Trinidad: Four charged with $15m drug bust head to court amid heightened security

Krystiana Sankar

(Trinidad Guardian) Height­ened se­cu­ri­ty in the cap­i­tal city since mid­night is ex­pect­ed to im­pact thou­sands of peo­ple to­day, as one of the main streets lead­ing in­to down­town Port-of-Spain will be cor­doned off to fa­cil­i­tate two high-pro­file crim­i­nal cas­es.

Po­lice are ad­vis­ing mo­torists to avoid St Vin­cent Street com­plete­ly and find al­ter­na­tive routes such as Dun­don­ald Street, on­to Rich­mond Street or use the Queen’s Park West ex­it on­to Fred­er­ick Street.

High-lev­el na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty sources said se­cu­ri­ty in and around the Port-of-Spain Mag­is­trates’ Court is ex­pect­ed to be on its high­est alert to­day as four sus­pects charged with the $15 mil­lion drug bust in West­moor­ings head to court.

This event will clash with the on­go­ing crim­i­nal case in­volv­ing a group of men charged with the mur­der of for­mer In­de­pen­dent Sen­a­tor Dana See­ta­hal, as the main wit­ness re­turns to the wit­ness stand.

A no­tice is­sued by the Po­lice Ser­vice yes­ter­day ad­vised mo­torists that there will be no park­ing, stop­ping or wait­ing in ve­hi­cles be­tween Gor­don Street to Queen Streets—a sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of St Vin­cent Street where the cour­t­house is lo­cat­ed—which was in ef­fect from since mid­night. There was no in­for­ma­tion on when the re­stric­tions would be lift­ed. Traf­fic flow­ing east to west along across Duke Street, be­tween St Vin­cent Street and Pem­broke Street, will al­so be re­strict­ed, a se­nior of­fi­cer con­firmed, al­though this was not men­tioned in the of­fi­cial po­lice no­tice. (See map)

“Mem­bers of the pub­lic are urged to fol­low all in­struc­tions and di­rec­tions giv­en by of­fi­cers in a bid to en­sure every­one’s safe­ty and se­cu­ri­ty. Any in­con­ve­nience is re­gret­ted,” the no­tice added.

One se­nior of­fi­cer ad­vised cit­i­zens to “avoid St Vin­cent Street at all costs” and sug­gest­ed that par­ents park else­where and walk their chil­dren to their re­spec­tive schools.

Of­fi­cers of the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Re­sponse Team, who were in­stru­men­tal in the drug bust, along with of­fi­cers of the Or­gan­ised Crime and In­tel­li­gence Unit and oth­er se­cu­ri­ty agen­cies are ex­pect­ed to pro­vide a se­cu­ri­ty blan­ket to ac­com­pa­ny a con­voy of ve­hi­cles trans­port­ing the seized drugs and sus­pects to the cour­t­house at an unan­nounced time.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, dur­ing the hear­ing of the See­ta­hal mur­der en­quiry, there had been re­stric­tions on the use of the St Vin­cent Street, but this time the re­stric­tions have been widened and now en­com­pass­es five city blocks from as far up as the Port-of-Spain Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal all the way down to the In­dus­tri­al Court.

The re­stric­tions im­posed for the See­ta­hal mur­der en­quiry on Fri­days has caused sig­nif­i­cant dis­rup­tion to the flow of traf­fic in­to Port-of-Spain in the past but the new re­stric­tions will cre­ate even greater dis­rup­tion.

Head of the Port-of-Spain Di­vi­sion Snr Supt Floris Hodge-Grif­fith, in a What­sApp ex­change with Guardian Me­dia yes­ter­day, said em­ploy­ees of busi­ness­es lo­cat­ed along St Vin­cent Street will be al­lowed to get past the po­lice bar­ri­ers once they present their work iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“The in­con­ve­nience is re­gret­ted but we have to do this in the in­ter­est of jus­tice…it will end soon,” she stat­ed.

Asked what arrange­ments have been made to ac­com­mo­date par­ents drop­ping off school chil­dren to the sev­en schools lo­cat­ed along the route, Hodge-Grif­fith said, “There will be some chal­lenges with the tem­po­rary im­ple­men­ta­tion but each case will be con­sid­ered.”

Where will par­ents be al­lowed to park to take their chil­dren to school?

“There will be height­ened po­lice pres­ence in the area of con­cern to di­rect traf­fic and ad­dress those is­sues as they arise,” Hodge-Grif­fith said.

She said while there would be traf­fic re­stric­tions across Duke Street, from St Vin­cent Street to Pem­broke Street, mo­torists can ac­cess Aber­crom­by Street head­ing north.

Strong case against 4 ac­cused

Four peo­ple ar­rest­ed in con­nec­tion with a $15 mil­lion drug bust in the up­scale res­i­den­tial dis­trict of West­moor­ings on Tues­day are due to ap­pear in the Port-of-Spain Mag­is­trates’ Court to­day charged for pos­ses­sion of il­le­gal drugs, co­caine and mar­i­jua­na with the in­tent to traf­fic.

Krys­tiana Sankar, the for­mer step-daugh­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter Stu­art Young, will face ad­di­tion­al charges of pos­ses­sion of a loaded .38 re­volver which was re­cov­ered from a safe in her bed­room in the Re­gents Gar­dens apart­ment.

Aru­ba Eligon, Jer­von Cole and Yan­nis Au­gus­tine were al­so charged with pos­ses­sion of the il­le­gal drugs for the pur­pose of traf­fick­ing. The of­fences car­ry a max­i­mum penal­ty of life im­pris­on­ment if they are found guilty be­fore a judge and ju­ry. They al­so risk hav­ing their as­sets for­feit­ed to the State un­der the pro­vi­sions of the Pro­ceeds of Crime Act.

A high-lev­el team of of­fi­cers from the Or­gan­ised Crime and In­tel­li­gence Unit, led by ASP Micheal Veronique, led in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­to the mat­ter and con­sult­ed by Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions Roger Gas­pard SC yes­ter­day on the strength of the ev­i­dence against the four sus­pects.

Re­ports of a fifth sus­pect, who was ar­rest­ed away from the scene dri­ving a black BMW, were dis­missed by a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer last night. He said there was nev­er a fifth sus­pect, al­though pho­tos from the TTPS showed po­lice in­ter­cept­ing a black BMW mo­ments af­ter the drug bust and de­tain­ing the dri­ver.

The drug bust re­sult­ed from an in­tel­li­gence-led op­er­a­tion ex­e­cut­ed by the Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Gary Grif­fith and in­volved sev­er­al spe­cialised units in the T&T Po­lice Ser­vice with field op­er­a­tions, un­der the com­mand of Sgt Mark Her­nan­dez, of the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Re­sponse Team, tak­ing down the sus­pects in a covert mis­sion. Sev­er­al pho­tos of the op­er­a­tion were re­leased by the TTPS and shared on so­cial me­dia min­utes af­ter the in­ci­dent.

There was, how­ev­er, no de­vel­op­ment in an­oth­er high-pro­file drug seizure which oc­curred at May­field Road, North Val­sayn, on No­vem­ber 25. A to­tal of 600 kilo­grammes of mar­i­jua­na was seized in that op­er­a­tion and nine sus­pects were ar­rest­ed. Sev­er­al of them have since been re­leased from cus­tody and no one has been charged, po­lice con­firmed.

Se­nior of­fi­cers said that in­ci­dent was linked to the seizure of a cache of high-pow­ered mil­i­tary-type as­sault weapons and over $1 mil­lion worth of com­pressed mar­i­jua­na at Macaya Trace, Munroe Road, Cunu­pia, on No­vem­ber 9. One man was charged for those of­fences.

In all of the op­er­a­tions, the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Re­sponse Team were re­spon­si­ble for the suc­cess­es.

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