Guns being smuggled into T&T via jet skis & ports

(Trinidad Express) There is a $100 million illegal gun trade in this country and some of the drugs and guns are being smuggled in via jet skis and possibly through 40 per cent of containers at the ports that are given a “green light” without any checks.

This was some of the startling information disclosed before the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) into the National Security Ministry yesterday, at the Parliament Building, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

Even Police Service Senior Superintendent of Armoury Leroy Brebnor seemed to be taken aback when it was revealed by Comptroller of Customs and Excise Glenn Singh that 40 per cent of containers that come into the country are not checked because the owners of these containers are deemed to be compliant.

“What concerns me most, and it should concern the whole of Trinidad and Tobago, is that 40 per cent, that is my biggest problem right now, because if I am importing and I can get through, once or twice, unchecked, I’m expecting to get through the third time, fully loaded,” said Brebnor when he was pressed to provide information on what the police were doing to stem the flow of illegal guns into the country. Prior to the meeting, the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) did a presentation to the JSC on illegal guns.

Opposition Senator Wayne Sturge questioned Singh on what percentage of containers are searched as he noted a container seized in Valsayn some years ago with 100 high-powered firearms. Singh said 60 per cent of the containers are seized and the other 40 per cent are given “free clearance. They are free to dispose of the contents as they see fit”.

“That is very risky in today’s Trinidad and Tobago,” said JSC chairman Fitzgerald Hinds.

Singh, when pressed with questions, also admitted that there are “transgressions” where officers do not do their duty and ensure compliance. The issue of integrity with personnel in the various agencies–the Customs and Excise Division; Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago; T&T Police Service; Airports Authority; and Coast Guard–was an issue echoed by all the heads present.

Brebnor took immediate interest in the statement that 40 per cent of containers were not searched.

“I listened to that and that confirms and compounds the situation we are in at this present state because if 40 per cent of your containers can go unsearched, then you can imagine what really goes on, the numbers that we are finding on a daily basis and then numbers that the strategic services have put up could triple,” he warned.

Singh said a risk management committee is responsible for “clearly defined criteria” which is put into a system and a person is given the green light to clear their containers without searches based on their history and compliance.

Sturge said it was obvious that the people who run the gun trade are not “small people” given that the trade is $100 million-plus. He asked whether it was not common sense that the 40 per cent or the “rich people” should be the ones to focus eyes on.

Singh said that was a highly subjective statement and there is no criteria for “rich people” and those who get the green light are those that are established businesses that are highly compliant.

“Are you saying that it is beyond the capability and the mal-intent of captains of industry to be importing illegal firearms?” asked Sturge, to which Singh assured there were no “free rides” given that random checks are done.

Senator Nigel De Freitas interjected, saying that if someone is going to be involved in illegal activity the very thing that they want to be is to become compliant.

“It just stands to reason that those that are compliant are the ones to look at,” he said.

Brebnor said the number of illegal firearms in the country should “send shivers through all of us”.

He again raised the issue of the 40 per cent of containers that come in freely without scrutiny. Hinds said there is another system, “the dark net”, where persons can simply place an order and illegal weapons come to their door in the mail.

“I am fully aware of that, it is happening,” said Brebnor.

Brebnor also raised concerns with “yachties” that come to Trinidad and check in with the relevant authorities and also lodge their weapons but they are given a six-month entry, during which they can slip out and return with illegal arms.

Hinds asked whether there were other means by which illegal guns were coming into the country and William Alexander, acting Commissioner of Prisons, revealed that jet skis are now a means of smuggling.

“Just recently I learnt of another way to bring drugs and guns into Trinidad and Tobago is via the jet ski, they are saying it takes approximately two hours or less to use a jet ski to move from Trinidad and Tobago to the Venezuelan coastline and there is some compartment within the jet ski that they put these items. We would need to look at that,” he said.

Singh said four mobile scanners have been in the country since 2015 but they are not yet operational because they are awaiting a contract to be signed off for their maintenance.

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