Forensic investigators at the Hope Road, St Andrew, offices of Stocks and Securities Ltd on Thursday morning after a break-in and theft of five computers Wednesday night. (Photo: Llewellyn Wynter)
THE theft of five laptop computers from the Hope Road, St Andrew, offices of the embattled Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) early Thursday morning will not impact the Financial Investigations Division’s (FID) probe into a more than US$30-million fraud at the financial entity.
Chief technical director of FID Selvin Haye was to quick to rubbish speculation, mainly on social media, that the break-in at the company would stymie the long-running probe.
“It won’t,” Haye said, then declined to say anything more and directed the Jamaica Observer to the Financial Services Commission (FSC), which is now in charge of operations at SSL.
“The FSC has control of SSL through a temporary manager. Questions should be directed to the FSC. The FID should not be questioned at this time,” declared Haye.
But when the Observer contacted Keron Burrell, the executive director of the FSC, he said he had “no comments at this time”.
The break-in occurred hours after the FID, in a media release, said it had submitted a new file to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine if additional charges are to be laid as its probe has uncovered that more than 200 account holders have been fleeced of more than US$30 million, or close to $5 billion.
The FID said in a statement on Wednesday that continuous investigations have revealed that the figure had jumped past US$30 million from the initial US$12 million which was reported. The number of clients scammed has also climbed from roughly 30 to more than 200 and counting.
Meanwhile, Opposition spokesman on finance Julian Robinson expressed shock at the theft of the computers.
Robinson said the development raises critical questions about the integrity of the ongoing investigation and added that the Opposition was deeply troubled by the security breach at SSL which, he claimed, poses a significant risk of compromising crucial information vital to the investigation.
“It is unacceptable that potential evidence, stored within these laptops, might be tampered with or destroyed, hindering the pursuit of justice. Just Wednesday, the Financial Investigations Division disclosed that the scale of the fraud under scrutiny was even more extensive than initially believed. Therefore, the revelation of this theft is profoundly unsettling,” said Robinson.
“The PNP is insisting on a comprehensive and high-level inquiry into this matter, given the strong indication that these actions are aimed at obstructing justice and obliterating evidence,” he said in a press release.
The People’s National Party, said Robinson, wants the FID to urgently implement robust security measures to safeguard all assets and information related to the SSL case.
“This incident underscores the urgency for heightened vigilance and reinforced protections to prevent any further compromise of the investigations. We implore the Jamaica Constabulary Force to do more to ensure the preservation of the investigation’s integrity. Taxpayers’ resources have been extensively invested in untangling the complexities of the SSL situation, and any compromise resulting from negligence or deliberate actions would be an egregious disservice to the public.”
But as word spread about the break-in at the SSL offices, cybersecurity consultant Trevor Forrest gave the benefit of the doubt to the people in charge of investigating the matter, saying that he hoped they properly backed up all the data relevant to the case, which, he said, was stored on the computer devices at SSL.
“I doubt the people going in and stealing the devices would prevent investigators from carrying out the investigations as they need to. If it happened before the FID went in or anybody else went in, then we would have some cause for concern. What I believe investigators would have done is make a copy of all hard drives as part of evidence gathering,” Forrest said.
“So, even if people steal the devices, the data would still be in the custody of the investigators. That would be the standard operating procedure to mitigate instances like this. There is a process they have to go through when collecting data to make sure that what they would present in any court case is not tampered with, assuming they followed investigatory practices for this kind of thing, which I am pretty sure they did,” Forrest said.
In the meantime, Senior Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay, head of the police Corporate Communications Unit, confirmed that there was a report of a break-in at SSL but refused to confirm reports that the stolen computers include one that was being used by the company’s chief financial officer.
So far, only one person, Jean-Ann Panton, a former wealth advisor, has been arrested and charged in relation to the major fraud case.
She was indicted on three counts of larceny as a servant, five counts of forgery, five counts of uttering forged documents, three counts of falsification of accounts, 13 counts of engaging in a transaction involving criminal property and three counts of breaching the Cybercrimes Act.
When Panton appeared via a video link in the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning for a plea and case management hearing, she was ordered remanded until May 27, 2024, to give her attorney-at-law Sylvester Hemmings time to finish reading close to 1,000 pages of case files.
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