PM: Criminals holding FULs

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former police commissioner Gary Griffith. – File photo

DRUG offenders, rape accused and domestic violence perpetrators may be among legal gun-holders, said the Prime Minister, who once again has expressed his displeasure over the findings of reports into the issuance of firearms user’s licences (FUL) and variations of firearm import permits.

Dr Rowley shared several “real examples” of the “troubling allegations” of rampant corruption and malpractices, including holders being allowed to import or access unusually large caches under the leadership of former top cop Gary Griffith.

He assured that the police and the National Security Council, which he leads, are making considerable efforts to rectify this state of affairs and hold the relevant people accountable.

Rowley said the general manager of a store was charged with having drugs in 2012 and was granted a FUL in 2021. Another applicant, who was similarly charged, was also granted a FUL in 2021.

“In 2011, he committed the offence of issuing threats and, in 2013, failing a breath sample and in 2016, issuing threats to kill. On September 11, 2022, he made threats to his ex-girlfriend and the police had to intervene and investigate. This investigation led to the seizure of his firearm,” Rowley said.

He spoke at the 28th sitting of the House of Representatives on July 3.

On abnormalities found in an investigation by Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher, of the licensing regime for 2016 to 2021, Rowley said about 7,000 licences were issued from August 2018 to September 2021.

“In that short period, he (Griffith) would have granted more FULs than several police commissioners combined over the years. Some applications for the grant of provisional permits, which is a precursor document to the FUL, were not properly or entirely completed.

“Several applications for provisional permits were unsigned by the applicants, yet they were approved. Licensed firearm dealers were dropping several incomplete applications to the Firearms Section on behalf of their clients.”

The PM added there was evidence that files which divisional heads did not recommend were approved.

Several FULs were approved without the requisite certificate of character. This resulted in people who would ordinarily be refused being granted FULs.

Rowley said, currently, there are 20 police officers before the courts charged with gun-related offences.

He recalled a first investigation that was done by a retired ACP Arthur Barrington and retired Chief of Defense Staff, Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard.

Another (The Craig Report, July 2022) was done by a team of four retired senior officers, supported by four serving officers, assigned by the then-acting CoP Mc Donald Jacob.

A third enquiry was done by retired Justice of Appeal Stanley John, who was appointed by the Police Service Commission.

Rowley recalled that when he announced his intention of laying the Craig Report in Parliament, the former CoP took the matter to court, asking the court to stop the Government from doing so.

“The court injuncted the audit report (Craig Report), blocking the Government from making that report available to the public, through its Parliament, and among other things, ordered that the contents of that report be investigated by the police service, and only thereafter, could the report be made public,” Rowley said.

“Interestingly, it was the judge who, having seen the report, stated that no prime minister seeing such a report could have failed to act, for to do so would have been a dereliction of duty on the part of the prime minister. However, the court process is still underway on that report.”

He added that the Barrington/Pritchard report found that some gun dealers had direct contact with and free, unfettered access to the police’s FUL section and process on the status of their clients’ multitude of applications.

It found that many police were involved in the lucrative business side of acquiring and training civilians. This introduced several risks, including the manipulation of the process for personal gain and serious conflicts of interest.

Some people, he said, confirmed paying dealers for services in the award of FULs.

“Some licensed dealers were approved to import large numbers of high-capacity drum magazines with a capacity of 100 rounds of ammunition. In some cases, entire families were granted variations. There are some families with 25 weapons and, in one particular case, 33 weapons in the household.”

The total number of permits granted from 2016-2021 was 739, whereas the total granted from August 18, 2018-September 6, 2021, was 574.

“A firearm import permit was issued to the owner of a company in Port of Spain, who was granted permission to import 15,000 rounds of training ammunition, ‘on behalf of the TT Police Service.'”

He added that some dealers have merged their imports and stocks with those of rifle associations of which they are members, adding to the difficulty in accounting for guns and ammunition in the country.

“Even more worrisome is that the customs records, in so far as they are available, provide little comfort in computing and collating the firearms and ammunition trade. Customs is where records of all imports are expected to be available and accessible. Sadly, this is not the case.”

In one case, someone received a dealer’s licence in 2020 and imported 11,810 guns, 1,090,000 rounds of ammunition and 330,000 component parts/accessories.

Before getting the licence, he was charged with having cocaine at an international airport after disembarking from a flight from TT.

Rowley said a serving police officer, owner of a security firm, obtained his dealer’s licence in 2020. He was granted 21 firearms import permits for the importation of 21,533 guns, 23,015,000 rounds of ammunition and 1,648 component parts/accessories.

He added, “Two other dealers, one his spouse, was granted licences to import in excess of 10,000,000 rounds of assorted ammunition.”

Rowley added that the excessive amount of guns, ammunition, and accessories that were approved for importation into TT begs the question of whether the market of legal gun owners was robust enough to support that level of arms and ammunition.

He said police investigations also found that about 100 licensed guns were used in crimes such as murders, suicides and robberies between 2017 and 2021.

“We cannot now disagree that we have had and continue to have a very real problem with our ports of legal entry, our internal agencies and establishments and many of our guards who are supposed to guard us.”

Griffith to PM: Name crooked FUL holders

Newsday called the former commissioner for a comment, and he replied via a voice note saying the word “allegation” means lies with no evidence.

Griffith accused Rowley of using Parliament to fool the country, saying the PM was obsessed with legal guns.

“This dangerous infatuation continues to overshadow the real issue of illegal firearms, which has been responsible for the vast majority of murders in TT, two of which, reports suggest, happened today in the same area of the PM’s residence,” Griffith said.

To Rowley, Griffith added, “If legal guns are such an issue, then return the many FULs that your ministers and friends acquired and are still in their possession.”

He added, “Rowley’s statements on the audit’s report are highly questionable. The court agreed to the injunction because those who compiled the report never contacted me.

“You cannot hire people, pay them big money, let them write a report to smear someone’s character and not allow the person to defend themselves against the lies in the initial report. That is why the injunction was put into place.”

He said Rowley owes the country an explanation as a person who holds public office and must adhere to the Constitution.

“Where did you, Keith Rowley, get this so-called report? You stated it was from two other reports. If this was the audit report that the High Court blocked, have you now breached the court order?

“If it was from any other report, it should indeed be made public so those accused can take action if required.”

Griffith emphasised that if Rowley read the audit report after the court said not to, it showed contempt.

He said Parliament is one place where people can lie and not be sued.

Griffith challenged Rowley to name FULs holders who acquired or used a weapon illegally.

He charged that over 3,000 people were killed by guns under Rowley’s leadership in the last decade and 99.9 per cent were by illegal guns.

“It seems this man has a hatred for law-abiding citizens getting legal firearms and showing sympathy for criminal elements. To be clear, I gave out 6,000-odds firearms from 25,000-plus applications made by citizens over the last ten to 20 years that were being ignored by previous CoPs.

“Half of these was given to citizens while the other half was given to past and present members of the protective service. This means that I gave out 0.3 per cent of the population got firearms. His obsession is stopping law-abiding citizens from getting legal firearms.”