By Murli Dhar
We have many institutions charged with tracking the proceeds from crime and criminal activity and taking action to stop them well in time. Do they coordinate among themselves well enough to keep the bad things from stretching out so easily from the “black economy” into the “white economy”?
It will be recalled that a couple of months back, a taxi driver Ashish Dayal was stopped by police and his car was found to be carrying a hard drug with an estimated value of Rs 180 million.
This sum gave an idea of the amounts involved in the local drug business. Since then, nearly a dozen arrests of other persons, including some sort of a ring leader, Jean Jacques Derek, allegedly associated with the drug dealing group to which the taxi driver belonged, have taken place.
In the course of the investigation, it has come to light that there would be persons within the local prison who, with the help of cell phones — surreptitiously introduced in the place — would be controlling the drug business of this group involving supplies from other countries. A religious man, who regularly went to preach to prisoners, would have acted as a courier for travelling abroad to effect payment to foreign suppliers in this connection. It was apparently a well networked unit. An important sum of money was also found buried in the sand on the beach in anticipation of some payment to be made.
Supplies of the hard drug found its way into Mauritius, according to statements made by one or other of the arrested persons, by means of a contact person working on board the ‘Mauritius Trochettia’, a cargo and passenger ship plying in the Mascarena region. The parcel would be jettisoned by the contact person on board the ship near the coast of Mauritius, only to be picked up by divers at the indicated spot. Thence, it would make its way inland. There is no statement as to how long this trade has been going on. If it has been going on over a long period, the estimated accidental catch of drug worth Rs 180 million would be a small fragment of the total trade activity.
Other revelations from arrested persons indicate that the money generated would have gone into buying fleets of unregistered road vehicles, immovable property, even a dancing hall and conducting foreign exchange transactions. The latest in the series of disclosures – which remains to be proved with hard evidence — relates to an allegation of certain politicians being apparently involved with the group. This range of activity clearly indicates that the drug business should have been going on for an extended period of time within an established framework.
We have various institutions in Mauritius which are responsible for taking action in such cases to stop the rot before it assumes bigger proportions.
In the first place, we have the police itself which, in the present case, spotted the drug being carried in Ashish Dayal’s car. The Coast Guard is part of the police force which is charged, amongst others, with patrolling our coastal waters to ward off any such weird activity of dropping of drug parcels near the Mauritius coastline to be picked up by divers. Next, we have the Mauritius Revenue Authority which can decide to investigate into cases of unexplained sudden burst of wealth of individuals or companies, irrespective of whether tax returns are filed or not. We have another institution called the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) whose job it is to obtain and process suspicious transaction reports (STR) from financial institutions. The latter are required to file an STR to the FIU if they suspect anyone conducting simple or complex transactions with them involving proceeds of crime or money laundering. Whistle-blowers can also inform the FIU in case they have information to the effect that wealth was being accumulated by any party in Mauritius out of the proceeds of crime. The FIU may refer a case of suspected corruption to the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) for the latter to initiate action as may be necessary.
The point is that we have many institutions charged with tracking the proceeds from crime and criminal activity and taking action to stop them well in time. No doubt, they do their job according to their resources, competence and skills. However, the ramifications we are seeing in the present drug case show that the wrongdoers have been having the upper hand. Had this not been the case, the wrongdoers might not have gone into so many normal economic activities acquiring immovable property, entertainment halls, cars, foreign exchange, etc., so freely but for this chance arrest of the taxi driver bringing this entire range of activities out into the open. Do our institutions coordinate among themselves well enough to keep the bad things from stretching out so easily from the “black economy” into the “white economy”? If that is not already the case, it would be time to act together more effectively at this level.
Constructive joint effort by all concerned will improve public outcomes in two ways. It will increase fairness towards law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes, do not skip custom duties and tariffs and do not enrich themselves by indulging in all sorts of unfair and illegal activities. Second, it will help to deter others who might be tempted to take the easy route of indulging in illegal activities, including drug dealing thereby imperilling lives of generations yet to come. The problem with criminal behaviour is that it tends to escalate with time, transforming itself into monstrous proportions, unless firm action is taken to stop it before it is too late. A country which favours lawful conduct will, on the other hand, keep raising its standards and be a match to even the best in the world. If we deal effectively with the threat of encroachment by illegality, we can aspire to be really among the most performing nations.
* Published in print edition on 30 November 2012