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Former Minister of State Elvin Penner Freed of Charges, COLA Will Appeal Decision
Jul 24, 2014

Elvin Penner

Elvin Penner walks….A decision was handed down today in the case of Elvin Penner, who facilitated the issuance of a passport to South Korean fugitive, Won Hong Kim. The former government minister admitted in an email that he, “Personally went with Kim to the passport office to see to it that he would get proper attention and would get his passport the same day.” But Kim was sitting in a Taiwanese jail. When all investigations went nowhere, a private prosecution started and on March twenty-seventh, Penner appeared in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court for the first time; he was charged with two immigration offences. Today, almost four months later, he walked out of court with no case to answer, after the matter was struck out for lack of evidence. The outcome, even for those who brought the private prosecution against Penner, is not surprising. It was a struggle to get the matter to court, and once there it was an impossibility to obtain evidence held by government functionaries. But while Penner has been cleared in the court, it is no real vindication because in the court of public opinion he has been tried and convicted. Mike Rudon and Chelsea Wagner were in Belmopan this morning and have the story.

Mike Rudon, Reporting

At eight-forty this morning COLA representatives, along with attorney Kareem Musa, arrived at the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court, and shortly after, disgraced former Minister of State Elvin Penner, flanked by his wife and family members, arrived. Police presence at the court was unusually heavy – we counted seven officers stationed inside the courtroom, with the Commander of the Western Zone, Assistant Commissioner of Police Aaron Guzman taking charge outside.

The case hinged on evidence held by Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie, but the Magistrate dismissed an application by attorney Kareem Musa to summon him for access to that evidence, and as easy as that, the case was struck out and Penner walked out of court cleared of the charges.

His triumphant exit was marred by the presence of the media and an angry crowd which made its feelings known.

Kareem Musa

Kareem Musa, Attorney for Geovannie Brackett

“I don’t think that there is any clearer law that exists that shows that the Commissioner of Police ought to have been summoned to come to Court today. I know that the learned Magistrate has given a ruling. I must say right off the bat that I wholeheartedly disagree with her ruling. I believe the Magistrate said that we needed to summon the Commissioner…that is an entirely different section of the law. The particular application that we made is under Section thirty which states that if on the statement of the complainant it comes to light that there are individuals in possession of files and documents she the magistrate then has to exercise her discretion whether or not she wants that individual to come to court.”

 

The Magistrate disagreed, stating that summoning the Commissioner of Police is out of the jurisdiction of her court. She also stated that private prosecutions do not have rights of access to files held by the Police. That Penner file has been sought with as much passion as the Holy Grail, but with as little success.

 

Kareem Musa

Allen Whylie

“I think that the Commissioner has been taking advantage of the fact that the Supreme Court didn’t tell him conclude your investigation by July twenty-fourth. He is taking advantage of that. And I don’t think he is out there investigating anything. You’ve heard him taking statements from anybody recently? Absolutely not! So I think he is taking advantage of that fact. But certainly he does not have eternity. Eternity is not what he has to go and carry out the investigation. At some point he has to deliver up that case file, not necessarily to COLA, but to the D.P.P….to the lawful authority who can then bring a public prosecution against Mr. Penner under Section one seventy-eight of the Criminal Code. There’s no time constraints on that, so in fact the D.P.P. does still have a duty in this case.”

 

But that’s in the future, and for now there is a sense of disappointment in those who fought hard…and fought alone…but were beaten back at every turn.

 

Geovannie Brackett

Geovannie Brackett, President, COLA

“It is a sense of disappointment but I think what that really does here today…the decision and the whole scenario from start to finish…what I think it is, is a bigger discouragement to the people of Belize because we have seen how justice has been denied by every entity in coming here to try to get a fair trial against Mr. Penner.”

And out of the dark clouds there is a silver lining of appeal, and the team which lost today seems ready to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Kareem Musa

“I believe that the appeal is in order based on the ruling that I heard today in court…an appeal is in order and certainly now that the appeal will be in the Supreme Court I think it is the perfect opportunity for us to explore our options under that very writ of mandamus to force the Commissioner now to conclude his investigation. He cannot go and give these excuses anymore that it is ongoing and ongoing…it’s nonsense and people are tired of hearing that.”

They have twenty-one days to file an appeal of the decision by the Magistrate today. Mike Rudon for News Five.

Is the Won Hong Kim Passport Really Critical to the Penner Case?
Jul 24, 2014

Won Hong Kim

The Won Hong Kim scandal erupted in September 2013. The catalyst was a Belizean passport issued to Kim. Kim received Belizean nationality and his passport while he languished in a jail cell in Taiwan. That was ten months ago, and the infamous passport has yet to return to the shores of the jewel. Recently Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington told the media he doesn’t know why people keep asking, because the Won Hong Kim passport is insignificant. So is it…really?

Geovannie Brackett, President, COLA

“There’s been the question of the passport. I know that when we met with the D.P.P., the D.P.P. requested, instructed the Police to get the passport because even authorities have said in the media that when it comes in it will be handed to the Police to be handed to the D.P.P. But I have been reliably informed that entities met in Miami and that passport has been exchanged – whether it has reached Belize I do not know. But if that is so I think the authorities need to come forward and tell the Belizean public if that passport is here, and if it isn’t, why. Why has it taken so long? I think that if Sedi Elrington was so concerned about what needs to be done, he would have had a courier bring it in immediately?”

Reporter

Kareem Musa

“How important is that passport to the investigation?”

Kareem Musa, Attorney for Geovannie Brackett

“It’s very important. As you know, when it comes to criminal prosecutions the best evidence is always the original documents, so certainly that would be a key piece of material that would be needed in the private or public prosecution of Mr. Penner. So certainly, I am sure that the D.P.P. herself if she has any interest in the case has requested that passport because she knows the importance of it. So I don’t agree with our titular head that it is not important.”

Leader of the Opposition Says Penner Acquittal Is A Bitter Disappointment
Jul 24, 2014

Francis Fonseca

P.U.P. Leader Francis Fonseca got the news about Penner shortly after the former Minister of State walked out the door of the Belmopan Magistrate Court, indicted now only by public opinion.  He told News Five that it is a bitter disappointment, a travesty and a sad day for Belize. But Fonseca concedes that while it is all that, it is certainly no surprise. He says that the outcome of the Penner court saga was orchestrated by government.

Francis Fonseca, P.U.P. Leader

“I think it’s a sad day for justice in Belize; I think it is a sad day for all Belizeans. I think the individual most right-thinking Belizeans feel is directly responsible for the bastardization of our nationality, for the illegal sale of our passports and our nationality has simply walked free without having to answer any questions at all. So I think it is a sad day for the Belizean people. But I have to say that I am not shocked at all at this result. I believe that it has always the plan of the U.D.P. government. They have, it is well-documented, that every step of the way in this mater, they have obstructed and impeded any attempt to get a fair and proper investigation on this matter. At every step of the way, government has stood in the way of a proper and thorough investigation of this matter which would certainly have afforded COLA or anybody else the opportunity to properly prosecute this man. So I am not shocked at all. The fact is that this is not a question of a lack of evidence as I am sure it will be described…oh the case was thrown out because of a lack of evidence. There was plenty of evidence. The problem is and the problem has been for quite some time now that the relevant authorities who are responsible for collecting that evidence and producing that evidence and making that evidence available to the court have refused to do their job. That is the problem. We can’t stop now; I understand that COLA has indicated that they are likely to appeal this matter. They have twenty-one days in which to do so. We support them appealing this matter because just for the purposes of keeping it alive, not that anything will happen; not that there will be any change of heart or change of mind in the U.D.P. government and suddenly the evidence will be made available—we know that won’t happen—but we certainly agree that the matter has to be kept alive and we certainly are going to continue supporting COLA in its efforts to bring Mister Penner to justice.”

COLA Excoriates Attorney General, Says He Should be Ashamed of Himself
Jul 24, 2014

Kareem Musa

Prime Minister Dean Barrow, on more than one occasion, has expressed his doubt that Elvin Penner could be successfully prosecuted, maintaining the difference between factual guilt and legal guilt. Attorney-General Wilfred Elrington has followed suit, asserting that the reason the D.P.P. has not initiated a public prosecution against Penner is that she knows it wouldn’t succeed. Elrington has denigrated the efforts of COLA and its representatives, calling the private prosecution an exercise in futility. Elrington came under fire today in several quarters for those comments.

Kareem Musa, Attorney for Geovannie Brackett

“The Attorney-General should be ashamed of himself. He is the titular head you know, of this country when it comes to the Judiciary. It is a disgrace to have a system where the system is not looking out for the interests of this nation.”

Geovannie Brackett

Geovannie Brackett, President, COLA

“The Attorney-General in my view seems delusional. When you will brag that this exercise is a matter of futility? In certain scenarios you can use that term, but when you have the Commissioner of Police who had to be dragged to court to carry out and conclude an investigation, and yet having concluded that investigation…when the DPP has written to the Police to say basically give up what you have so far to COLA or at least to her, and they refuse to do so. When you have other entities, when you have Ministers in government coming out in the media to announce the innocence of Elvin Penner, and you try to brag and to say hear what this is just a matter of futility. What he should have done is look himself in the mirror and use the same artificial statement…because what we have is an artificial government…what we have is an artificial system. And he may very well be able to recognize himself as that. He may very well look at himself in the mirror and he could understand himself is a futility.”

Francis Fonseca Says Sedi’s Comments Aren’t Surprising
Jul 24, 2014

Francis Fonseca

P.U.P. Leader, Francis Fonseca, himself a former Attorney-General, also took issue with the comments of Elrington, but like the outcome of the case, he says they weren’t surprising. He says Elrington was simply reflecting the belief and intent of the U.D.P. government.

Francis Fonseca, P.U.P. Leader

“The Attorney-General had absolutely no business offering his personal views on this matter. This is a matter of national importance. The matter was before the courts and remains before the courts. So he in my view was absolutely interfering with what was taking place, the court case. But again, he was speaking on behalf of his government. He is the chief legal advisor to the government and he was obviously reflecting the position of the government; that there was absolutely nothing to worry about; this was a waste of time as he called it and other disparaging terms he used with respect to COLA and their attorney. So absolutely; that was disgraceful, it should be condemned, but not surprising again because I believe, as I have said, that that has always been the plan of the government to take this matter to court, but to make sure that there was no support from all the various relevant authorities in ensuring that the matter could be successfully prosecuted. And their plan has worked.”

Elrington has taken it upon himself to explain why the D.P.P. has not pursued the Penner matter, which Fonseca says is blatant crossing, and not only blurring, of the lines.

Belize City Fire Guts Berkley Street Residence
Jul 24, 2014

There have been four fires in the past sixteen days in the Belize District that have unfortunately been caused by children playing with lighters. The incidents have prompted the Fire Department to urge parents to keep matches and lighters away from children. This morning in separate areas of the City, fires swept through three houses. While there has been loss to property, luckily there has been no loss of life. Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

There was yet another fire today that destroyed two houses in the south side of Belize City. Around ten this morning, a two-storey wooden and cement house went up in flames. For the fourth time in a row, a child playing with a lighter set a mattress on fire; the blaze spread through the upper flat of the house and destroyed a pink and red elevated wooden house in the adjacent lot. Jenise Ramirez two children—ages six and four years—were in the upper flat of the building where the fire started. Her eldest son, it is believed accidentally started the blaze.  According to Ramirez, the babysitter left her children unattended at home.

Jenise Ramirez

Jenise Ramirez, Fire Victim

“I went to work this morning and I asked my babysitter—she is my regular babysitter watching my kids—and I ask her everyday to keep at home with my kids, watch my kids every day until I done work from seven-thirty to five in the evening. I go to work every day and I come home every evening to take care of my children. I am a single mother, I work hard. No care what my kids dehn did, I love my kids. That is why I get an adult to watch them every day.  My son tell me that the babysitter went home to bathe and they leave them in the house. I told her if me and my brother is not home and my roommate is not home, she got access to the whole house to bathe, change clothes, whatever she has to do till five in the evening. But so far, they told me that she been the go in and out and leave the kids home alone.”

Reporter

“The kids told you what happen?”

Jenise Ramirez

“Yes, my son told me what happened. My four year old told me, mommy, Jermo light a paper fire and it ketch di mattress fire. He was trying to let it go and it ketch the mattress fire in their room. Ih say mommy I run and I frighten and I tell the lady downstairs fire, fire. I noh know who take them out to bring them out, but somebody call me at my work and tell me fire deh dah my house.”

The lower flat of the structure was rented by Merlene Andrews. The seventy-five year old woman says that it was Ramirez’s youngest son that alerted her. While she escaped unhurt, all she is left with are a coffee table and the clothes on her back.

Merlene Andrews

Merlene Andrews, Fire Victim

“The babysitter say ih gwen go bathe, ih di come back. ih say ih left them di write. I noh think she get dah the lane when the lee one come and ih say Jermaine di light fire. Honestly I jump out the chair di try fi go up the step. She say smoke. I hail to my neighbor and say fire, ih say fire. Weh I so confused, I pick up wah lee thing fi out the fire. She di tell me come out I couldn’t even come out; dah the police man say Miss come out, come out. Ih ask anybody deh in there? I tell ahn the two pikney dehn done come out. That time, the house done under fire. Couldn’t say fi get nothing…just mi center table ah haul and here I am.  This morning earlier, the children dehn deh ina the yard, this lady tell dehn unu noh go light no fire up there. ih say I wah buss unu rass—sorry about the word—and I gone and I tell dehn unu pick up the leaves. Noh know that dehn mi wah do this. But dehn unruly, unruly, unruly.”

While she is relieved that no one was injured in the inferno, Ramirez was overwhelmed because she had just recently purchased some household items that have been charred to rubble.

Jenise Ramirez

“I just done buy back everything in my house and I lose everything that I have. So I am asking to anybody in the public to help me or whatever to do…anything financial or material things that I lose. But I thank god that my kids safe, they are okay and they are out off the fire.”

The area is so congested and there was fear that the fire would have spread to the other houses in the immediate surroundings. Firefighters, however, were quick on scene to out the blaze.

Orin Smith, Station Manager, Nat’l Fire Service

Orin Smith

“At ten-o-nine a.m., the National Fire Service had received and responded to a structural fire at number twenty-five Berkley Street, Belize City. On arrival on that scene, the upper flat of a two storey wooden and concrete structure was seen engulfed in flames. The National Fire Service got into operation and extinguished that fire. As a result of that fire, the rear or north section of the upper flat of a wooden two storey structure on the same premise with a number twenty-three Berkley Street address had received fire damage. Also a fourteen by fourteen wooden structure by a number seventy Plues Street address was also destroyed by fire. Investigation reveals that that fire had occurred as a result of a minor playing with a lighter tool.”

If anyone would like to assist Ramirez, they can contact her at 601-9339. Duane Moody for News Five.