(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.