The Trinidad and Tobago government Wednesday warned citizens against getting involved in rich quick schemes as law enforcement authorities probe the multi-million dollar pyramid scheme unearthed on Tuesday.
National Security Minister Stuart Young, speaking at the end of the weekly Cabinet meeting, said that persons should not get involved in schemes that appear to be “too good to be true”.
He said that Financial Intelligence Bureau (FIB) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) will get involved in the latest seizure of TT$22 million (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents by police on Tuesday at a house in La Horquetta, along the east-west corridor.
”That is a fairly complex investigation that needs to take place to find out if all of us in this room went and gave our money, we got a receipt etc and we haven’t been the victims of the collapse as yet, what is the criminal charge.
“There are possible criminal charges, I leave that up to the police under the Proceeds of Crime Act and other pieces of legislation,” said Young, an attorney, adding that the “government is concerned and now is a good a time as any to warn the population of Trinidad and Tobago don’t get caught in any pyramid scheme.
“If it seems too good to be true that is because it is too good to be true,” said Young adding that the incident has left many questions unanswered.
He said the scheme first came to the attention of law enforcement officials “when you saw scores of people breaching the public health protocols, the COVID health protocols, assembling outside a home, when the police investigated they found out that it is a possible pyramid scheme taking place”.
He said he has since received a report on the police exercise and that he was amazed at the TT$22 million in cash at the house.
‘For me that’s a huge amount of money, 22 million dollars in cash. Questions must be asked about the legitimacy of having 22 million dollars in cash (and) it is not for me to play judge or jury, there is a current investigation,” he told reporters.
Earlier, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said he had launched a probe “at the highest level” to determine who had returned the money seized from the house.
A police statement said that the money was seized by officers of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) who executed a search warrant at the house where it was alleged that persons were operating a pyramid scheme.
The money was kept at a police station and Griffith said preliminary investigations show that the money was handed back to the operator of the scheme early Wednesday without his knowledge and those of his Deputy Commissioners.
Griffith said he found it “it very suspicious that $22 million in cash was seized and within hours, that money was checked and a decision made to give it back without the input of the Financial Intelligence Bureau (FIB) of the TTPS”.
He said the investigation would determine if “any criminal or disciplinary action is to be taken against any police officers” and that the “money was handed back without a proper investigation to determine whether any of it was counterfeit”.
Griffith said no proper investigation was done as to the source of these funds, or whether the person or persons involved had committed any criminal acts.
As part of this investigation, Griffith said external forensic personnel will be brought in to determine if any of the money was counterfeit.
Griffith said he is aware that there is a concern that a number of persons invested “their hard-earned money, hoping to cash in on this alleged pyramid scheme” and gave the assurance that once these persons can prove that their money was legitimate, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service will ensure that their money is returned to them in the shortest possible time.
“Diligent inquiries are being pursued at this time,” he added.
Earlier the police said they had arrested nine people as a result of the seizure. It said that those detained were also in breach of the Public Health Ordinance Regulations that limit gatherings to no more than five as the country seeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The police said the people were “waiting to collect large sums of money from a pyramid scheme”.
Media reports said that among the nine arrested on Tuesday was a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.