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No real evidence of human trafficking here – PM

No real evidence of human trafficking here – PM

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INVESTIGATIONS by the “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit” surrounding a local business run by a Chinese national have not currently revealed evidence which would label it as a human trafficking operation, informed the Prime Minister.

Last week, following a press release by the International Police (Interpol), reports in international media spoke of an operation carried out combating human trafficking across the Caribbean and Latin America.

Interpol had stated that, “about 500 police were involved in the co-ordinated raids earlier this month in Brazil, Venezuela, Jamaica and 10 other countries in the Caribbean.”

Speaking specifically on St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Interpol said, “In St Vincent and the Grenadines, Asian employees at a factory had been stripped of their passports and made to be completely dependent on handlers for food and lodging — and were receiving zero wages.”

SEARCHLIGHT had spoken to the head of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF) Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit (ATIPU), Inspector Junior Simmons on Monday about the reports, but he remained tight-lipped. He said that a full statement would be offered soon.

During ‘Statements by Ministers’ at yesterday’s sitting of Parliament, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves rose to provide more information on the matter as it stands.

Speaking on the investigations, the Prime Minister stated that the SVG leg of the operations, as part of the regional operations by Interpol, was carried out on April 4.

The investigations saw three persons being detained, questioned, and released pending further investigations, Gonsalves stated.

“Three persons were detained, along with cash, cellular phones, laptops, and other items,” he stated.

“However the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit, having interviewed the potential victims and workers…and the owner of the business, they have made certain conclusions that up to that point in their investigation, that the elements that are necessary to determine a case of human trafficking were not present,” the Prime Minister revealed.

Also part of the investigations that were carried out, the Financial Intelligence Unit(FIU) had “seized the cash, and the cash amounted to just over US$11,000…but the FIU has since returned it to the owner of the business after conducting their due diligence checks and was satisfied that the monies were derived from legitimate sources and means.”

As it relates to the other seized items, Gonsalves revealed, “The cellular phones and the laptops were analyzed by professionals in the IT Department and thus far no materials of a criminal nature were discovered on these items.”

At this stage the Prime Minister indicated that a file is being prepared to be sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) so that the office can give further instructions.

He informed that at the end of the operation Interpol were to release a general press release, but they were not alerted to the fact that SVG would be named in the release.

“The Interpol press release, as you can see by the facts, overextended by this particular official, and overblown, and in some way, in this world where things travel in the way in which they travel… magnified, and placed on St Vincent and the Grenadines an unnecessary spotlight and created the impression that this country has a human trafficking problem which we are not addressing,” the Prime Minister stated.

Gonsalves read the excerpt on SVG in the article written by the BBC and commented that “you’ll get the impression that we have a huge number of ‘Asian trafficking victims’.”

“In fact, there were two persons involved… and what happened is this…these two persons living at the same house as the owner, all three of them being of Chinese descent. Mr Speaker, the owner has been around in St Vincent and the Grenadines for quite a long time, and the two workers concerned, who were possible victims, but had not been elevated in the investigation to ‘victims’,” he informed.

Gonsalves reiterated SVG’s commitment to working with local and international partners to combat human trafficking.

However, he did state, “While you’re preparing a file for the DPP, to have somebody else go and speak about this matter, and besmirch the name of SVG…If we’re not doing anything it’s fine…you know beat us up… but not if we’re doing something. And from this begin to hear oh how many thousands of Chinese are in St Vincent…” He ended, “You know we have enough problems to handle Mr Speaker, to have deal with these either fake news or overblown matters. I hope presenting this issue to Parliament that I have given the details and put the context and put our policies, and what we have done, and what we are doing.”