Jamaican investigators have taken possession of a little over US$300,000 or approximately J$35 million belonging to drug kingpin Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke and are on the hunt for more.
The Financial Investigations Division (FID) revealed yesterday that the cash, which was being held in accounts Coke had at two local financial institutions, was seized following an order made in the Supreme Court last month.
According to principal director of the FID, Albert Stevens, one of the accounts contained US$282,940.50, or approxi-mately J$32.5 million. The other had US$26,369.70, or some J$3 million, and J$4,698.41.
Despite an order by US District Judge Robert Patterson that Coke pays US$1.5 million, or approximately J$130 million, to the US Asset Forfeiture Unit, Stephens said the cash would be turned over to the Jamaican Government.
The seizure of the cash under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) comes nearly four years after the former Shower Posse leader pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the United States.
Stephens disclosed that Coke, who is serving a 23-year prison sentence in the US, did not mount a legal challenge to the court action, even though he was served with documents in his jail cell signalling that Jamaican authorities were getting ready to go after his cash.
The former Tivoli Gardens strongman pleaded guilty in September 2011 to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering.
“I am pleading guilty because I am,” Coke said then.
The multimillion-dollar seizure marks the culmination of a civil-recovery investigation launched by the FID in 2010, after Coke was captured and extradited to the US.
It also provides some measure of success for local investigators, who have been trying, without success, to determine the extent of Coke’s wealth.
Prosecutors in the US state of New York revealed in court that Coke admitted to trafficking more than 3,000 kilograms of marijuana and l5 kilograms of cocaine to the US.
They argued that at even the most conservative wholesale values for the two quantities of illegal drugs – at US$200 per pound for marijuana and US$15,000 per kilogram of cocaine – the gross proceeds from Coke’s distribution was well in excess of US$1.5 million.
However, in an exclusive interview with The Gleaner, FID boss Robin Sykes made it clear this was not the end of the road in the search for Coke’s assets.
Sykes revealed that the FID was aware of assets owned by Coke that were “intermingled with other parties”. As a result, he said, the agency was still trying to “disengage and determine the interest of the other parties”.
“We do continue our investigations for assets. Where they are uncovered, I think the civil-recovery law allows us a very long period of time to carry out those investigations,” explained Sykes, the chief technical director of the FID.
He said one of the challenges facing local investigators trying to track down Coke’s assets was finding persons who are willing to give evidence about the drug kingpin’s involvement in illegal activities.
“You can appreciate that in the specific circumstances of Mr Coke, there are not many people who would have been in an inner circle who are willing to talk … . Even people who are in an outer circle would not be willing to point a finger,” the FID boss said.
Another challenge facing investigators, he said, is the fact that there is enough information suggesting that Coke was also engaged in legitimate business activities.
“Because of how the Proceeds of Crime Act is, where those proceeds are commingled, it is always a difficult thing to say, ‘Okay, was this proceeds from a legitimate contract or was it proceeds from a crime?’… How do you untangle that?” he questioned.