Seized: Boxes of money

Seized: Boxes of money.

POLICE have shut down the Drugs Sou Sou (DSS) ­operation in Tobago and arrested and charged seven people for breaching Covid-19 regulations.

DSS is the operation at the centre of a probe surrounding the seizure of $22 million at a house in La Horquetta by police last month.

A crowd of people gathered at Shepherd’s Inn in Crown Point, Tobago, yesterday to register for DSS, but were quickly dispersed when photos and videos of the crowd were posted on social media.

Under the Covid-19 regulations, only ten people are allowed to congregate in public spaces.

The gathering came to the attention of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, who is currently in the United Kingdom on vacation and for a medical check-up.

Griffith gave instructions to arrest anyone who was in breach of the Covid-19 regulations and to shut down the DSS operation, a statement from the Police Service said.

This resulted in the arrest of 36-year-old Janine Collins; 21-year-old Naomi Alexander; 37-year-old Shevonne Hartell; Mia Charles, 37; Anthony Caesar, 33; Jennifer Latoch, 47; and 42-year-old Kwesi Beckles.

They will appear virtually before a Scarborough magistrate tomorrow.

Police said around 9 a.m. yesterday, a team of officers led by Snr Supt Garvin Simon responded to a report that a large crowd had gathered outside Shepherd’s Inn to register to be part of the DSS plan.

On arrival, police informed the crowd they were in breach of the Public Health Ordinance (2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Regulations 2020.

“The majority of the people dispersed, but several refused to abide by the instructions of the police officers,” the Police Service stated.

As a result, the seven people were arrested and charged.

Acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob said the regulations were very clear.

He said there should be no gatherings of more than ten people, as stipulated in the public health regulations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

DSS first shot into the spotlight following a police raid on a La Horquetta home on September 22, which resulted in the seizure of $22 million in cash.

The money was taken from the house to the La Horquetta Police Station to be counted, but was later returned to DSS founder Kerron Clarke, who claimed $4 million was missing when the funds were returned.

Video footage of the raid showed a member of the assigned Special Operations Response Team (SORT) stuffing an envelope into his uniform during the bust.

Griffith stated the man in the footage was not a member of the TTPS, but a member of the Defence Force, and the matter would be investigated.

Despite being probed, DSS continues to operate as a ­legitimate “sou sou” and has denied claims it is involved in money laundering or any illegal activity.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has since sought the intervention of foreign investigators to look into the DSS operations and alleged misconduct of the ­Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.

Speaking at a post-budget virtual forum on Thursday night, Rowley said he was disturbed by the events, adding that it pointed to corruption.

He said he has since contacted the British government and Barbados, seeking advice on how the matter should be handled.

As a result, he said two senior investigating officials from Barbados will be coming to Trinidad to analyse the incident.

Without proper investigation, he said, the matter will become a “cancer that will eat the soul of this nation”.

So far, four officers have been suspended and 11 others transferred as the investigations continue.

‘Not a cancer’

La Horquetta residents said yesterday they would still support DSS, as it provides low-income people with financial freedom they never had before.

“It is running smoothly and there is nothing illegal about it, and all that is going on is that people’s eyes have been opened and they want financial freedom, but the Government does not want that so all they are trying to do now is stifle it,” said one resident of the area.

Operations were closed yesterday, and when the Sunday Express enquired, a woman came out to say they were closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

She said their management team was in Tobago.

Another man, who said he invested in DSS, challenged the Prime Minister’s statements.

“Why is he calling it a cancer or national security crisis?” he asked.

He said he was currently awaiting a renewal on his job contract, but in the meantime his expenses and those of his family still needed to be met.

“I understand the need to investigate, but they cannot call it a cancer because those officers who passed back the money worked within the law because if the police seize the money, they then investigated and the receipts and the money they seized all added up, why hold on to the money, then?” he asked.

Another man said, “People are in the groceries, people are paying off their debts, one woman had surgery done the other day, but is the Government helping us with these things?”

—additional reporting

by Gyasi Gonzales

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