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‘Legal issues’ loom as cops eye arrests in Ian Fleming drug bust

Published:Wednesday | February 8, 2023 | 2:19 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter

Four months after a monster drug bust at Ian Fleming International Airport in St Mary, Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey says there are “legal issues” being ironed out ahead of expected arrests. The police seized $3.7 billion worth of...

Four months after a monster drug bust at Ian Fleming International Airport in St Mary, Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey says there are “legal issues” being ironed out ahead of expected arrests.

The police seized $3.7 billion worth of cocaine at the Boscobel airport during a late September operation which is said to have involved intelligence support from United States law-enforcement agencies.

“We have been working with our international partners. There are some legal issues that are being addressed between [them] and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. We have also made some applications, and I will say this, people will be arrested and charged in respect of that matter,” Bailey said during Tuesday’s Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) press conference.

He declined to comment on what those legal issues are and whether they relate to extradition matters.

The senior cop’s update comes days after National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang reconfirmed in a Gleaner interview that the island is a trans-shipment hub for narcotics trafficking.

“It has always been so. We’re at a strategic location in the Caribbean and legitimate trans-shipment is one of our primary businesses at our ports,” said Chang on Thursday.

“Criminals are going to use them for the same reason. It’s an easy run in the Caribbean to go from South America to North America. What we have done is we have organised the security forces to be in a better position to intercept. We have a great partnership with, in particular, North America where the drugs are going,” he added.

Chang noted that the security forces are in prime position to intercept and disrupt the trade, which, he said, is resulting in recent drug finds.

A shipment of cocaine valued at more than J$12 billion was seized in Kingston on January 14 in one of the largest drug busts in the country’s history.

It was the third major find over the last four months.

The cocaine was found in a container at Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited in the capital during a joint operation involving the police Narcotics Division, the Jamaica Defence Force, and the Jamaica Customs Agency.

The police said the discovery was around 3 a.m.

Keith Darien, principal director of investigations at the Financial Investigations Division (FID), has disclosed that the unit has laid 205 narcotics charges amounting to J$5.6 billion and US$19.8 million.

He noted that the FID currently has before it more than 190 money-laundering cases and more than 60 asset forfeiture matters.

In one case, Darien revealed that an alleged drug dealer, who is facing extradition to the US, was in possession of five luxury vehicles valued at just under $50 million.

The senior investigator said the man’s bank accounts, which have been restrained by the FID, indicate that he is in possession of more than $50 million.

“So this drug dealer is making some serious money,” he said at the just-concluded FID Biennial Conference.

He said documentary proof shows that the alleged drug kingpin gave a US$1-million loan to a development company.

But the lawman said for “complex, large-size investigations”, it takes on average 12 to 18 months to make an arrest.

“So, the media is saying where is the arrest in this present case, but it cannot be done within two weeks or three weeks. It is impossible, because when we investigate these cases, there is court order, analysis, and it goes on and on, and following the money until it reaches its final destination,” he said, noting that the FID has only 12 investigators.

He said between 2020 and 2022, there were 49 completed cases, with the value of criminal benefits/assets totalling J$2.45 billion and US$2.03 million.

The average value per case amounts to J$50 million and US$41,000.

Twelve cases have been adjudicated by the Supreme Court, with no substantial rebuttal of criminal benefit assessed, he said.

The value of confiscation or forfeiture order totalled J$640.5 million and US$11,200.

However, the senior crimefighter wants, among other things, mandatory monthly training on the Proceeds of Crime Act for all new police recruits for one year.

He is also batting for 60 police personnel working in the financial crime investigations field.

Darien said the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, Jamaica Customs Agency, the Integrity Commission, Revenue Protection Division, and the Passport, Immigration & Citizenship Agency should also have teams of trained financial investigators to undertake parallel investigations.