Trinidad AG goes after ‘Blingers, Zessers’: show receipts for big long chains, fancy cars

By Trinidad Guardian

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(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — “Blingers” and “Zessers” be­ware of Gov­ern­ment’s Ex­plain Your Wealth leg­is­la­tion.

At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Faris Al-Rawi made this clear as he pi­lot­ed the con­tro­ver­sial bill in the Sen­ate yes­ter­day.

“We in­tend to take the ‘bling’ away, via the court con­sid­er­ing if you can ex­plain your wealth,” Al-Rawi said.

“So mes­sage to all ‘Zessers’ in this coun­try: keep your re­ceipts, show where you got it from your em­ploy­ment and put your trail of ev­i­dence to­geth­er or make sure you’re not on that ‘block’ demon­strat­ing un­law­ful gains, be­cause a court of law will be asked to look at you very care­ful­ly.”

Al-Rawi was speak­ing about the bill, which seeks to es­tab­lish process­es to track and probe un­ex­plained wealth, par­tic­u­lar­ly re­gard­ing peo­ple sub­ject to in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der the Pro­ceeds of Crime (POC) Act that cov­ers over 20 of­fences from drug/arms/hu­man traf­fick­ing to cor­rup­tion and bribery.

An amend­ed ver­sion was passed in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives by Gov­ern­ment and Op­po­si­tion last week. The AG said fur­ther amend­ments were be­ing brought in the Sen­ate yes­ter­day.

Say­ing the bill would im­prove T&T’s weapon­ry against crim­i­nal­i­ty, Al-Rawi said the bill tar­gets “white col­lar crime, black col­lar crime, blue col­lar crime.”

He said the POC Act doesn’t cur­rent­ly have gang ac­tiv­i­ty among its list­ing, but Gov­ern­ment will be amend­ing the POC Act to in­clude gang ac­tiv­i­ty and gang-re­lat­ed of­fences.

“And we will ad­just the thresh­old as it re­lates to gang ac­tiv­i­ty to a much low­er thresh­old, as we’re ab­solute­ly in­tent on tak­ing the fight­ing chance against long gold chains, (and) cars that are worth sig­nif­i­cant val­ue, against peo­ple who gen­uine­ly seem­ing­ly un­em­ployed and who have un­ex­plained wealth, and in our coun­try where we can be cel­e­brat­ing a song called ‘The Zess­er’ and glo­ri­fy­ing a Zess­er man with a Glock and a Baret­ta and en­tic­ing young peo­ple to join gangs be­cause of the bling.”

Not­ing po­lice and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies’ op­er­a­tions to track gangs, Al-Rawi said while gang mem­bers are be­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ed, the “Wealth Bill” forms a nu­clear de­vice in that bat­tle, “…as we can start to ap­proach their prop­er­ty in the due process while the gang ac­tiv­i­ties are be­ing mea­sured.”

Al-Rawi added, “We don’t ask peo­ple to pan­ic, we just ask peo­ple to be pre­pared.”

How­ev­er, UNC Sen­a­tor Wade Mark ac­cused Gov­ern­ment of on­ly tar­get­ing “youths on the block with bling, gold chain and cars.”

Claim­ing a US pa­per stat­ed one per cent of peo­ple in T&T con­trols 70 per cent of the coun­try’s wealth, Mark added, “I haven’t heard the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al men­tion the planter class or bour­geoise. All the AG and Gov­ern­ment are con­cerned about are those peo­ple with bling and gold chain, BMW and fast cars. The mes­sage in this leg­is­la­tion is di­rect­ed at those peo­ple, it’s not di­rect­ed at those in jack­et and tie —this leg­is­la­tion is one of Sea Lots ver­sus St Clair!”

Mark said any­one in Sea Lots with a gold chain will now be un­der sus­pi­cion, “and po­lice will come af­ter them be­cause they’re just ‘sus­pect’ and this leg­is­la­tion says ‘on sus­pi­cion’ you’ll be charged.”

He said if a Sea Lots man had a gold chain bought in Guyana for (US)$5,000 and it was seized and val­ued at (US) $20,000, he might be fined (TT)$100,00 and giv­en 20 years jail for giv­ing the wrong val­ue.

Mark said in Low­er House de­bate on the bill, Gov­ern­ment MPs all seemed ob­sessed with “Blingers and Zessers and or­di­nary peo­ple from Sea Lots and John John.”

He said the UNC had no prob­lem in call­ing on peo­ple to ex­plain their wealth, “…be­cause it’s not on­ly or­di­nary peo­ple in Sea Lots and John John and parts of T&T, there are a num­ber of jack­et and tie peo­ple in T&T who have to ex­plain their wealth!”

“There are peo­ple who have prop­er­ties in St Clair…there’s a build­ing in St Clair where a land­lord charges T&T a large amount of mon­ey to rent that build­ing. So when this leg­is­la­tion comes in­to ef­fect, that land­lord in St Clair must be the first one to ex­plain his wealth—we’ll have to seize that prop­er­ty.”

He claimed one fam­i­ly owned 250 Port-of-Spain prop­er­ties and all of Char­lotte Street.

“I think the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al is fa­mil­iar with these peo­ple.”

Mark, how­ev­er, said the Op­po­si­tion would sup­port the bill and had amend­ments. But he pro­ject­ed the first per­son charged un­der the bill would chal­lenge it legal­ly. De­bate last night was in fi­nal com­mit­tee stages and will con­tin­ue to­day.

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