Sat | Aug 24, 2019

Criminals corrupt customs - Cops say crooks threaten agency's integrity, giving workers bad name

Published:Tuesday | July 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis/Gleaner Writer
From left: Marcus Steele, managing director of Carreras Limited; John Padgett, Caribbean external affairs and anti-illicit trade manager, British American Tobacco; Michael Ellis, director of Ellis & Associates Limited; and Kirk Benjamin, senior director of Jamaica Customs Agency, reviewing some of the illicit cigarettes at the opening ceremony of the Carreras Limited Anti-Illicit Trade Conference held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston yesterday.

Criminals are wreaking havoc in the Jamaica Customs Agency, and the assistant superintendent of police assigned to the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch (C-TOC), Victor Barrett, has warned that the integrity of that organisation is in jeopardy.

Addressing a conference aimed at examining measures to deal with the illicit trade in goods at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in St Andrew yesterday, Barrett argued that corrupt staff members were giving the Customs Agency a bad name.

"These criminals steal these containers off the wharf before it even reaches a point where Customs can get involved. The common man will just blame customs, but we have to educate ourselves and understand that there is more than meets the eye.

"There are criminals operating at Customs and they bypass the systems, and the protocols are put in place and they are stealing goods," said Barrett.

He was supported by head of C-TOC, Assistant Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey, who argued that persons who work in certain institutions must be randomly checked to protect the integrity of these organisations.

"We have to identify the corrupt people and we have to take appropriate action. I believe that persons who work within certain organisations, and in certain units, must be properly vetted," said Bailey. "They must be properly checked and there has to be random checking of people to ensure that the integrity of the organisation and the integrity of the system are maintained."

Kirk Benjamin, acting deputy commissioner at the Jamaica Customs Agency, said that he was aware that illicit goods were slipping through the island's ports. But he insisted that the agency was not to blame. He said that the issue rested with persons who were mandated to secure the containers.

"A container comes in and is then stored on the port. Each container is stored in a unique location. Customs doesn't know where those containers are stored. The only persons who know are the port operators, yet smugglers know which containers to break into and steal from.

"They can get a crane to lift up that container and put it on a truck. None of those apparatus(es) fall under Customs. I'm not throwing our port operators under the bus, but clearly there must be some collusion," argued Benjamin.