The Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF) has shut down at least seven licensed premises in Chaguanas, San Fernando, Freeport and Port-of-Spain between 2018 and 2022, which were reportedly being operated as brothels and illegal gambling halls under the facade of a restaurant or hotel.
Sharing just how his unit had formulated a plan to go after unscrupulous business owners/operators, ASP Leon Haynes, who heads the MATF, yesterday said the multi-agency initiative had provided positive results.
Speaking at the weekly TTPS media briefing at the Police Administration Building, Port-of-Spain, he said state agencies who had the responsibility to ensure compliance with the law had been working together.
These agencies included the Fire Service, the Customs and Excise Division, TTPS, the Health Inspectorate, OSHA, the Electrical Inspectorate and the Bureau of Standards.
He explained, “The idea was to work together, let’s visit these premises together, let’s treat with some of the breaches that were occurring as regards to the licensed premises not operating in accordance with their licence.”
Haynes said during their inspection of some locations, which were known to be used for prostitution, they decided to look closer at the safety factors of these premises as one way of shutting them down.
“Most of the time, these brothels or hotels were never structured or designed to operate in the manner in which they are now operating. It was never designed...some restaurants started to have rooms and started to do other things. These buildings were never so designed and when the OSHA and Electrical Inspectorate and the other agencies visit these places, we had identified so many serious breaches in terms of safety, that on most occasions, OSHA was able to issue prohibition orders.
“In other words, the safety breaches were so serious that they closed these places immediately,” Haynes said.
Recognising that certain types of activities were occurring at some of these places, he said, “We may not be able to treat with the activity, if we analyse and we find other solutions...if your premises are not safe, if we are able to close your premises, we are able to stop the activity.”
Asked why police could not target the prostitution taking place at some of these premises, Haynes explained, “For years, police have been going to these places and trying to prove prostitution and trying to deem these places brothels, but prostitution is not so easy to prove how it occurs. Prostitution is defined as the exchange of money for sexual acts, and most of the times, these exchanges don’t happen between the two parties...they pay the bar. There is a whole set of roadblocks to prevent that type of investigation.”
Vowing to continue trying to shut down such operations, he said MATF had been exploring other avenues to achieve this objective.
Asked about whether corrupt police officers were stymieing some of their operations to shut down brothels, he admitted they know there are officers involved in the illegal activity.
Meanwhile, regarding shadow Play Whe operations, he said the MATF was working closely with the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB), as they continued to lose millions to illegal operators.
Five persons have been arrested for the offence so far across the country, and Haynes said their long-term aim was to treat with the wider issue under the Proceeds of Crime Act. He also promised to increase and expand operations in the year ahead, with greater focus on the issue of illegal quarrying, as well as on corrupt state officers who are complicit.
He said the MATF had investigated over 120 complaints in relation to illegal quarrying and 27 operations were conducted, resulting in the seizure of eight excavators, one bulldozer and 13 trucks. A total of 18 persons were also detained, of which 11 were charged.
The MATF, which was established in 2018, primarily addresses illicit trade; prostitution; gambling; and illegal quarrying—and works alongside other agencies under the ambit of the Ministries of National Security, Trade and Industry, Agriculture, and Health.