T&T security minister says going after `big fish’

(Trinidad Express) National Security Minister Gary Griffith stated yesterday that the days of catching the petty criminals while allowing the ‘big fish’ free rein are over.

The minister give the assurance that there would be no cover-up in the investigation of cocaine valued at  US$100m (TT$644m) found in SM Jaleel Co Ltd cans bearing the labels of Trinidad Orange and Grapefruit juices and seized in Norfolk, United States. The seizure represents the largest in the history of the Port of Norfolk.

“Regardless of who it is or how high it goes, I can assure you that I will do all I can to ensure that the persons are brought to justice. People always ask about the ‘big fish’, well I want the ‘big fish’ badly,” Griffith told the Express.

Asked whether he was confident the ‘big fish’ would be caught, Griffith said: “I am confident that there would be no cover-up and that  based on the investigation between the DEA (United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration) and our intelligence agencies, all mechanisms would be put in place to ensure that persons are brought to justice. The days of picking up the more junior person (criminal) and leaving it there, while allowing the ‘big fish’ to continue to get away are over. It is time that the ‘big fish’ stop swimming,” he declared. He added that Government hoped to use this situation to send that message.

Griffith was responding to the observation that when marijuana valued at TT$30 million was seized in frozen chicken at Point Lisas in 2011 no one was held accountable.

However, responding to statements from People’s National Movement Senator Faris Al-Rawi that  there could be bloodshed since this was a drug deal gone sour, Griffith said  that (Al-Rawi’s) statement could cause panic.

“I don’t want the country to panic, I don’t want people to have the fear that there would be mass killings,” Griffith stated,  though he conceded that somebody is going to pay a price for the discovery of the cocaine. “Somebody involved in the drug trade has lost big money based on this (discovery),” he said.

He said he did not want to disclose any operational plan but stressed that major drug busts would continue to be made. He said 51 weapons had been seized in the first three weeks of this year, which is the equivalent of three weapons being seized each a day.

“We will continue to seize weapons, we will continue to make major drug busts but the individuals who continue to want to be involved in a life of crime, they would pay the price,” he said. “They would end up either behind bars or at the wrong end of a bullet,” he added.

On Al-Rawi’s statement that Government should make a statement on this important issue of the cocaine find, Griffith said: “As much as people would want to know what is going on, this is a matter that is ongoing, it is very sensitive. We have put all the mechanisms in place and I don’t want to say anything that would jeopardise the success of the investigation and the operation but the nation would be involved in due course.

“There is an investigation that is taking place. There is joint communication and collaboration between the US intelligence agencies and ours. All systems that we can put in place to ensure that there would be no set of reprisals would be done by the law enforcement agencies.”

Griffith also responded to criticisms that if local law enforcement authorities knew about the cocaine, they should not have allowed the cocaine to be packed and sealed in the cans and exported to the US ,saying too often the items are seized and the individuals are released.

“The only way you can get the individuals is by a proper sting operation where you can follow the trail,” he said. “And those are the things being done, instead of you getting a tip-off and rushing in there to lift up a piece of galvanise and seize (the product),” he said.


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Delcidio do Amaral

Brazil corruption probe widens; Senate leader, BTG Pactual CEO arrested SAO PAULO/BRASILIA, (Reuters) – The chief executive of Brazil’s biggest independent investment bank and the leading senator in the governing coalition were arrested yesterday on suspicion of obstructing the country’s most sweeping corruption investigation ever. The detention of such prominent power brokers on orders from the Supreme Court raised the stakes dramatically in a bribery scandal that started with state-run oil company Petrobras and now threatens the heights of Brazilian banking and politics. The arrest of Andre Esteves, the billionaire CEO and controlling shareholder of BTG Pactual SA and Brazil’s most influential dealmaker, sent the bank’s listed shares into a dive that wiped out a fifth of its market value and raised red flags at the central bank. Brazil’s Congress also ground to a halt with the arrest of ruling Workers’ Party Senator Delcidio do Amaral, a veteran lawmaker who has run the economic affairs committee and who has been key to President Dilma Rousseff’s unpopular austerity program. Brazil’s currency fell as much as 2 percent as the scandal threatened both the country’s sixth-largest bank and the president’s sputtering efforts to pass a new budget and avoid another credit ratings downgrade to junk. Brazil’s central bank said it was monitoring the arrest of Esteves to see whether it would impact operations at BTG Pactual and trigger regulatory action. Banking analysts warned that BTG Pactual, the largest independent investment bank in Latin America, could struggle to navigate Brazil’s worst recession in a quarter century without its wunderkind founder at the helm. Clients withdrew funds equivalent to less than 1 percent of assets under management at BTG Pactual, which was less than had initially been expected by some, said a source with knowledge of the bank’s strategy. The six-year-old BTG Pactual, which manages about 230 billion reais ($61 billion), tapped less than 5 percent of its about 40 billion reais in cash reserves to cover those redemptions, said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. SHOCKWAVES IN CONGRESS The political gridlock that has obstructed economic policy this year is likely to worsen with the jailing of Amaral, one of about 50 Brazilian politicians under investigation for their alleged roles in a vast kickback scandal at the oil giant known as Petroleo Brasileiro SA. Amaral’s arrest was the first ever for a sitting senator in Brazil and it sent shockwaves through the capital. Congress suspended its sessions as senators met to discuss how to handle the arrest. After a heated debate in which some government supporters defended Amaral, the Senate voted 59-13 to uphold the top court’s decision to order his arrest. Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki said he authorized the arrest after prosecutors presented a taped conversation in which Amaral tried to bribe Petrobras’ former international director, Nestor Cervero, out of taking a plea bargain that could implicate the senator and other politicians. Prosecutors alleged that Amaral conspired to help Cervero flee authorities. They also said the senator offered a monthly stipend to the former executive’s family, financed by Esteves, who had obtained a copy of a plea bargain based on Cervero’s testimony. Cervero was received a 12-year sentence in August for corruption and money laundering in connection to bribes paid on two drillship contracts. Another defendant in the case testified that Cervero had passed bribe money to Amaral skimmed from Petrobras’ controversial 2006 purchase of a refinery in Pasadena, Texas. Amaral’s lawyer, Mauricio Silva Leite, dismissed the accusation that his client obstructed the Petrobras investigation, saying it was based on the word of a convict. He also criticized the Supreme Court for ignoring the senator’s immunity as an elected official. SHARES DIVE BTG Pactual confirmed the arrest of its chief executive and said the bank was available to cooperate with the investigation. Esteves’ lawyer, Antonio Carlos de Almeida Castro, told reporters that the banker “certainly” had not acted to obstruct the investigation. The bank’s listed units, a blend of shares in its investment banking and private equity divisions, tumbled as much as 39 percent to an all-time low on the Sao Paulo stock exchange before paring losses to 21 percent. Court representatives said Esteves had been arrested temporarily for five days, with a potential extension of five days. Amaral was arrested for an indefinite period. Esteves, 47, has drawn on powerful connections in politics and global finance to steer BTG Pactual through turbulent times as Brazil’s economy plunged into a sharp recession. BTG Pactual’s major deals with Petrobras have drawn the attention of investigators, including the bank’s stake in Sete Brasil Participacoes SA, a supplier of oil-drilling platforms that has been swept up in the probe. BTG Pactual also bought half of Petrobras’ Africa unit in 2013. Last quarter, credit to oil and gas and infrastructure companies, which are the most impacted industries in the widening graft probe, accounted for about 16 percent of BTG’s loan book. That is the largest exposure among Brazil’s listed traded banks, according to Thomson Reuters data. Brazil’s central bank said in a press statement that it was monitoring the arrest of Esteves, adding that BTG Pactual has solid liquidity indicators and continues to operate normally. The net worth of Esteves was last estimated at $2.2 billion by Forbes Magazine.


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