Friday, December 18, 2009

THE MULTI BILLION DOLLAR DRUG TRADE - or, we don’t have a money laundering problem in T&T)

A report in The Observer newspaper in England from last Sunday says that the head of the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, is claiming that he has seen evidence that “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks that were on the brink of collapse last year when the worldwide economic crisis began was drug money. He said that the result was that the majority of the $352bn of drug profits was absorbed into the system and was thus effectively laundered. He is quoted in the report as saying that “…the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital in the second half of 2008, liquidity was the main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.” He goes on to say that there is evidence that inter bank loans were funded by money from the drugs trade and there are signs that this is how some banks were rescued.

The article is well worth reading. For one thing it certainly highlights how enormously powerful the drug cartels have now become. If most of the $352bn in drug profits are now effectively laundered and that money is now in the world’s legitimate financial system, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that this makes the men running these cartels even more powerful … and more dangerous. The line from the old song that said something about money making the world go around is very, very true!

Well, this article got me to thinking: what is happening down here in our own little neck of the woods concerning drug profits and money laundering? A few years ago somebody in Customs and Excise told me that the annual profits from the Trinidad drug trade were almost as big as this country’s annual budget! Is this true? I have no way of knowing or even of finding out without probably getting myself killed. But the question is a very serious one. And what is also extremely worrying is that nobody is talking about it! It is as if the problem simply does not exist!

Put another way, one wag recently pontificated to me that we have neither a serious drug problem (as concerns big drug money) nor do we have any money laundering in good old T&T! When I looked at him with incredulous surprise he laughed at me and said, “When last did you ever hear of a major drug lord being arrested and charged? When last did you hear of a banker being charged … let alone convicted … with money laundering? And the very definition of money laundering requires that it be done through a bank! I rest my case.”

He had a point. But I don’t believe that there is no money laundering in T&T. I don’t believe that enormous amounts of drug profits are not being accumulated. I don’t believe that we have no really big drug lords in this country. Do you? If you have the same beliefs as I do in this matter, then I have two last questions for you: why isn’t the media highlighting this? Don’t you think that this is an issue that ought to be on the media’s ‘front burner’?


  1. Hey Robin you are in Law so it would be easy for you to understand why no one has been charged ... let alone convicted, my layman's view suggests that our legislation framework is weak or that too many in the right places are involved. But I eh making no accusations nah. One possible way to tackle this is to look at party financing, "if" we do have "Mr. Big" in this country, they finance political parties with drug money, ah know it’s a bit bold but I say it as I see it. So I do believe, like you that there is money laundering and big drug lords in T&T, even our PM indicate that our crime problem is mainly due to the drug trade, and this begs the question, why haven’t we arrested anyone other than the end users and pushers. Well maybe its because some “big people are involved”... I rest may case.

  2. The question of whether money laundering exist in T and T or whether it rivals the budget is an issue that needs to be addressed, and fast.One just have to look around and see from opportunistic gang violence to breached border entry and its connection to the drug trade.
    Open trade with South America with goods and services has also compounded the problem.
    The question is how do you - or we properly address this issue and deal with this crime effectively that it releases its grip on our social lives.
    First, we have to acknowledge that our current defense force - police and army are inept and/or illequipped mentally and physically to deal with this problem.
    Second, government and opposition must recognizse the gravity of the situation and work in bi-partision to effectively combat this crime.
    Third, legislation must be passed to deal with the legal aspect to prosecute the criminals.
    Forth, effective media coverage to highlight the successes and the pursue of all criminal elements, be it high profile murders or drunk drivers.
    Now, it is easy to say that we all recognize and address these issues already. The question is how has it been done, and have we taken bold steps to make a dent on crime and sway public opinion.
    Recognizing crime especially drug trade comes full circle that involves-
    The banking sector that launders the money:
    The businessmen that hide their sinester drug dealings under the cover of their legitimate company activities:
    The lowly mule or gang member protecting their turf:
    The lawyers that make a lucrid living as they defend known criminals with loopholes and weak or ineffective laws.
    When we can go after these elements without fear or favor, with the long arm of the law and an iron grip then we then maybe we will make that dent on crime.