Tobago police are tracking the origin of fraudulent immigration extension stamps sold to some Venezuelans recently.
Several Venezuelans in Tobago have been charged and appeared in court in the last two weeks for having the fraudulent extension stamps on their passports. The most recent development was last Friday.
The rash of fraudulent extension stamps sprung up in recent weeks as T&T has experienced an influx of Venezuelans. Most have been coming to try and register in T&T's amnesty exercise which continues until June 14.
Registration will allow Venezuelans who are here legally and illegally to stay in T&T and work for a year. The exercise continued at centres in Port-of-Spain, Duncan Village, south Trinidad, and Scarborough yesterday.
However, last Friday at the Scarborough court a Venezuelan national appeared to face a charge of having a fraudulent immigration extension stamp in his passport, Immigration and Tobago police officials confirmed.
He told the court he had "given his passport to someone" who had obtained the stamp for him. Officials said he had no attorney and pleaded guilty. The offence is seen as tampering with a legal instrument, they added.
The man was fined $3,000 and sternly reprimanded by the magistrate who said it was a very serious offence to have such fraudulent items in an official document and a strong message had to be sent to those who try to do it.
Two weeks prior to that, Tobago police said four Venezuelan men also appeared in the Tobago court charged with having fraudulent immigration extension stamps on their documents.
One of the men said in his defence that the period he had been allowed to stay for had expired previously and Immigration Division in Trinidad had refused to extend his stay. He claimed that someone had approached him "on the street" and he had paid $2,000 TT for an extension stamp that seemed real.
The men were charged $4,000 each by the magistrate. The magistrate in that case also reprimanded the men, adding such acts had to be discouraged.
Immigration officials have explained that when a stamp is tested under a certain light it shows up and if it does not show, it's not real.
Senior TTPS officials in Trinidad said they had heard of the fraudulent stamps issue which was being followed. Police are already probing sex slave trafficking problems, including regarding Venezuelans, allegedly involving police and other officials.
Tobago Immigration officials noted that last year a San Fernando court jailed a Venezuelan father for having a passport with an extension stamp which was not authentic. They also said last year April, a young Venezuelan student was fined $10,000 in San Fernando for having a passport where the extension stamp for her stay in T&T was also fraudulent. She had entered T&T illegally. They said they had noted the stamp issue was now cropping up in Tobago.
Yesterday, acting National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said briefly that he was not aware of the particular matters in the Tobago court but was confident authorities would pursue any crime that had been committed with appropriate follow-up action.
He noted there had been instances of people being charged with uttering forged/false documents. He said an incident where people might have purchased a false item from someone on the street who approached them, raised the possibility of a manufactured replica.
Last week, Tobago deputy chief secretary Joel Jack had said Tobago's situation with the Venezuelan influx is not anything like Trinidad's. "We're working with National Security on reinforced border security," he said.
Both Tobago Immigration and police said that increased security measures in the island in recent months included checking documents especially as numbers of Venezuelans there were "slightly up".
They said the origin of the fraudulent extension stamps had to be pursued particularly since "not every Venezuelan would have applied for the one-year amnesty, or might have been able to".
Meanwhile, security officials noted 22 kilos of marijuana were found in ice cream containers on the Tobago ferry on Wednesday. They said the "weed" packed into the ice cream, was found by a sniffer dog. One man was arrested.