The Sunday Express yesterday reported on the growing force of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen in Carapo under Imam Hassan Ali and his son, Rajaee Ali.
Imam Ali told the Sunday Express that criminals and former prisoners would approach him to join the Jamaat and Islam. He said the group was now learning “how to come to order around here”.
Today, the Express examines the factors which have helped the Jamaat to thrive since the 1990 coup attempt.
The Carapo-based Jamaat-al-Muslimeen is controlling the mammoth share of the Ministry of Sport’s $113,502,273 Life Sport Programme, which the Ministry of Finance has found to be riddled with irregularities.
The co-ordinator of the programme is Rajaee Ali, son of the north-west leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, Imam Hassan Ali.
R Ali told the Express that police had detained him for gang-related activities following the murder of former independent senator and senior counsel Dana Seetahal.
The Life Sport Programme is one way in which the Jamaat has been funded through the Government in the past two years as payback for support for the People’s Partnership in the last general election.
Imam Hassan said he helped mobilise voters to get the People’s Partnership Government into office in 2010 “against orders”.
The Jamaat had openly supported the United National Congress (UNC) to help Basdeo Panday win the general election in 1995. However, the relationship quickly soured and the Jamaat, under leader Yasin Abu Bakr, supported the People’s National Movement (PNM) in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 general elections.
Hassan told the Express last Friday he was assisted by the Government “to help bring voters to vote. That kind of thing. I am telling you straight, my position.”
“I, me, prefer the coalition, the Partnership. I know it’s not a good example of what that could be but it’s a start. I didn’t like the one party ruling. I believe in power sharing. You understand what I’m saying?” he said in an interview at the Carapo mosque, where he is based.
“So we decide to help this against orders not to support them. We didn’t care. I participated to help the UNC come into power the first time they came into power. We were effective in the streets. We participate in the politics. We help try to bring the voters in and influence the voters and we know we do that well,” he said.
The Express questioned: How has the Jamaat been rewarded for its help?
In return, Hassan responded that he has “been assisted to help resolve issues on the ground on the low...quiet.”
Express: You’ve been assisted by the Ministry of National Security?
Hassan Ali: “I can’t say directly, I can’t say.”
Express: Are you disappointed now?
Hassan Ali: “I am not disappointed. The leadership show more testicular fortitude than a lot of them in trying to do things. I didn’t expect perfection. I expected people to try. As a matter of fact, we find we does function better when the UNC has some influence. These are things people don’t know.”
The Express learnt that the land on which the Jamaat is building its Carapo mosque is State land. Most of the residents in the surroundings houses are squatters, but the Express understands a senior Government official has assisted many residents in obtaining certificates of comfort from the State.
The east arm of the Jamaat was originally based in Arima, upstairs Pennywise building, but moved to Carapo in 2000.
Funding from Ministry of Sport’s
Life Sport Programme
Hassan told the Express that he is able to assist many of the young men, whom he described as “the dregs of the society”, by enrolling them in the Ministry of Sport’s Life Sport Programme.
“They gave the programme to my son (Rajaee),” said Hassan without identifying who were “they”.
The Life Sport Programme was an initiative of the Ministry of Sport’s permanent secretary Ashwin Creed.
Its intent was to introduce sport and life skills to youths between 16-25 to curb crime in high-risk areas.
As coordinator of the programme, in Carapo’s case, Rajaee Ali would select 60 names and submit them to the programme. Each participant would be given a stipend of $1,500 a month to attend sessions from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
The programme is similar in principle to the Ministry of National Security’s $70 million-plus Hoop of Life, which is now under review by the Ministry.
When the Express observed that there were no facilities for the programme at the Carapo mosque, where emphasis was placed on introducing sport, Hassan pointed out that tents were erected outside the mosque to facilitate the programme.
He pointed to two piles of sand, which he said are going to be used to lay a permanent foundation to facilitate the programme.
“We used to have tents on the road. They (people who participated) weren’t all Muslims. Some of the Muslims were a little disappointed in attendance,” said Hassan.
Express: “Would you say that programme is a way to secure votes?”
Hassan Ali: “URP too. Anything could secure votes, but something is needed to help.”
Anil Roberts helped
Rajaee Ali told the Express that he was chosen by the Ministry of Sport to be head of Carapo’s Life Sport.
He said he met Sport Minister Anil Roberts “about nine to ten times” in the past two years. Roberts is also the MP for the area, D’Abadie/O’Meara.
“People on the board chose people in different areas who they believe could co-ordinate the youths in the programme. I just came out of prison. Someone on the board who knew me, who went to school with me, told me about it,” said R Ali.
In 2004, R Ali was charged with the murder of Amadoo Huggins, when he was just 18. He has spent eight years in prison.
In 2007, he was one of three prisoners who escaped from Golden Grove Prison in Arouca, but was eventually caught and sent back and was released in 2011.
“I was chosen. Once I could get up to 60 participants, which I carried out.
“That is how the rumours started about Anil Roberts funding crime. He gave men in the constituency an option to do something legal, to make money fair,” R Ali said.
In the Draft Estimates of Recurrent Expenditure for the Financial Year 2014, Life Sport is listed as a Transfer Programme. In 2012, the programme was given $6.6m. In 2013, the cost multiplied by almost five times to $29 million. By 2014, the programme increased in cost by $84.4m to $113,502,273.
It was the largest increase in the Ministry’s transfer.
Because of ballooning costs, the Life Sport Programme was audited by the Ministry of Finance, which showed multiple irregularities.
The Express understands that R Ali controls the mammoth share of the Life Sport Programme, not just in Carapo but in East Trinidad.
For the participants, $90,000 is allocated each month, which is exclusive of administrative costs and a stipend to the coordinator of each area.
The Express was told that R Ali facilitates several “ghost” names throughout the East and money is collected on their behalf. The Express understands this amounts to more than a million dollars every month.
“They’re making that money tax-free. People are collecting cheques for not even showing up,” said one Carapo resident familiar with the programme.
Questioned on these allegations of the programme, R Ali said: “It’s not a ghost programme, you have to do the work or else we don’t get pay.”
When the Express questioned him on the attendance of people enrolled in the programme, he explained that it was difficult for people to commit every day for the programme, but that it was left up to “the co-ordinators to make the adjustments”.
R Ali also addressed whether the Jamaat had threatened Creed within the last month.
The Express understands that Creed reportedly received threats from a known criminal he gave a $30 million contract under the Life Sport Programme.
On April 14, he contacted head of the Public Service Reynold Cooper requesting “emergency leave”, faxed him a letter with the request and left Trinidad on the same day.
Contacted yesterday, Cooper confirmed the events, but could not say why Creed needed the emergency leave. He told the Express that Creed was now back at work.
Asked whether he had threatened Creed, R Ali responded: “That’s not true. Rumours.”
Hassan Ali said: “They tried to use us, speculate with us. We know who is doing it and why.”
The Express understands that Cabinet was briefed on the Jamaat funding through the Life Sport Programme, but it has not been stopped.
Neither Creed nor Roberts returned calls or texts to the Express requesting information on the Life Sport Programme.
To be continued
National Security Minister Gary Griffith is concerned that Government programmes are being used to fund gang activity.
“If political parties worked with groups to help them mobilise during election campaigns, that is not my business. It is not an illegal act. My focus is on gangs and specific gang leaders who have access to State contracts and using their profit not to enhance their community and reduce crime, but to use the profit to fuel crime via importation of illegal drugs and weapons and using naive youths to do their dirty work, upon which they become causalities,” he said.
“They are the ultimate enemies of the State. They are not community leaders but cold-blooded murderers and they would be treated, recognised and dealt with as such. They are causing fear, panic and grief to the law-abiding citizens of the country and I would leave no stone unturned to crush them. I have no intention to negotiate with cold-blooded killers,” he added
“They use intimidation and fear tactics to succeed. That can’t work on me. There is a saying that if you play with filthy animals then you would get fleas. I do not care if it is a member of my family, a friend, a co-worker or law enforcement official involved. Anyone affiliated with criminals would be treated as such. That is my assurance,” he ended.