T&T National Security Minister: LifeSport Fund financing criminals
(Trinidad Express) Last week, the Sunday Express reported on the growing force of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen in Carapo under Imam Hassan Ali and his son, Rajaee Ali. Imam Ali acknowledged that his followers comprised criminals and former prisoners who sought refuge in Islam. The Express reported on how the Jamaat was able to set up a base in Carapo by squatting on State lands, was being funded through the Ministry of Sport’s Life Sport Programme and the collusory/antagonistic relationship between the group and the police.
In Part 4, the Sunday Express focuses on the funding from Life Sport and the relationship between the Carapo Muslims and crime, gangs and the Government.
Rajaee Ali, through the Ministry of Sport’s LifeSport programme is getting about $1.5 million a month in profit and has raked in about $18 million in the last year, National Security Minister Gary Griffith has alleged.
Ali, the son of Jamaat-Al Muslimeen’s Imam Hassan Ali, is coordinator of the Carapo arm of the Life Sport programme.
Minister Gary Griffith alleged that the younger Ali is using ghost names in the programme. There are supposed to be 60 participants in one area, and overall, the programme operates in 33 areas. A stipend of $1,500 is paid a month for every participant enrolled in the programme.
Griffith said in each area, 30 of the 60 participants are ghosts.
Ali, Griffith alleged, is pocketing the stipend being paid on over half of the participants in the overall programme with the complicity of the Ministry of Sport.
“What they do is cut it by half-the other half are ghosts. Each person is supposed to be paid $1,500 a month, so you’re looking at $1,500 by 30 by 33. So Ali and company get $1.5 million in net profit per month,” he alleged in an interview with the Sunday Express on Friday.
The LifeSport Programme is one way in which the Jamaat has been funded through the government in the past two years.
The LifeSport Programme, which started at $6.6 million in 2012, increased to $29 million in 2013 and by 2014, the programme increased in cost by $84.4 million to $113,502,273.
It was an initiative of the Ministry of Sport’s permanent secretary Ashwin Creed. Its intent was to introduce sport and life skills to boys between 16-25 years old to curb crime in high-risk areas.
Griffith said the sum Ali is able to pocket from the programme is exclusive of management fees and catering fees which are part of the Ministry of Sport’s expenses in the programme..
“We actually found out that the LifeSport fund was being used as a fuel stop off point for further activity,” he said.
But intelligence is not evidence, as Ali still conducts prayers at the Carapo mosque.
Griffith observed that in the United States, there are hundreds of people on a terrorist watch list.
“What you don’t do is allow them to paint the Pentagon. You don’t give them a contract to paint the White House,” he said.
Sunday Express: “The Jamaat had a contract to paint buildings?”
Gary Griffith: “Spanish (an alleged gang leader) was actually putting in CCTV cameras in the Duncan Street Police Station. And then people will try and pretend they didn’t know.”
The Sunday Express understands that Cabinet, and certainly the National Security Council, were aware of this growing threat over the past two years.
Rajaee Ali, “the Don”
Griffith identified Ali as “the one who has been (allegedly named) in most of the murders in Arouca and Maloney, D’Abadie and O’Meara and those areas.”
He has become the don, the godfather inside there,” he said.
In 2004, Ali was charged with the murder of Amadoo Huggins, when he was just 18. He has spent eight years in prison. In 2007, he was one of three prisoners who escaped from Golden Grove Prison in Arouca, but was eventually caught and sent back. He was released in 2011.
Two weeks ago, following the murder of former independent senator and senior counsel Dana Seetahal, Ali was arrested for gang related activities.
The National Security Minister was asked by the Sunday Express to explain just how profits allegedly made through the LifeSport Programme were used.
“The LifeSport Fund is one of the major things which has affected us,” he said on the country’s security apparatus to control crime.
“Most of the criminal activ ities, the gangs work on is the profit they get from these State contracts. So they use their profits. The funds they get, they use to pay their gang members, they pay police officers,” he said.
Asked how aware and complicit the Cabinet was to the fund financing criminals, Griffith said: “In fairness to the government, they weren’t aware till I brought it to their attention based on the intelligence I had.”
He did not want to disclose on the record exactly when the Cabinet was apprised of the LifeSport’s other uses.
Attempts to contact Ali by phone for comment have been unsucessful.
Letter from Mr Hugh Grant
As for how Ali became the coordinator, details were discovered in a memo from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Sport dated June 12, 2013.
“In addition, with respect to the letters of engagement between each coordinator and the Ministry of Sport, we have observed that a Mr Hugh Grant executed the contracts for the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Sport for an on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The Ministry of Finance and the Economy wishes to remind you that the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Sport is the Ministry’s Accounting Officer and is the appropriate officer for executing such documents.
“Further, with respect to the letter of engagement between Rajaee Ali and the Ministry of Sport for the provision of services as a community coordinator for the two month period commencing January 2, 2013, it should be noted that the letter bears the signature of Mr Rajaee Ali as both the Permanent Secretary and the Community Coordinator. Please clarify,” the letter noted.
“Furthermore, it should be noted that whilst we are unable to approve the payment to coordinators until the contracts are executed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Sport, we have observed that there are inconsistencies in the certification of the coordinators invoices.
The Ministry of Finance and the Economy is very concerned abour the inconsistencies in invoices submitted for payment, most notably in respect of the fact that new invoices are being generated in lieu of our request for the original invoices to be appropriately certified,” the memo stated.
Auditor General’s report
In the Auditor General’s 2013 report, it noted several financial irregularities in the Ministry of Sport and in the LifeSport Programme:
1. Three invoices for equal amounts totaling $259,350 for catering of meals for the LifeSport Programme in three different areas-Marabella, Morvant and Bagatelle did not reflect any business address or telephone contact number for the supplier.
2. From a review of one month’s payments under the LifeSport Programme, 59 participants who were seen to have been paid stipends totaling $88,500 for St Joseph, were also seen to have been paid $88,500 for Maloney. In addition, a further amount of $76,500 was paid to 51 participants for Maloney. Also, payments for six participants in the Maraval area were made to the same bank account.
The report noted that analysis of the internal audit programme of work for the year revealed that high risk areas such as the LifeSport Programme were not included for review.
Cutting the Funding
On Friday, Minister of Works and Infrastructure Surujrattan Rambachan told Parliament: “Mr Speaker, I want to say that this Government has never and is not in the habit, now or ever been in the habit, of funding criminal elements in Trinidad and Tobago.
“That will not happen under this Government.
“The Government will always strive to ensure that people who conduct themselves within the law will be the beneficiaries of that which the Government has to offer the country, in terms of its development,” he added.
But Griffith explained that the Ministry of Sport was recently forced to host a family day for about $8 million to pacify the participants because he tried to force the Cabinet to hold back approval on the LifeSport payment.
“That is why I am so, you want to use the word, obsessed with destroying these gangs. If I cut their financial supply, its going to stop them from being able involved in the corruption of the criminal justice system by buying off police officers, paying off anyone, being able to pay gang members. Crippling the financial pockets will enable the law enforcement agencies to now move in,” he said.
Griffith elaborated: “If they have good finance, good capital, they are able to invest assist and distribute their funds, on how they were able to be so successful. If they have no finance, they can’t run a business.
“Gang activity is a business. That is how they thrive on it. To run a business, you need capital. Where are they going to get that capital from?”
Griffith said he became aware of these activities when he was the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser but became more “vociferious” when he became Minister.
“I had the authority to start putting, squeezing the system. I was able to come and point the fact that gangs have tried to infiltrate into state funding,” he said.
Asked whether the Government would take steps in an election year, given that Imam Ali had said the Jamaat voted for the People’s Partnership, Griffith responded: “If it is that this Government or any Government feels that they need to liaise with criminal elements to be get in Government, I don’t want to be part of that Government. I don’t think any citizen would want to be part of it.
“For too long, we keep hearing of these insurgents, these radical people who say that if they give us money and you find us, we will get them to vote. Apart from lack of ethics, it is tantamount to treason in a country. And if you’re starting to buy votes, what you’re actually doing is selling the soul of the country.
“ If you sleep with Devil there is going to be a price to pay. When you come into Government, you’re going to have to pay the price.”
Howai on Life Sport
Finance Minister Larry Howai said he was concerned about whether the Life Sport programme was potentially funding criminals.
“As Minister of Finance and the Economy I assure you that I am concerned about these allegations as reported in your articles. Notwithstanding our resource limitations (monitoring 30 ministries and 75 state enterprises/statutory bodies.which is not really the remit of the Ministry…is not easy) the Ministry of F&E has in the past few months re-doubled its oversight efforts of all Ministries and in particular of this Programme. An audit was done of the Programme following the discrepancies which were identified and the findings of the Report were forwarded to the Minister and the Sport Company to ensure that the controls and supervision exercised by these bodies over the Programme could be tightened and improved and appropriate action taken where persons were guilty of any wrongdoing.
“As the letter from the PS referred to in the article this morning indicated, the Ministry of F&E exercises great care and where irregularities show up, these are referred to the relevant Ministry for action immediately. While the The Ministry of Finance and the Economy does not in general, do disbursements for the Ministries, it tries as far as it possibly can to ensure that the money spent is of benefit not only to the individual participants in a programme but to the country as a whole,” he said.