While sending two Trinidad natives to prison for trying to smuggle US$67,538 out of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a senior magistrate yesterday warned that financial crimes will not be treated lightly, adding that such offences can damage a country’s reputation.
The BVI, which is one of the world’s leading financial services centres, gets more than half of its annual revenue from the financial services industry.
It also faced criticisms over the years amid an international move to clamp down on financial crimes such as money laundering.
“It is a well known fact that financial crimes and money laundering… can destroy a country’s reputation,” noted Senior Magistrate Tamia Richards.
She therefore declared that the court has to show that those crimes are not acceptable in the BVI.
“Possession of criminal proceeds encourages criminality and, even though we are mothers and fathers, the court has an obligation [to punish offenders],” the senior magistrate added.
She made the comments while she sentenced two natives of Trinidad and Tobago – Allan Birju and Rachelle Emrith who has children who are minors.
Birju was sentenced to one year at Her Majesty’s Prison for engagement in smuggling, and six months imprisonment for possession of the proceeds of criminal conduct. Both sentences are to run concurrently, effectively meaning that he will spend only a year behind bars.
Tougher sentence for mastermind
Birju’s co-accused and compatriot, Emrith, received a tougher sentence mainly because she was the mastermind in the financial crime.
She will serve a total 14 months in prison, as well as a further six month if she does not pay a $60,000 fine.
A breakdown of the sentence shows that she has received 14 months imprisonment for engagement in smuggling, and 12 months for being in possession of the proceeds of criminal conduct. As it relates to the third charge of failing to declare monies to Her Majesty’s Customs, Emrith was fined the $60,000. If she does not pay that sum, she will serve an additional six months in prison.
Further breaking down the sentence, Senior Magistrate Richards ordered that the 12 months imprisonment and 14-month prison term that have been mentioned earlier should run concurrently (at the same time). Also, if the aforementioned fine is not paid, Emrith will serve a further six months in prison.
Gov’t gets money that was being smuggled
Senior Magistrate Richards, in the meantime, ordered that the US$67,538 that the Trinidad natives tried to smuggle through the Terrence B Lettsome International Airport should be forfeited to the BVI Government.
The money was earned through criminal conduct, which the prosecution did not specify in court.
It however stated that, on July 4 this year, police received a report that the Trinidad and Tobago natives were attempting to leave the BVI with large quantities of United States currency.
The authorities searched Emrith and found $58,050 strapped to her waist, sides, and back.
During a police interview, she reportedly said: “Officer, I have a young child to feed. I did not know I had to declare the monies. Things are hard in Trinidad… Please give me break.”
Meanwhile, when Birju was searched, authorities recovered $9,488 from trousers he was wearing. He claimed that he accompanied Emrith to the BVI, adding that most of the cash belonged to her.
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