Police Commissioner Gary Griffith sounds genuinely pained by public criticism over the seizure by the police of a reported $22 million in cash from an alleged pyramid scheme in East Trinidad.
In a lengthy statement posted on social media yesterday, he bemoaned, with sarcasm, the public “disgust over the terrible act of a Police Commissioner going above and beyond, to investigate and retrieve $22 million in cash, that cannot be accounted for”, noting that it had since been “wrongfully returned...”
By any standard, $22 million in cash is astounding. The fact that it was in a private residence in a modest community makes it shocking. Instinctively, the question that comes to mind is: where did this money come from? However, the problem with Commissioner Griffith’s position is that this question is only the beginning of an investigation and far from any conclusion on which a criminal case could be built.
Regardless of how sensational it sounds, grounds must first be established that a crime has been committed before the police can move in, seize property, arrest and charge people.
The problem with this case is that it is not clear what law was broken and what the crime was. Only in very exceptional cases does the law allow arrest and seizure prior to investigation. Whatever one’s suspicions, the fact of having a lot of cash in hand is not a crime. There has to be evidence of being ill-gotten as the proceeds of a crime. As of now, no such claim has been made, which would explain why the cash was returned.
Returning the cash also does not mean the end of police interest in the matter, and it may well be that a criminal probe remains under way.
Commissioner Griffith may believe that having made the case a matter of national interest, he should have been consulted before the money was returned to its “owner” by the La Horquetta police. That is a chain-of-command issue on which we need not pronounce. However, it is within the remit of investigating officers to return seized property if they have not established a criminal case on which to proceed. It would matter not if it was $22 or $22 million.
This apart, we support the authorities’ warnings about the danger of a pyramid scheme, which is not to be confused with the traditional sou-sou system. The idea of a “pyramid sou-sou”, as some have been referring to certain schemes, is a contradiction in terms.
The sou-sou has deep roots in communities all over the Caribbean where it is known by different names. It is a savings system outside of the formal banking sector which was brought from Africa, and is based on trust. Sou-sou “hands” have allowed generations of people to accumulate cash to finance importance needs, and holds a place of pride for the material advance of persons who would otherwise not be supported by the commercial banking sector.
By contrast, pyramid schemes are about investment designed to benefit its operators at the top while exploiting recruiters below. Its motivation is greed, not savings.