This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the major seizure of J$88 million worth of cocaine and United States and Canadian currency amounting to around J$600 million in St James.
The monetary seizure represents the largest in the island’s history, and took law enforcement officials over three days to tabulate the final currency figures.
Since the start of the year, the police have been on a massive campaign to apprehend gangs, guns and wanted men in an effort to bring down the island’s crime rate, in particular murders.
Police Commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson, also signalled earlier this year that the security forces would be going after the wealth of criminals, which he said was derived from mainly drug smuggling and lottery scamming.
Police Commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson
On Tuesday, the security forces made a breakthrough in their attempts to disrupt the funding of criminal acts in Jamaica when they made the huge seizures during an anti-narcotics operation in western Jamaica.
It was reported that a pre-dawn operation led by the Narcotics Division, supported by the Joint Anti-Gang Task Force and the divisional police, took place in Coral Gardens, St James.
During the operation, a motor vehicle was intercepted and upon search, cocaine weighing approximately 11kg with a street value of J$88 million was found.
A businessman was arrested in connection with the cocaine seizure. The police have not released his identify, but said he is 46 years old.
As part of the operation, a house in Coral Gardens was searched, and cash in excess of US$3.8 million and CAD$30,000 was found and seized.
Another individual, said to be a woman who was held during an anti-narcotics operation in Westmoreland, was subsequently arrested. This brought to two, the number of persons arrested in relation to the ongoing probe.
The owner of the house where the currency was seized is said to be a businessman who was the subject of a drug extradition request by US authorities more than 15 years ago, and is still on the run. The latter details were confirmed by Assistant Commissioner of Police, Clifford Chambers, commanding officer for the police Area One network.
He said the manhunt for the wanted businessman has stretched to the neighbouring parishes of Westmoreland and St Elizabeth.
A technicality in the extradition process resulted in the businessman being released from police custody by Jamaica’s Court of Appeal in 2007, media reports indicated.
In a release on Friday, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) said it continues to work with its law enforcement partners to disrupt the activities of both local and transnational criminal organisations that seek to enrich themselves while fuelling violence in Jamaica.
Aside from the massive drug and currency seizures, it is understood that several persons were arrested on Wednesday in connection with breaches of the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act, otherwise called the Lottery Scam Act.
The United States (US) Embassy in Kingston recently put criminals on notice that several extradition warrants would be issued in April for alleged lottery scammers in Jamaica to face the courts in the US.
Interestingly, the anti-narcotics operations in St James and the subsequent monetary yield, have sent tongues wagging across social media, with speculation being rife that some alleged “big figure” in Jamaica could face justice, as “no small fry” criminal could be at the head of such illegal cocaine activities in western Jamaica.
To date, no ‘big figure’ has been apprehended relative to the Coral Gardens anti-narcotics operation.
Yet, social media users weighed in on the developments, some expressing concern, too, over who would get the large amounts of US and Canadian currencies that were seized after the criminal proceedings are concluded.
“So mek me ask a question? A weh all a dat millions a US dollar a go? A Government ago get all ah it? Tek it fix up some hospital, and the rural areas need some roads,” wrote Instagram user, Malinajon45.
On Facebook, Lolame Gordon made a similar call, as many other Jamaicans, for some of the monies seized to be used to address the country’s infrastructure.
“I hope some of that money is put to use by helping to build homes for the poor in every parish and fix the roads,” she wrote.
Likewise, Facebook user, Glassy Stewart, made a similar call in his commentary on the cash and drug seizure in St James, while asking some pertinent questions.
“Kindly engage the funds recovered to pay student tuition, build housing and purchase food/medications for the very vulnerable in Jamaica,” Stewart urged the authorities.
Continuing, he said: “It now begs the below questions:
1) How did that amount of US currency got into Jamaica in the very first place?
2) Who does it belong to?
3) How much of the amount recovered is already taken by the police for personal use? I shudder to think!”
Michelle Evablessed Beckford also questioned how the US and Canadian currencies entered the island undetected.
“Oh (How) did all that money get in the country, asking custom agents dem especially? But when mi send two barrel unno dig it up and wah charge people fi use clothes that’s going to charity. Mi need answers!!!” she demanded.
Other individuals shared that they hoped the authorities targeted any prominent individual who was connected to the cocaine seizure, instead of the “small fry” or “little man”.
On that point, Eucal Pinnock opined: “I bet they only take in to custody the small workers, and left the kingpin. These type of money and drugs belongs to the rich in Jamaica.”
Another individual, Colin Bennett, agreed by commenting that, “Ain’t no likkle man pon the cawnah involved inna this, if the detectives conduct a proper, proper investigation, then there should be quite a few more arrests.”
Facebook user, Audley Phillip, assessed the worrying trend of criminality plaguing western Jamaica since last year, and continuing into this year.
“You see why western Jamaica is the action spot. Everything is happening there. Narcotics, scamming, obeah, guard rings, gang activities, hitman operations, Pathway International Restoration Church and its infamous leader, Dr Kevin Smith, murders galore ….you name it,” he stated.
“Western Jamaica jam-packed with action, albeit illegal and unwanted action. It is clear that the police need to beef up and redouble their efforts there, given the ‘heightened economy’ and other activities. That’s where the beautiful sun sets. Everything gone west,” opined Phillip.
Meantime, some individuals questioned whether the fallout from the cocaine seizure in St James would lead to bloodshed.
Natallee Anderson opined: “All me know a pure bloodshed ago gwaan. People ago dead like dog, this amount a money and drug just nah guh down so.
“God have mercy on Jamaica. This can’t real jah jah. This is not no likkle bowy thing.”
Kumar Joseph, in chiming into that aspect of the conversation, wrote: “If that’s Mexican Cartel money, a lot of people going to drop out.”
There were also concerns across social media relative to the disparity in the reported sum of United States dollars seized. Initially, there were media reports that said the preliminary count of the sum that was seized was US$5 million.
However, some individuals were left shock when the police stated that the final count is US$3.8 million.
Akilah Campbell was among those who expressed concerns.
“Didn’t they say it was 5 million US (United States dollars) lol. What is the real value?” she questioned.
Facebook user, George Smith, said: “Every time the money is counted it dwindles. I believe we need to develop a set of protocols on how confiscated cash is handled in the custody of the police.
“We may need to establish (a) police safe in commercial banks in the jurisdiction where the cash is seized, where it is then deposited and a count is conducted in the shortest possible time.”
Michael Gayle, in clear sarcasm, commented: “The first count wasn’t accurate because the money was still too much, so it was recounted to ensure that the deduction was done and all taxable expenses were all subtracted, and the now correct figure remaining.”
However, one social media user, Karen Lawrence, said in her view, the media is to be blamed for the disparity relative the sum of United States dollars that was seized.
“Remember different media report dem own sum and some quote police sources, so the sum of money could either go up or down. My gosh man! Give JCF some credit. Not everyone a tief,” Lawrence contended.
On Twitter, scepticism reigned over the police’s final count of the sum of United States dollars that was seized by law enforcers.
@Zulabeatz tweeted: “From saying it’s 5mill USD found to now it being 3.8 mill(ion) Lmao! Wi cyaa get nuh chance ah road yah now wid wi 3gran cause the squaddy dem chop a big food.”
Journalist Abka Fitz-Henley weighed in on the questions that have been raised about the figures that have been presented by the JCF.
“#SomeMediaReports before money counted: ‘Unconfirmed reports are approximately 5-million USD is believed to have been seized’.
“#OfficialCountDone & it’s revealed that US$3.8million was in fact seized + $30k Canadian.
“#JamaicanTwitter: Weh di 1.2 gone? Then a never 5mil?” he tweeted.
In response to the journalist’s remarks, @ashdanej tweeted: “Truth is sometimes when you get an estimate, it usually turns out to be more. Getting less will have people asking questions.”
@Richieda1 agreed with that position on the issue, and stated that, “These things lead to distrust.
“All they had to say was a large sum of cash was seized, plus they posted pics. Obviously people going say that never looked like 3.8mils, even though most don’t know what 3.8 vs 5mil (million),” the individual tweeted.
Aside from that take on the historic currency and cocaine seizure in St James, some Twitter users rapped the businessman for allegedly storing that large amount of currency at his premises.
@karameelahs tweeted: “I can’t believe (the) man had all this $$ stashed in a house. There’s no way I would have kept all this in one place, and def (definitely) wouldn’t have kept it above ground.”