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$250m in illegal assets confiscated in a year, says FID

Published:Saturday | September 25, 2021 | 12:13 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter

Nearly $250 million in assets, suspected to have been acquired through criminal activities, were restrained by the Jamaican courts over a 13-month period that ended in May this year, official figures have revealed.

These assets include six houses, one valued at $70 million; three apartments, one valued at $30 million; 29 cars, including three Mercedes-Benz and two BMWs; and cash lodged at several financial institutions, according to data released by the Financial Investigations Division (FID).

The FID is empowered, under the Proceeds of Crime Act, to use the Assets Recovery Agency to apply to the Supreme Court for an order to restrain assets traced to individuals suspected of being involved in criminal activities and later seek to have them forfeited to the State.

Restrained assets, mainly cars and bank accounts, are turned over to the State until the completion of either a criminal trial or the forfeiture of proceedings in a majority of cases.

Three of the houses listed under the name of a Jamaican man were restrained by the Supreme Court on May 17 this year, the FID disclosed.

The Sunday Gleaner is withholding his identity.

According to Jamaican law enforcement sources, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the United States (US) for what officials there have described as one of the largest drug shipments in the state of New York.

But state property records show that the houses are registered in the name of a woman based in central Jamaica, who The Sunday Gleaner also will not identify.

One of the houses, located in upper St Andrew and valued at $35 million, was transferred to her in 2014, according to the certificate of title deposited at the Titles Office.

The other two houses, located in Manchester and St Ann, were valued at $17 million and $15.9 million, respectively, at the time they were transferred to the same woman in 2013 and 2017, the titles for both properties show.

ONGOING INVESTIGATION

The FID has declined to disclose why the house was listed under the man’s assets, citing the ongoing investigation and civil case.

“The assets restrained are registered to persons convicted or charged for serious crimes, to include drug trafficking, lottery scamming and money laundering,” the FID alleged in an emailed response to The Sunday Gleaner.

The case file containing the restraining order and other information used to substantiate it have been ordered sealed by the court.

Two of the houses, the three apartments and two of the vehicles were listed under the names of two Manchester businessmen and were restrained by the court in January this year.

Both were charged with drug-related offences by the police in the parish last year May after approximately 8,000 pounds of compressed ganja, with a street value of J$35 million, was allegedly seized at premises they occupied.

The $70-million “mansion”, located in St James, along with five motor vehicles, were restrained on December 24 last year.

The man whose name it was listed under is currently before the court on drug and money laundering charges, the FID disclosed.

Seven of the vehicles were traced to a former executive at a local financial institution who was accused by US authorities of being part of the lottery scam syndicate that fleeced elderly Americans out of US$1 million.

Restraining $250 million in assets over a one-year period is “a good start”, says respected academic Professor Anthony Clayton.

“But it is only a tiny fraction of the sums believed to be the proceeds of corruption,” added Clayton, explaining that crime is the most common form of corruption.

“Jamaica’s GDP (gross domestic product) is US$14.6 billion. So, the cost of corruption could add up to about US$730 million annually,” said the professor, using the five per cent benchmark suggested by the World Economic Forum as the cost of corruption.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com