Port of Spain – National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds on Friday said Trinidad and Tobago had recorded its first conviction of a person convicted of trafficking in persons (TIP) but the authorities have a problem in locating the convicted man.
But law enforcement officials, speaking at the news conference at which Hinds was present, told reporters that the man, Anthony Michael Smith, had been able to remove his electronic monitoring bracelet and absconded before the trial.
Smith was initially slapped with 21 charges but after a preliminary inquiry, five of those charges proceeded to trial. He was found guilty on all five charges and, when recaptured, will serve 15 years in prison.
“You would not have heard about it before because the trial was done…in camera because it involved a victim who was 16 years old at the time of the offences,” Hinds said, adding “that was some eight, nine years ago.
“The fact that she was 16 years old at the time, largely was the issue that attracted the police,” the National Security Minister said, adding that Trinidad and Tobago is assessed by the United States on the basis of a law that operates in the North American country known as the Trafficking, Victims Protection Act of 2000.
He said as a result of that law, Washington conducts assessments of countries including Trinidad and Tobago.
He said the accused in the matter was 31 years old at the time and he was arrested and charged in 2016. He was committed to stand trial in June 2017.
Hinds said that the purpose of the trafficking was for sexual exploitation, adding that “based on information available to me, the victim was of no economic status, the child of a single parent”.
Hinds said that there are “so many people of that experience, who perhaps for that reason and more can be vulnerable to the urgings of people like Smith”.
The National Security Minister said Smith had been placed on bail and as a result of his release. The court had ordered that he be electronically tagged.
“He jumped bail eventually and the criminal rules of the court permitted him although on the first morning of the trail, he showed up and told the court he wanted to change lawyers,” Hinds said, noting in hindsight Smith was seeking to benefit from delaying the system.
Hinds said the court allowed him time to get another lawyer, but that the convicted man failed to show up even though his lawyers were present.
“The rules of the court allow the court to proceed in absentia …and the proceedings went along.
Hinds said that the matter was heard by Justice Geoffrey Henderson, who had returned from duties at the International Criminal Court in The Hague “and I am told in this in camera proceedings conducted the matter in accordance with all of the laws…
“The bottom line is the trial ensued and the nine member jury pronounced guilty verdicts on Mr Anthony Smith,” Hinds told reporters. (CMC)