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DEA in T&T to probe $.6b cocaine bust

By By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

THE United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is in this country investigating the $.6 billion cocaine bust in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, which originated from Trinidad and Tobago, the Sunday Express has learnt. 

Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officers seized 732 pounds of cocaine concealed in cans bearing the labels of Trinidad Orange and Grapefruit juices at the Port of Norfolk in Virginia, United States, on December 20 last year.

The discovery was made during the inspection of a 20-foot container containing the fruit juices.

The wholesale value of the cocaine is about US$12 million and has a street value of as much as US$100 million, according to Customs officials. The seizure is the largest in the history of the Port of Norfolk. Port officials stated the container originated from this country and was destined for New York.

The container carrying the drugs was said to be flagged as soon as it left this country. No arrests were made. An arrest is said to be imminent however, the Sunday Express has been told.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday pledged his assistance to facilitate an extradition if one is sought.

“The Office of the Attorney General and the Central Authority under my jurisdiction will continue to co-operate with all international law enforcement agencies including the DEA,” Ramlogan said.

“The government is committed to this international partnership in the fight against crime, while I am obviously not at liberty to disclose the sensitive details of any international investigation.”

He added: “I want to give the assurance that the Central Authority will move expeditiously and continue to work professionally and responsibly with our allies and counterparts to facilitate any mutual legal assistance request and any request for extradition.” 

Local manufacturer SM Jaleel and Company Ltd did not export the container of juices in which some 732 pounds of cocaine with a street value of over $.6 billion was found to have been concealed, the company stated in a release on its website yesterday.

This has been confirmed by ExportTT, SM Jaleel stated on its website.

Minister of Trade Vasant Bharath told the Sunday Express while he had not seen the documentation to support this, he had no doubt that the information was correct.

“Our products are being targeted since we are this country’s #1 non-oil/petrochemical exporter and because our brands are well known and respected,” the release from SM Jaleel stated.

It added that ExportTT has confirmed it “DID NOT export the container of juices with cocaine to the US”.

ExportTT Ltd was designated by the Cabinet of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to be the sole National Export Facilitation Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Bharath said: “Each export shipment has to be certified by ExportTT as having been manufactured in Trinidad and Tobago, it is called a certificate of origin, and it is given to every manufacturer who exports, so we know every destination to which a product is being exported.”

Because of the certificate of origin, Bharath said ExportTT was able confirm that SM Jaleel and Company Ltd was not involved in the last matter where one of its products was associated with an illegal drug.

Earlier last month, another drink associated with SM Jaleel and Company Ltd laced with cocaine was named in the death of a Royal Navy veteran in the United Kingdom.

A liquid cocaine concoction in a Pear D soft drink bottle was blamed for the death of Joromie Lewis.

Lewis, 32, is said to have consumed the drink on December 5 and succumbed shortly after.

This led to the voluntary recall of all Pear D drinks bearing the code “BB Jan 08 14”.

“We were able to very quickly establish through ExportTT that SM Jaleel had not shipped any Pear D directly from the plant but clearly someone who purchased something locally and tampered with it before it was shipped,” Bharath said.

“I am not yet been privy to the export certificate of this particular one but I have no doubt that if SM Jaleel has released that (information about not being the exporter) then they must be in possession of a certificate from ExportTT,” he said.

SM Jaleel and Company has launched an internal investigation into the multi-million cocaine bust involving its products. 

“From all accounts the shipment was not exclusively juice and was a consolidated container with other products from Trinidad not associated with SM Jaleel,” the company stated, adding that there were several discrepancies relating to this shipment.

The last time the company shipped to its authorised dealer in the United States was in November last year. 

“We have been reliably informed that the container in question was shipped by from (sic) Port of Spain to Norfolk Virginia. SM Jaleel & Co Ltd ships to the USA with Seaboard Marine from Point Lisas Port to Brooklyn,” the release stated.

“The juice product was NOT original and had been tampered with,” it stated.

SM Jaleel and Company Ltd said there are several questions to be answered surrounding this incident. “Who shipped it? Why is it a secret? The public needs to be informed,” the release stated.

“To date neither the Narcotics Bureau of the TTPS nor Trinidad customs have been contacted by the US (authorities). From this we can deduce that this is a foreign issue which will be resolved abroad,” the company stated.

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