Dr Shashta Sawh
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Trini offers to help DEA solve $644m drug link
A Trinidadian businessman imprisoned for 12 years for exporting cocaine to the United States believes he can help the US Drug Enforcement Administration solve the $644 million cocaine scandal involving soft-drink manufacturer SM Jaleel. Ian Ali, the owner of the defunct Soldado Seafood Ltd, from Cedros says he was set up by a Colombian drug cartel in the 1990’s and now has vital information which can assist the DEA in the Norfolk drug bust.
The cocaine concealed in Trinidad Juice cans which originated from the port of Port-of-Spain was seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in Virginia on December 20. Speaking at his Gulf View office earlier this week, Ali said in 1997, he got involved in an illegal transaction which led to his serving 12 years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Ohio, El Paso and Atlanta. During his incarceration, Ali said he got an invaluable insight into how the illegal transactions occur.
“The operation starts from Colombia, via Venezuela, through T&T and then to the US. They target legitimate businesses with good reputations,” Ali said. He explained that products are bought and then taken to locations in Trinidad where they are tampered with and then shipped abroad. “There are hand-held devices that are used to open sealed cannisters where they put in their drugs and then reseal it for shipment,” Ali said.
He said drug dealers pose as foreign buyers and approach reputable firms to do business, offering money up front. “They are willing to put money in your pockets. I was a victim of this. They will put someone in charge and that is the one who does the transactions and then brings the bill of lading documents for stamps and signature,” Ali said. He explained that he was arrested in Miami on October 30, 1997, when he went to collect monies that was owed to him.
“Because my signature was on the shipping documents, I did not have a case. I eventually pleaded guilty and I accepted a sentence of 12 years. The maximum sentence for this charge of importing cocaine for the purpose of distributing was life in prison. I accepted an offer from the District Attorney and I served my time,” Ali said. He noted that he has a file of papers which he wanted the DEA to see.
Ali said he closed down his business after serving his sentence and now works in his son’s hair salon. He explained that the Colombian drug cartel once headed by Colombian drug boss Pablo Escobar was involved at the time he was set up for drug trafficking. At the height of his power, Escobar was said to be the seventh richest man in the world, with his Medellin drugs cartel thought to be behind up to 80 per cent of all the cocaine shipped to the United States.
In a BBC report last December, it was stated that Escobar’s legacy is being preserved in the form of memoirs and clothing bearing his name and image. Escobar was shot dead in Medellin while trying to escape from police on December 2, 1993.