Elite unit linked to ‘abduction’ of arms dealer in Barbados

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Firearm dealer Brent Thomas –

AN elite unit under the Ministry of National Security – the Transnational Organised Crime Unit (TOCU), which works closely with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and other international and regional security agencies – has been identified as the unit which purportedly arranged the capture and return of arms dealer Brent Thomas from Barbados in October, last year.

A national security source said TOCU has assisted the police on at least five occasions in the past to arrange the capture and return of TT nationals accused of financial crimes in other Caribbean islands under a Caricom treaty.

But police have since been advised by lawyers for the State that the treaty is “not enforceable” because there is no legislation giving it effect in this country.

The source said in Thomas’ case TOCU reportedly “organised the aircraft to make things easy.” TOCU has been described as a unit operating out of the Ministry of National Security which deliberately keeps a low-level profile but is credited with making “serious interventions in securing this country’s borders.”

The Prime Minister said at a post-Cabinet press conference on May 4 that the procedure used by the police in Thomas’ case had been used on at least six previous occasions and noted that if there were issues with it, they would be explored.

Thomas, 61, the owner of Specialist Shooters Training Centre (SSTC), who has been one of the main suppliers of guns, ammunition and other security equipment to various arms of the State for over 20 years, was snatched from his hotel room in Barbados by officers from the Royal Barbados Police Force.

The officers had been provided with copies of six arrest warrants for Thomas on charges of being in possession of grenades and automatic rifles. Thomas was on his way to visit his US cardiologist and stopped over in Barbados when he was detained, handcuffed and handed over to three officers assigned to TT’s Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) on the tarmac of the Grantley Adams International Airport. He believed a TT Defence Force aircraft was used by the police. Energy Minister Stuart Young was the one who disclosed in Parliament on April 28, that an aircraft belonging to the Regional Security System, based in Barbados, had been used. TT is not a member of the RSS which was created out of a need for a collective response to security threats affecting the stability of the region in 1982.

Police claimed Thomas “volunteered to return” but legal sources close to him questioned if that was so, why did he have on handcuffs during the flight.

Police said they took the steps to get Thomas in custody in Barbados after they received intelligence that he intended to travel to Greece. But High Court judge, Justice Devindra Rampersad found the officers deliberately did not disclose the steps taken the bring Thomas back to TT in his ruling on April 25 in the lawsuit Thomas filed against the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions over a breach of his constitutional rights and criminal charges. The judge stayed several criminal charges against Thomas.

The incident has triggered a multiplicity of investigations in both Barbados and TT. At the Barbadian government level, its Attorney General Dale Marshall has called on the police commissioner, Richard Boyce, for an urgent report. Dr Rowley has called on National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds to get details from police commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher on the matter. And both the Police Complaints Authority and the CoP are investigating allegations of misconduct against the PSB officers.

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, as he spoke in Parliament on Friday while Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher sat behind him. Hinds has requested a report from the CoP on the “abduction” of firearms dealer Brent Thomas. – Office of the Parliament

The PSB is the unit assigned to investigate allegations against police officers and has been given the mandate to unravel “the well-oiled criminal enterprise” as described by retired judge Stanley John in a report relating to the granting of firearm user’s licences under the tenure of former police commissioner Gary Griffith.

The State has admitted the return of Thomas was unlawful during the hearing of Thomas’ lawsuit and Rampersad severely criticised the conduct of the officers and the method they used to capture and return Thomas.

In an affidavit filed by DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, in the Thomas case, reference is made to two meetings held with officers from the PSB and then deputy DPP George Busby, now a High Court judge, on October 2 and 4, 2022 where the officers sought advice. Gaspard stated Busby was unable to provide advice on the first occasion as insufficient information had been provided but noted that it was in the discretion of the police “who had all the information” to charge.

Gaspard said Busby was able to “advise on the issue of the arrest warrants” but it did not “touch on the issue of how those warrants ought to be effected or executed.”

The DPP said Busby’s advice “was for the TTPS to communicate the existence of these warrants to the Barbados authorities so as to have Mr Thomas arrested. No advice was given as to how the arrest was to be done in Barbados or how, if arrested, Mr Thomas was to be returned to this jurisdiction.”

According to police, in early August 2022, Thomas’ business came up on their radar after a man was held with a gun during a roadblock which he purchased at SSTC but his firearm licence did not match the record at the police firearm unit.

A senior officer said it was never the intention to “target” Thomas “first” in the firearms probe but because an investigation had already commenced regarding the sale of a pistol a decision was made to audit his business at the same time.

Police later searched Thomas’ home at Haleland Park, Maraval and his business at Aranguez where they seized several automatic guns and grenades which are prohibited under the Firearms Act. Thomas claimed the grenades were imported to be sold to law enforcement and he had firearm permits signed off by commissioners of police for his guns.

Close to midnight Friday, lawyers representing the Attorney General lodged 24 grounds seeking to challenge the ruling of Justice Rampersad before the Appeal Court. The documents which have not yet been processed by the Appeal Court registry criticised the findings of the judge. The State intends to argue that the judge failed “to conduct a fair, dispassionate, and proper balancing exercise of the relevant considerations including in particular the public interest.”

On the issue of Thomas’ arrest in Barbados, the State intends to argue the judge was wrong to consider the actions of the Barbadian police, even if it was done at the request of local police, breached Thomas’ constitutional rights under TT laws.