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Thousands of cases of juice stolen

Police: Cartel sending female assassins for whistle-blowers

By Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

THOUSANDS of cases of canned fruit juice were stolen from the Citrus Growers Association's compound in Laventille for more than two years, pointing to a definitive link to the $644 million drug bust that took place in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, last month.

Citrus Growers Association is a subsidiary of SM Ja­leel Ltd, whose juice products have come under scrutiny since the drug bust.

The businessman who has been pulling the strings to engineer some of the bigger robberies is one of the local targets of interest by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), according to well-placed law-enforcement sources. 

Intelligence sources told the Express and TV6 News that this specific businessman has been a target of inte­r­est by the DEA for quite some time and they are hoping they can finally zero in on him and other key players with this slip-up.

Sources told the Express that DEA and local security agencies are working “around the clock as they attempt to move in on their targets”.

And while they tackle that dilemma, the Express uncovered the theft of the 1,296 cases of canned juices at the Citrus Growers Association's compound on December 2 last year was only the beginning of a robbery trail that dates back more than two years on the company’s compound, involving canned juices.

Vice-president of SM Jaleel Ltd Anna Mohammed, speaking exclusively to the Express and TV6 News on the matter yesterday, confirmed via tele­phone the company has had several reports of canned juices being stolen prior to the last theft in early December.

She said: “We have had numerous instances of theft of canned juices on the compound going back since 2012, and even before that. There have been criminal elements from the area coming into the compound.”

Mohammed said her security manager had a list of the number of robberies and the quantities of canned juices stolen but up to press time, she was unable to get the list to the Express because she was unable to reach the security manager. 

The estimated losses of canned juice cases, she said, were well in the thousands.

“I mean, the robberies did happen and I can tell you that in all these times, there was only one arrest made,” Mohammed stated.

The Express spoke with two police sources in the Port of Spain Division who confirmed several police reports were lodged at the Besson Street Police Station, made over the last two years, involving the stealing of canned juices at the Citrus Growers Association's compound in Laventille.

One police source confided to the Express and TV6: “To me, when we started investigating it, we noticed it was a trend, and I felt to myself that it was well set up and planned by whoever was stealing these juice cans because something did not add up.”

In several of the instances, there was very little or forced signs of entry, very much like the last robbery that took place last month, police said.

“It was only now, with the discovery of the canned cocaine in the US, that we finally put two and two together,” said a source.

And while the DEA, with the help of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) and other local law-enforcement authorities, continue to pursue certain leads, Customs and Immigration sources say they have informed the law-enforcement authorities to brace for a backlash from the South American connection.

A customs officer who did not want to be named said the cartel had been planning to bring assassins into Trinidad to deal with those who might have blown the whistle on them and who didn’t ensure the safe passage of the shipment, both here and abroad.

“What we know is that they (lawmen) are expecting male assassins to come into the country, but based on information we have collated with Immigration personnel, they are planning to send female assassins to do the job,” he said.

He indicated that based on information received, the women were supposed to have entered the country yesterday, via a ferry in Chagua­ramas.

Immigration sources also confirmed they had received information of a similar nature but they could not say anything further.

Minister of National Security Gary Griffith, who spoke to the Express and TV6 News briefly yesterday, said, “We want to ensure that no other ministers in the Cabinet know what we are doing...because we don’t want them to tip off someone who might be a friend of these people and then they disappear. We want to ensure the highest level of confidentiality in this investigation.”

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