Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Caricel crackdown - Combat-style police storm telecoms compound, but lawyer insists Symbiote not operating network

Published:Saturday | February 22, 2020 | 12:19 AMNickoy Wilson/Staff Reporter
A heavily armed cop mans the gate of the Eastwood Avenue, St Andrew, property where law enforcers conducted a raid Friday afternoon.
A heavily armed cop mans the gate of the Eastwood Avenue, St Andrew, property where law enforcers conducted a raid Friday afternoon.

The hours-long police raid on premises at Eastwood Avenue, St Andrew, yesterday was carried out in relation to an alleged breach of the Telecommunications Act by Caricel, according to acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey.

However, Bailey declined to give further details on the raid which eyewitnesses said began early in the afternoon.

Minette Lawrence, company secretary for Symbiote Investments Limited, which operates Caricel, told The Gleaner yesterday that she was surprised by the snap operation.

She said that when the Court of Appeal last year denied an application by Symbiote to stay the minister of science, energy and technology’s decision to revoke its telecommunications licences, it transferred its network assets to Xtrinet Limited.

She further stated that although the transfer is not yet complete, Symbiote no longer operates the network.

“My understanding at this moment in time is that the Spectrum Management Authority (SMA) accepts and has all the information to verify that Symbiote was no longer in operation of the network and it is Xtrinet, and Xtrinet has its own licences, and so on,” Lawrence said.

“So I’m quite perturbed and surprised by this police action, but the police action itself doesn’t appear to be coming from the SMA,” Lawrence said.

She said that the search warrant used by the police cites a breach of Section 70 of the Telecommunications Act, which, she said, is a general section that allows the police to enter and search premises if they have reason to believe that an offence against the Act is being committed.

Big guns

Meanwhile, John Allen, employee of Xtrinet Limited, said the raid began around 1:20 p.m. when he saw heavily armed police personnel enter the premises.

“I went in and I sat around and I was about to have my lunch when I heard ‘Knock! Knock! Knock!.’ I went out and I saw a team of police officers, guns drawn, didn’t point at me directly, but they were all armed.

“Everywhere they were opening. They were holding the gun in combat mode as if they were ready for everything,” Allen said.

He said that the police guided all the employees to the front of the premises where they were told to stay put.

Further, he said that the police carried out a thorough search of his vehicle.

Last year, the Court of Appeal also refused the company’s request that a temporary stay be granted until it makes an application for permission to appeal to the Privy Council.

Prior to that, the Supreme Court denied an application for judicial review of the decision by then energy minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley, to revoke the telecommunications licence granted to Symbiote.

In 2017, Wheatley told Parliament that Symbiote had not complied with all the conditions that were attached to its domestic mobile spectrum licence, with the issues, including its failure to address the matter of outstanding fees.

Caricel was granted licences to operate in Jamaica by the Government in 2016 despite a recommendation from the contractor general not to do so.