Belize News Online Channel 5
|News 5 Live|
| Immigration investigation ongoing for at least two months
Dec 6, 2013
The intensive and wide-ranging multiple investigations into corruption at the Immigration Department have allegedly been ongoing for at least two months now. We say allegedly because there is no real evidence of any investigation into corruption. At this point we can’t even say that a so-called Financial Intelligence Unit investigation even exists, because head of the FIU Marilyn Williams refused to even confirm that it is so. Nothing has been divulged of an investigation by the Auditor-General, and as to the Police…well, News Five has confirmed that they weren’t pointed in a totally different direction altogether. What we do know is that Elvin Penner, the Minister of State who personally facilitated a passport for an accused South Korean criminal, and made false declarations in doing so, has gotten away scot free. Today head of the National Crimes Investigation Branch Assistant Commissioner Russell Blackett commented on the matter and it is not in line with what has been said before by the Minister of Immigration. The Police were called in on October ninth and according to Minister Godwin Hulse, they were tasked with investigating all aspects of the immigration scandal.
Godwin Hulse, Minister of Immigration (FILE October 9, 2013)
“The Police was invited in at four-thirty yesterday by the Director of Immigration and the C.E.O. who are the competent officials and the right persons to invite them to look at all aspects of the situation including files that are missing and files held by Mister Saldivar’s report.”
Russell Blackett, Head, National Crimes Investigation Branch
“We work in our investigation to uncover if there is any truth. We must be mindful that people are very mischievous and when things happen, people try to cover up. So you will find that questions will go about but I can assure you we are doing our investigation from a professional point of view.”
“Sir there have been other situations, investigations where the department has actually held press conferences to update the public. Why has there not been such a press conference on this important matter?”
“This concerns documentation and a lot of documents. We must be meticulous, we must analyze and we must be careful what we do and what we say. We know that we have people employed in these locations and we must be very careful not to be spreading and calling names and giving information until we get to the bottom of this.”
“So what update can you provide?”
“Well so far we have done some checks. We have noted that most of the files are copies. We heard about a hundred and fifty files, but so far it was basically about five and we are continuing the work on that.”
“Was there any indication that there was a parallel system within the passport section of the Immigration Department operating?”
“Well if that is so we have not uncovered that as yet.”
That’s not surprising since as we told you, the Police were not given carte blanche to investigate wrong-doing and criminal actions in the Immigration Department. Instead, they have been tasked only with determining how files from the Immigration Department were leaked to attorney Arthur Saldivar, and who was involved in getting them out. At no time has the Department looked at Elvin Penner and his role in the Wonhong Kim passport scandal or the mass issuance of nationality documents to questionable individuals. But action was taken against three Immigration Officers. Sharon Neal, Omar Phillips and Erwin Robinson were put on leave after the scandal broke on September nineteenth.
| Chang attends his first City Council meeting since returning to the jewel
Dec 6, 2013
Former Deputy Mayor Eric Chang was thrown into the mix of the immigration scandal involving the illegal sale of a Belizean passport to imprisoned South Korean businessman Won Hong Kim. Chang was in Taiwan on an official visit when the scandal broke in September and after his name was called, he remained in Taiwan for an extended period returning to Belize only two weeks ago. Well he attended his first city council meeting this afternoon. While the councilor took part in the discussions, he remains without a portfolio, following his demotion in mid-October. News Five spoke with Mayor Darrell Bradley today, who initially told the media that a meeting with Chang upon his return was mandatory. That sit-down has taken place and according to the mayor, Chang has reaffirmed his commitment to the Belize City Council despite rumors of his involvement in the scandal.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor
“Explain to him that I was dissatisfied in the manner than he comported himself. Being away from the jurisdiction and not being in contact especially given the fact that we were in the throes of an infrastructure project. And given the fact that he is deputy mayor so that when I leave the country he is the one who should run the city and I was not comfortable with the way he dealt with that situation. We tried to contact him and we couldn’t contact him, he expressed his regret in how that entire thing evolved. He expressed what I wanted to hear his firm commitment in continue in office and discharging his duties effectively as an elected representative. I indicated clearly to him as I did indicate to the people of the public that he will remain without portfolio and he will remain not deputy mayor; that position has been removed and given to somebody else. So he is still a councilor he still has obligations to his office, to represent on the council, the views of the member s of the public. He came to the meeting today; we met for about two and a half hours and he participated actively in the meeting and I expect that he will continue to the end of his term that he will discharge his functions effectively as a councilor. He indicated to me that this is what he wanted, he gave me a firm commitment and he showed up at the meeting today.”
| Police officer chopped in the head
Dec 6, 2013
A woman police officer is in critical condition tonight at the Northern Regional Hosptial. WPC Marilyn Pate accompanied personnel of the Human Development Department to the house of Oscar Perez in Trial Farm, Orange Walk on Thursday. The department was investigating Perez for allegations of sexual abuse of minors. His reaction was swift and deadly he attacked Pate with a machete chopping her on the head. Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Forty-four year old Oscar Perez, who also goes by the name Oscar Hernandez, is wanted by Orange Walk Police for the attempted murder of a woman police constable attached to the Domestic Unit of the Department for the past five years. Perez-Hernandez is considered armed and dangerous and has been on the run since a chopping incident around two on Thursday afternoon.
Insp. Julius Cantun, Acting O.C., Orange Walk Police
“Police officers were at the area yesterday all afternoon, however, he was able to avoid arrest. We have followed several information; we have issued a wanted person poster. He is wanted for the attempted murder of the police officer. He will also be charged for dangerous harm upon the police officer, along with other related charges. We as police officers are treating this person as being armed and dangerous. Our police officers have been cautioned. We caution the public that when they see him, be very careful. He has assaulted, he has attacked and he has injured a police officer. So we are treating this very seriously. We have information that he has relatives in Trial Farm; we have been in contact with the family of this suspect and we are working on intelligence. We have information that he may have family in August Pine Ridge and we are certain that he has family in Botes, across the border from Santa Cruz, which is just across the river. So we are liaising with the Mexican Authorities; we are providing them with the arrest warrant and the wanted poster of this person.”
WPC Marilyn Pate accompanied Human Services Representatives to the home of Perez-Hernandez in the Trial Farm Area of Orange Walk. Little did she know that she would have been chopped—almost to death. According to Inspector Julius Cantun of the Orange Walk Police, Pate was slashed three times to the head and is currently in stable condition at the Northern Regional Hospital.
Insp. Julius Cantun
“The Domestic Violence Unit section was approached by the Human Development Department, Orange Walk. They came to WPC Marilyn Pate who was on duty at the time and they provided her with certain information of sexual assault—a matter that needed to be investigated in the area of Trial Farm Village. As a result, WPC Pate accompanied the Human Development Officers to Zericote Street in Trial Farm Village where upon arrival, they approached a house where they met Mister Oscar Perez, he also goes by the name Oscar Hernandez, who was the subject of this investigation. He was approached and he was informed of the allegations being made against him—allegations of sexual assaults upon minors. For no reason inflicted three chop wounds to the head of the police officer—two to the left side of the head, one to the right side—and she also received defensive injuries to her forearm when she was on the ground, she was trying to defend herself and received injuries to the arm.”
One resident in the area witness the entire ordeal and says that the attack on Officer Pate happened in the blink of an eye before Perez-Hernandez escaped through the back of the yard.
Voice of: Eyewitness (Translated)
“The red pickup stop there and the occupants came out and went to the gate. The guy came from inside and spoke to them. I don’t know what they were saying because I was inside my house. A little while after, I saw the man go to the kitchen and the officer and the men entered the gate and stood in the shade in the yard. While standing there, the guy came running towards them with wielding the machete and attached the police officer. I ran for my phone to dial for the police. But when I looked up again, the men were taking the injured police officer to the vehicle and then rushed her to the hospital.”
Inspector Cantun says that the department will now look at safety policies to ensure that an incident like this does not reoccur.
Insp. Julius Cantun
“We have protocol and policies in place for whenever any police officers are checking into reports into any kind of report—be it traffic violation, be it domestic dispute, be it a shooting—we have policies and protocols in place. I believe there was some form of miscommunication and enough manpower was not secured for the checking of this information.”
Duane Moody for News Five.
| Political leaders of Belize pays tribute to Nelson Mandela
Dec 6, 2013
Around the world, there has been an outpouring of emotions following the death of Nelson Mandela. Leaders all over have been paying tribute to the larger-than-life icon whose struggle against injustices and to end racial oppression inspired the world. The office of the prime minister announced today that it is sending an official note of condolences to the President, People and Government of South Africa. The Belize flag is now flying at half-mast until noon on Saturday and again on September fifteenth when Mandela will be laid to rest. Prime Minister Dean Barrow has described Mandela as (Quote) “the last global hero history will ever see.” (Unquote) In paying tribute to Mandela, P.M. Barrow said that it is impossible for anything like the trajectory of Mandela’s life to occur again. Said Barrow, (Quote) “His towering strength, his unimaginable self-sacrifice, and the way in which he governed post-Apartheid South Africa without recrimination or reprisal, constitute a greatness that will never again be matched.” (Unquote) Mandela, the Prime Minister concludes, is not just an inspiration to Black people everywhere, but to all people everywhere. The Leader of the Opposition, Francis Fonseca, and the People’s United Party have also issued a statement expressing profound sadness at the passing of the global statesman. Says the statement, (Quote) “Nelson Mandela is unquestionably one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known and his life and legacy will forever serve as a shining example of strength, humility, compassion, and service. We stand in solidarity with the people of South Africa as together we mourn the passing of this great man and celebrate his life.” (Unquote) The P.U.P. also called on the government to designate Sunday, December eighth, 2013 as a National Day of Mourning in honour and memory of the late President, Nelson Mandela.
| Another look at Elvin Penner
Dec 6, 2013
Almost three months ago, news surfaced that UDP Minister of State Elvin Penner had facilitated nationality status and a Belizean passport for Wonhong Kim. Kim had never set foot in Belize, and was actually incarcerated in Taiwan when his nationality and passport were issued. Although the documents proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Penner was directly involved, to date he has been the subject of no investigation. In fact, he has been relatively untouched even as the scandal has swirled around him. But while Wonhong Kim is the name Penner will rue for all time, the fallen Minister of State was involved in a lot more than that. Mike Rudon has another look at an institutionalized immigration racket.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
These are the documents which likely were the direct cause of Elvin Penner’s fall from grace – a nationality certificate and a passport recommendation for South Korean national Wonhong Kim. Penner signed as recommender, claiming that he was a personal friend of Kim. And he signed as Minister on the nationality certificate. He was able to do so because he was given the authority by the Prime Minister.
Dean Barrow (File: October 10, 2013)
“He took over and he moved with great alacrity to do things. A problem developed because at that time Penner had not been given the authority as I recollect to sign nationality certificates. Penner complained to me over and over again that he felt as though he were a fifth wheel to a wagon. That he was Minister of State but that he had absolutely no authority. And he asked that he be brought more into the picture. That his position as a duly elected representative and as a constitutionally appointed minster of state in the ministry be respected. He particularly asked that he be allowed to sign that he’d be given the power to sign nationality certificate.”
It’s very likely that Elvin Penner had a very good reason for pleading for the authority to sign – likely many good reasons, the reasons that fold and can be stashed away. He was given the authority to sign and sign he did…on all manner of nationality certificates long before the name Wonhong Kim ever surfaced. Here’s Penner’s signature on nationality certificates for Zhongxiong Yang and Shuzi Hu. Remember we went looking for these new citizens to welcome then, but the address listed on the documents was an empty lot. (FILE October 17, 2013) And then there was Jalal Ebrahimi, a Dubai national who had his nationality certificate signed by Elvin Penner. His address is listed ambiguously as South End, Corozal Town. Our inquiries have found no such person known in the area. And there were many more. In fact, if the numbers listed on the nationality certificates are taken in order, Penner signed more than two hundred and eighty nationality certificates in two weeks.
And Elvin Penner was also a champion multi-tasker. When not busy recommending good friends for passports and signing nationality certificates for persons who cannot be found, Penner was also recommending visas for Chinese nationals hand over fist. His name has come up repeatedly, week after week in memos written from C.E.O. Candelaria Saldivar to Director of Immigration Maria Marin – lists of Chinese nationals recommended by Penner. It’s amazing that the former Minister of State was able to find time to do anything else – in one week in June he facilitated seventeen visas for Chinese nationals. Between May and July, Penner recommended visas for forty-eight Chinese nationals. We assume he was personal friends with them, on the same basis as Wonhong Kim perhaps.
So where does the Prime Minister stand on this issue? We guess he stands wherever is convenient at the time. On October tenth, 2013, this was his stance.
Dean Barrow (FILE October 10, 2013)
“I have also said that I understand that politicians have friends and I know that processes can be slow. If a minister says ‘I did ask the Immigration Department to bring some speed to the processing of an application for a visa for a friend,’ – it is entirely legitimate as minister. I satisfied myself that the application for the visa was in order. I can’t say that that is not to happen, but if I hear you intervene 10 times and I hear you intervene 20 times – what I am to think? Except that you’re involved in a hustle. If you hang out with Ali Baba you must be one of the 40 thieves.”
But on November twenty, seventh, 2013, he stood in a different spot entirely.
Dean Barrow (File: November 27, 2013)
“…man what you have produced is in my view not even remotely close to a smoking gun. On the face of it Ministers are entitled or perhaps even obliged to write letters of recommendations.”
And like we told you, with all the visa recommendations Ministers were doing, it’s a marvel that they found time to do anything else. Mike Rudon for News Five.
| City Council makes double payment to Belize Waste Control
Dec 6, 2013
Garbage woes…Around the city, garbage is piling up as city hall and Belize Waste Control remain at odds. BWC cut down on garbage collections this week when City Hall again could not meet its payment. City was four months behind in payments; that is until today when they made a hundred thousand dollars deposit toward the seven hundred and fifty thousand dollar debt. With that, BWC will resume collection but on a limited schedule. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
An outstanding debt of almost three quarters of a million dollars, owed to Belize Waste Control by the city council, has once again threatened the collection of garbage in the Old Capital. On Thursday, the company was forced to scale down its daily operation by parking seven of nine garbage trucks at the compound on the George Price Highway. While a double payment of a hundred thousand dollars was paid today, the issue of the council sinking deeper into debt around this time of year is a recurrent problem.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor
“I just got out of meeting with the city administration and we just gave them two payments which I a double payment. We expect to be paying them double payment or in some cases triple payment so that we could equalize with the arrears situation. That is really the position, we have no standing and in terms of saying that the money is not owed. It is a situation which is difficult to fix because of the way the funding for the city council comes in. This is a situation that I have inherited at the city council, it compounded by the fact that we are paying off their judgment. For example on December 20th we have to pay them a six hundred and twenty thousand dollar judgment. This is not monies and that is during the slow season, this is not monies that we have lying around the place. We are trying to be effective in our commitments to build streets, in our commitments to maintain parks and top deliver other priority areas. I have emphasized this that we spend forty-five cents of every dollar that we collect on sanitation services and that is unsustainable. I have gone to other cities and I have asked them what their cost is for sanitation and a city typically spend between 15 and 20 percent to get to 45 percent it is just unsustainable. I am surprised that the city councilor could actually meet that commitment and meet its commitments in terms of salaries and infrastructure and other priority areas that we have. The reality is we are just trying to do the best we can, we made two payments today, we expect that we will also have to make that additional double payment ending of the year.”
According to Mayor Bradley, contracts awarded to BWC and Belize Maintenance Limited for garbage collection are costing City Hall forty-five cents to every dollar collected.
“We pay them fifty thousand dollars every week. One sanitation contractor we pay fifty thousand dollars that is BWC and the other contractor we pay seventy-eight thousand dollars per week that is BML. So combine that hundred and thirty add thousand dollars that we pay every single week. It is difficult for us even to collect that, to be able to turn that over and pay. So when we say we make a double payment we pay them two weeks, we pay them fifty thousand dollars and on top of that we pay them an additional fifty thousand dollars. And in some cases we must make mention I think it was three weeks ago we paid them a triple payment which was a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. So we expect to be paying them double payments and triple payments towards the ending of this year and early next year so we can equalize in terms of the arrears so we can be at a zero balance. But this is going to be the reality next year, next year you are going to be at the same spot and you are going to ask me the same question because on a sustainable basis a city cannot continue to be paying forty-five cents out of every dollar for sanitation.”
The mayor has also indicated that when the contract signed with BML expires in 2015, the council intends to enact legislation which will hold residents responsible for the cleaning of areas in front of their property.
“The BML contract expires in January of 2015 and we already indicated well at least I as mayor have no intention of renewing that contract and what we are going to do is that we are going to put in place what is called sway legislation which will require you to maintain two feet in front of their property line and I think if members of the public are able to do that and they will cooperate with the city administrator in that way and we are not having to replace that service, that will represent a four million dollar savings every single year for the city council. That is going to be savings that we could put in streets and parks and public safety and that will be a significant reprieve because of we get that we can easily deal with the other sanitation contract which I think is a, is more of an essential service. I don’t think that the city council should be paying to pick up garbage off Albert Street it is not a public thing.”
Despite the payment made today, the city council remains three a half months behind in monies owed to Belize Waste Control. The company’s general manager George Lamb told News Five today that his fleet of garbage trucks should resume its full operation by Monday. Isani Cayetano for News Five.