Two of the 15 Chinese nationals held in connection with a crackdown on human trafficking and illegal gambling earlier this month have been charged.
The announcement of the charges against the duo was made as their habeas corpus application challenging their prolonged detention came up for hearing before Justice Kevin Ramcharan at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.
The duo, along with a third Chinese national, was asking the T&T Police Service (TTPS) to justify their 13-day detention. After TTPS investigators explained that the duo was charged and the third man was handed over to Immigration officials for overstaying his time in T&T, their attorneys Farid Scoon and Peter Taylor were allowed to withdraw their applications.
While Ramcharan’s input in the case was no longer necessary, he still said the police appeared justified in their delay in closing the case.
The T&T Guardian understands the two men were charged under the Gambling and Betting Act for assembling to engage in illegal gambling in a public place and for possession of ammunition found in their home. The gambling offence carries a $750 fine or six months in prison upon conviction.
The men are expected to appear in court this morning.
The development in the case comes days after Justice David Harris upheld similar applications brought by three other Chinese nationals earlier this week. Harris’ decision was based on the failure of the TTPS to give an explanation over the delays.
While the TTPS’s legal team claimed it was due to the inability of investigators to quickly find foreign language translators for the Chinese suspects and South American victims in the case, Harris questioned why the police did not give an official statement to the court. But the legal victory was bitter-sweet for the trio as they were immediately detained by Immigration officials for overstaying their allotted time. Those who have been detained for immigration offences may still be charged when investigators complete their probe into the human trafficking case.
The suspects were arrested on February 5 as officers raided private and commercial properties in Curepe, Woodbrook and Westmoorings. During the exercise, 19 female minors from Venezuela, suspected of being forced into prostitution, were rescued. They remain in protective custody. Four Venezuelan men suspected of working with the Chinese nationals were also arrested.
Last week, investigators from the Financial Intelligence Bureau applied to Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle to hold the $1.5 million in cash that was seized in the raids. One application failed as the officers arrived at the court late, while the other was denied as it was filed outside of the 96-hour window prescribed under the Proceeds of Crime Act. However, the money had still remained in the possession of police as the investigation continues.
The TTPS was represented by Ravi Rajcoomar, Netram Kowlessar, Christian Chandler and Nadine Nabbie. Meanwhile, National Security Minister Stuart Young said yesterday that the rescued women were doing well but admitted the language barrier has been an issue.
“It has been a difficult operation because of that exactly as you say, the language barrier. We’ve also had to get persons in to assist the social workers and the police investigators, so I can tell you there’s an active police investigation taking place, there’s the completion of statements from the girls taking place and the gathering of evidence taking place,” Young said at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing.
“But the girls are being well looked after, I’m very thankful to the Ministry of Social Development for that. It was a Saturday night and I had to call to Minister to say look I need more support, more social workers to assist the hospitals.”