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JUICE ATTACK

Intruders shoot at SM Jaleel’s security guards following overnight robbery

By Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

Armed intruders yesterday climbed the roof of the Trinidad Juice Company’s Co-operative Citrus Growers Association compound in Laventille and fired shots at security guards for several minutes before police and soldiers forced them to run away.

The attack followed a break-in at the company’s Eastern Main Road facility and warehouse on Monday night when thieves broke in and stole canned juice and bottled soft drinks valued at $20,000.

The juice company is a subsidiary of Otaheite-based SM Jaleel and Co Ltd, which has caught the country’s attention since United States authorities announced on December 20, a drug bust of more than 700 lbs of cocaine, with a street value of $644 million, packed in cans with Trinidad Juice labels on them and which passed through the Port of Port of Spain, on the way to Norfolk, Virginia, USA.

The Trinidad Juice Company was incorporated in 2008 and manufactures the brand Trinidad Juices.

Trinidad Juices has been manufactured by the Co-operative Citrus Growers’ Association of Trinidad and Tobago at Eastern Main Road, La­ven­tille, since 1931, according to SM Jaleel. 

In a statement posted yesterday on its website, SM Jaleel said armed men on the roof of the Trinidad Juice Company on the Eastern Main Road “fired at security officers guarding the building, at around 1 p.m” yesterday. 

Security officers from the Allied Security firm “took cover while the bandits fired sporadically for about five minutes,” SM Jaleel stated.

Police were contacted and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) responded within five minutes, the company said, adding: “When the 12 police officers and eight soldiers arrived on the scene, the gunmen fled into the sur­roun­ding hillside.”

SM Jaleel thanked the IATF for its rapid response and “quickly ending what was a tense and extremely frightening situation”.

The company said it wanted to make clear “the property was not raided by the police as is being inaccurately reported”. 

It said any further information on the matter should be sought from the Police Service.

The Express and TV6 News have reported exclusively that a number of robberies have taken place at the compound for more than two years.

Bandits struck again on Monday night at the Citrus Growers compound, targeting more juice cans. 

A senior investigator informed the Express and TV6 News that raw materials checker Christian David from SM Jaleel left several cases of juice and soft drinks on wooden crates in an open storage area and left the compound at 5 p.m. on Monday.

David returned close to 5.30 a.m. yesterday and found 100 cases of grapefruit juice, 70 cases of orange juice and 13 cases of Chubby soft drink missing.

The bandits, according to police, gained access to the compound by climbing onto the low roof at the back of the building.

Police said some of the juice cases the bandits were not able to carry were found on the roof.

President of the Co-operative Citrus Growers Association Felix Clarke, who spoke with the Express last night, said: “It’s been a perennial problem for many years of regular break-ins. People from the area come onto the compound and steal whatever product, the juice and the sugar, that we use to mix the juices.”

The thefts are taking a toll on Citrus Growers, Clarke said.

He suggested law enforcement agencies needed to set up patrols in and around the area to deter bandits.

United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigators have initiated a transatlantic investigation into the December 20 canned cocaine drug bust.

But while US law enforcement authorities work hand in hand with local agencies to collect data and statements from people in this country for their investigation, the place where the stolen juice cans might have originated continues to be a target.

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