencies to inform all personnel to refrain from giving any report to the media because it was noted that sensitive information had been published that might affect the success of the investigation.
Contacted yesterday, Griffith confirmed he had directed that no sensitive information which could jeopardise the probe be passed on to the media and he had also instructed no Government official, including Ministers, be given any information about the status of the investigation.
He believes this is the safest way to ensure the investigation is protected and not compromised.
“This is a law enforcement matter. We want to ensure there are no leaks and nobody could cover for anybody and I have given certain instructions not to release any information pertaining to this investigation, including Ministers and Government officials,” Griffith told Newsday.
Newsday contacted Attorney General Anand Ramlogan on Griffith’s move to have a blackout on information shared with the media and Government officials, however Ramlogan’s response was, “No comment.”
Newsday also contacted Minister of Works and Infrastructure Dr Suruj Rambachan who said he had no problem with Griffith’s decision. “I think that they have to agree on a certain level of secrecy given the sensitive nature of what is happening and I have no problem with his decision,” he said.
Rambachan said the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which has agents in Trinidad, will be given the fullest cooperation to make a breakthrough in the investigation.
Newsday understands that apart from the Trinidad juice cans shipped from the Port of Port-of- Spain to Norfolk, Virginia, United States Customs officers found softdrinks and 12 other items from this country which did not contain any cocaine. The Trinidad juice brand belongs to manufacturer SM Jaleel which has since disclosed the labels on the tins were fake.
US Homeland Security, the DEA and local law enforcement officers have zeroed in on an organised group operating out of Norfolk who were responsible for smuggling the cocaine to the US. It is expected that arrests are to be made in the US and in Trinidad. Newsday understands the DEA officers working alongside officers of the Organised Crime Narcotics and Firearms Bureau (OCNFB) are also trying to determine whether tins of juice worth $113,000 which were stolen from the compound of Cooperative Citrus Growers Association, a subsidiary of SM Jaleel, on Eastern Main Road, Laventille between December 2 and 5 were the tins used to smuggle the cocaine into the US. The 1,296 cases of Trinidad juice were discovered missing from the warehouse of the CCGA on December 5 but it was not until December 10 that the matter was reported to the Besson Street police.
Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams yesterday said he was not in a position to comment on the investigation. However, speaking at the weekly briefing at Police Administration Building, Edward Street, Port-of-Spain, Williams said the Police Service continues to make the clear position that it is critical for the country to have an improved system of securing the borders that is not limited to legal ports of entry.
Meanwhile, Trade, Industry and Investment Minister Vasant Bharath yesterday disclosed he will soon announce a series of measures which Government will take to prevent any repeat of the circumstances which led to the cocaine being found in a shipment from Trinidad.
Speaking with Newsday following a TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce luncheon, Bharath said he met with officials from the Customs Division, Export TT, the Chamber and the TT Manufacturers Association (TTMA). He explained the meeting was held “from the perspective, not of investigation, but from a perspective of understanding what kinds of systems we can put in place to ensure that we can minimise this kind of activity.”
He expected this matter will be discussed at today’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
In a separate interview with reporters, Barbados Industry Minister Donville Inniss said he did not believe this incident would harm the reputation of regional manufacturers or cause Barbados business persons to view imports from TT in a negative light. “The fact that the US Drug Enforcement Agency were able to detect it through their surveillance work is commendable and I think this would certainly benefit us.”
Stating this matter shows the extent to which persons with warped minds would “go after the almighty dollar” in the multi-billion dollar illegal drug trade in the region, Inniss said, “They don’t care whose lives or whose reputation they destroy in the intervening period, including that of sovereign states.”
Declaring persons convicted of drug trafficking “should never see the sunlight again,” Inniss said TT and US authorities need “ time to work this matter out and to prosecute who needs to be prosecuted.”