Important Note: This Internet version of 7 News is a verbatum
transcript of our evening television news script. Many interviews on our newscast
are conducted in Creole. In the interest of clarity for our foreign readers,
we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English
The media has been reporting on the theft of $550,000 the Treasury Department since last week - and while we knew the amount and the how it was done, we could not find out whodunit - because of the tight lid police kept on the investigation.
But today, it all came out when one public officer was formally arrested and charged for half of the missing money. He is 28 year-old David Enriquez, a clerk at the Treasury Department. Tonight, he's in jail, facing 3 counts of theft.
Enriquez was arraigned this morning before Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith, and because he will be tried on indictment, no plea was taken.
The first theft occurred on March 14, 2015 and the amount was for $225,296, which was supposed to be deposited into the account set up to receive the monthly subvention funds for the Toledo Community College. Somehow, the money was diverted from that account to the Siene Bight Community Training Program's Belize Bank Account, which was then withdrawn at the Dangriga Branch over a period of time. Police believe that Enriquez was somehow involved in that diversion of funds, and a check of the system reveals that he was involved in another diversion for just over 47 thousand dollars.
But he's not the only one. Police say that another $225,296 also intended for the Toledo Community College, Punta Gorda Town, were diverted. This one was sent to a Belize Bank Account registered under Octaviana Lopez of #24 Magoon Street Dangriga Town. The monies were withdrawn from her account over a period of time.
So, 39-year-old Octaviana Lopez has been charged for Handling Stolen Goods.
These fraudulent transactions happened in March and were detected on April 7th. How did they do it? That's what the media tried to get out of the Financial Secretary on Tuesday. Here's his comments in that interview:
Joseph Waight, GOB's Financial Secretary "The reconciliations, when we dealt with it, a flag popped. And then what they did was went back further and further and found I think its 3 or 4 payments which aggregated to the $500,000."
Daniel Ortiz "Can you explain to us exactly how this happened, to the layman, what happened, so that $550,000 went missing from the treasury?"
Joseph Waight, GOB's Financial Secretary "There were two large payments, as I understand and what happened really was that some ingenious person discovered that substituted, manipulated bank account numbers. To take out a bank account number and put in a wrong one. And the payment went through."
Reporter "Sir, has anyone been put on leave or administrative leave as a result?"
Joseph Waight, GOB's Financial Secretary "Yes, we sent one gentleman on leave. But I have to say, innocent until proven guilty."
Enriquez has been remanded to the Belize Central Prison until June 4. He's being represented by attorney Oscar Selgado, and it is expected that an application for bail will be made to the Supreme Court in short order.
There was an accident this morning at mile 13 on the Phillip Goldson Highway in which one of the BDF J8 military vehicles crashed into another vehicle and flipped. Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but the male BDF soldier who was driving suffered minor injuries, while his female passenger, another BDF officer, had her arm crushed.
Today, BDF's Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Loria, told 7News via telephone, that the officer was delivering supplies to soldiers off base when he got into the accident with a Mitsubishi L-200 Pick up. Here's what the driver reported to them:
Lt. Col. A. Loria, Chief of Staff - BDF "He said that he was trying to overtake a vehicle at the Los Lagos junction area, but as we all know that the road in front of Los Lagos junction is a bit rough. He was trying to overtake a blue Mitsubishi L200 pick-up driven at the time by Santiago Perez, with Orange Walk license plate 19530. The BDF vehicle was trying to overtake the blue L200 and in doing so, the L200 swerve into his lane. Reported the vehicle was blue vehicle was trying avoid the rough area and in doing so, the blue vehicle collided into the BDF vehicle, causing the driver to lose control temporarily. The BDF driver managed to bring back the vehicle into the road, but again, they had an impact and on the second impact, that was when the BDF driver lost control of the vehicle and overturned."
Daniel Ortiz "We understand that somebody was injured in this accident?"
Lt. Col. A. Loria, Chief of Staff - BDF "Yes. The occupants of the BDF vehicle, the driver had minor injuries. Nothing major and the passenger was injured. It was reported that she was taken to Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital and it was diagnosed that her right arm was damaged."
7 of the jeeps were donated to the BDF by the United States in November of 2013 for off road operations.
We were unable to get comment from Ladyville Police today.
Tonight, the Customs Department in Orange Walk is still tabulating the full value of the massive contraband bust they made yesterday on the Rio Hondo, 12 miles behind August Pine Ridge. There were five dories coming across from Mexico loaded with fruits and vegetables, beer and soft drinks. Two of the dories threw their contraband cargo into the river - while the other dory captains abandoned their vessels. So Customs only got the goods from three of the five dories. And that included 52 sacks of onion, 25 cases soft drink , 20 sacks of lime ,15 cases pears, 15 crates of mango, 30 cases raisin, 15 cases lettuce, 5sacks cabbage, 5 cases tomatoes, 25 cases of beer, 3 sacks of carrots, 15 sacks of flour, and 2 sacks of potatoes. Along with the dories, this had to be carted out on two BDF four-ton trucks, a police F-150 truck and four Customs vehicles. This is just an indication of the scale of the contraband operation - and as many as 40 customs, police and BDF personnel had to be called in to deal with it. Originally, only four officers spotted the dories coming across - and the contraband smugglers had set road blocks to prevent them from leaving with the very valuable goods. Those road blocks were dismantled when the additional personnel came in. And while the bust is substantial, Customs authorities tell us it's really just a microcosm of the robust cross border trade in contraband that flourishes in areas such as San Victor and Santa Cruz - which are nearer to the Hondo.
The value of this bust so far is estimated at twenty thousand Belize dollars - including the engine powered dories.
Tonight a little more is known about a body that was found floating near mile five on the northern highway yesterday - adjacent to the Usher Estate.
Police got the call from a caretaker who reported that he saw some vultures circling. He went to go see what they were after, and that was when he discovered a male person floating in the mangroves apparently dead. Police say that it is a "Caucasian" male dressed in a khaki shorts and a black T-Shirt who was floating face down. He had no identification, but a tattoo marked "Ninfar" was found on his right arm and a black and red wrist band was on his left arm marked "Anibal." No cause of death could be determined due to the advanced state of decomposition but, as we told you last night, there were no signs of injury to the body - so police do not suspect foul play. But they are still looking for an identity for this John Doe.
Last night you saw our expose on shady state sanctioned land dealings on Northern Caye Caulker. A British couple claims that they bought beachfront property in 2005 - only to find out in 2012 that the beachfront had been converted into private property. Now, to be clear, the letter of their 2005 land title makes it clear that the property constitutes 120 feet of beachfront. The map shows the same thing. And yesterday the lands commissioner told LOVE FM that what is inscribed on the land title with the approval of the Commissioner of Lands does matter. Here's what he told LOVE yesterday:
Wilbert Vallejos, Comissioner of Lands "Also we are looking at the titles that they got and interestingly confirms what you said that the title that they got from the government, the original title, makes a specific mention that it is a beach front property. The interpretation what is written on the title is very important to be able to settle this case and so what we are trying to establish at this point in time is in fact the beach reserve is compromised."
According to the former village chairman, the new titles do compromise that beach reserve. And more than that Sydney Higgins said the language of the land title - and the official sanction from the then Lands commissioner cemented his certainty that he bought beachfront property:..
Sydney Higgins, UK Retiree Robbed of Beachfront "My contract has a plan signed by the register of lands. That's who we were relying upon. That is the plot that I purchase. That's the plan that they made, they gave me and that's not the plan that now exists."
Alberto Villanueva, Caye Caulker Resident/Former Chairman "Those properties should not have been drawn up in the first place. Those leases or Minister Fiat Grant should not have been given in the first place. It is water. It is nothing but water and mud."
Andrew Bennett, Attorney "Leonardo Dicaprio just bought an island that he plans to do an eco-friendly resort. Can he feel confident now with this precedence that later on the government can grant to some private individual the sea bed in front of his island because it's national land and have development going on there?"
And while they are all of the opinion that the new titles are for properties on the beach and seabed, a release from the Commissioner of Lands and Survey today makes it clear that, quote, "Preliminary investigation suggests that the beach reserve has not been compromised." It adds that the results of the full ongoing investigation will provide confirmation or otherwise.
That seems to be a stiff blow for the more than 15 landowners who have been jilted of their beach-frontage. The release affirms that there are, quote, "provisions for the allowance of a beach reserve for public access that precedes any property line." It adds, quote "Any and all crown land that adjoins such reserve is subject to distribution or further reservation…" That would seem to suggest that there is an interpretation that what the former chairman calls swamp, is now being classified as usable land. We'll keep pressing for definitive answers.
Last night, we told you about the fire which destroyed a house on Patridge Street Extension. It was being rented by Edith Valentine, and she lost everything in that fire, while her landlord must now rebuild the house.
So, what caused the fire? That's what we asked the fire investigators today, and Station Officer Orin Smith told the press that it is still undetermined. They did however determine that it spread from an electric wire in one of the bedrooms of the house:
Orin Smith, Station Officer, National Fire Service "On Thursday 23, April 2015 at approximately 1:42pm the National Fire Service received and responded to a call of a structural fire in #1041Partage Street Extension address Belize City. Two units were dispatched to that location. On arrival on scene, we saw a plycem structure approximately 20 by 16 ft. with zinc roofing, elevated approximately 12 ft. off ground fully engulfed in flames. Following a brief size up the fire was later brought under control and extinguished. The plycem structure was gutted as a result of the fire. Investigation revealed that the fire originated on the Northwest bedroom of the structure. There were evidence of arcing from an electrical wire hanging from the ceiling above the bed. However, no conclusion has been drawn as to what started the fire. The structure is owned by a Lavern Steven and was occupied by a family of three which includes a minor. The structure was not insured, estimated loss of the cost of the structure is unknown. Estimated loss of the contents is estimated at $20,000."
Valentine and her family are currently staying at her mother's house just across the street.
29 year-old Kendoll Ottley went to his ex-girlfriend's house uninvited and tried to speak with her, and because she refused, he threw a fan at a new born infant who was injured. Because of that rash act, he's now spending 7-year sentence in jail.
His ex-girlfriend, Nadine Gordon, testified in court that she had a 6 month relationship with Ottley. After it ended, he went to her house on June 14, 2015, and she tried to get him to leave. He ignored that, broke the door down, and stormed in without her permission. She said that he wanted to have a conversation with her, which she again refused, and that's when he picked up a fan. In his rage, he threw it at her grandson, who was only a week old at the time. Gordon's daughter, who is the mother of the baby, also testified and corroborated her story.
In his defence, Ottley testified that he went to Hattieville for a job, but he decided to call Ottley to retrieve his bicycle so that he could go look for the job. He says that he went to the police to get assistance to get his belongings, they ignored him. He says that he did go to the house, but he never made it inside because Gordon pulled a machete on him and chased him off.
After considering all the evidence in the case, Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith found him guilty and remarked that he was quote, "wicked to pick up a fan and throw it at a toddler in his rage." She sentenced him to a total of 7 consecutive years in jail.
How should the state address adolescent and teen pregnancy? What about improving health care services? And how do we alleviate poverty? These are the questions that were brought up at the United Nations conference this morning at the Radisson. Representatives from UNICEF, UNDP and other agencies of the UN presented on the programs and initiatives that address these issues. Now it might seem like a mighty uphill battle to address all those ills, but today I found out that progress is incremental:..
Courtney Weatherburne reporting
This folder features just a few of the studies and surveys from the UN system that have focused on Belize. And there are others.
And today the various sub agencies operating under the UN brought those issues to the media.
Some of the topics include health and violence against children.
Kathleen Israel, PAHO/WHO Representative "Our primary objective then is to help the country to address its public health needs. And within that framework we look at disease prevention and control, communicable disease prevention and control and non-communicable disease prevention and control."
Ivan Yerovi, UNICEF Representative "Sometimes violence is perceived as normal and we have to make sure that these issues are being discussed. These issues are being considered and everybody talks about it, because that's the only way to recognize that we have a problem in the country."
Another major problem in the country is adolescent and teen pregnancy and the United Nations Population Fund is employing an educational approach to counter this.
Erika Goldson, Assistance Resident, United Nation Population Fund "It's not only a health issue. It has many determinacies and contributing factor. So, I think one of the challenge that we have in country is to ensure that we coordinate and collaborate with the key sectors to address that issue. So, while we may be addressing the issues from a health perspective, there are the other dimensions that are less not really addressed the way how we would want. And so, we are still trying to figure how best to coordinate those processes. The public is saying that yes, they believe that age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education should be in primary schools and in secondary school. These are some of the data that the government needs to listen to, to take into consideration and try to ensure that those programs are established. So, one of the things that we started to do was to collaborate with the University of Belize to establish a 3 credit course in CSE and so we've already drafted the syllabus and we are now looking at trying to develop the supporting materials and we would be piloting that particular program this year."
Gender Equality is also a recurring topic and Goldson says the investment in the prevention of violence against women program will expand the reach of services.
Erika Goldson, Assistance Resident, United Nation Population Fund "The project has identify basically 6 clusters, where you have several municipalities or several communities within those clusters. In the northern part of the country, the southern part and in Belize district. So, it will be working within these communities to establish like a response mechanism to ensure that a woman in Jalacte, for argument sake, would be able to access these services and be able to receive the type of response that is required."
Shifting over to poverty: it is a reality for 43% of Belize's population and while on a global scale, poverty has been reduced by 50%, countries like Belize still have a lot of work to do.
Stefano Pettinato, UNDP Deputy Resident Rep. "Poverty is an extremely complex phenomenon. It's a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional phenomenon and development is multi-dimensional. We know that. That's why we have many agencies. That's why in a country like Belize are many ministries and government entities working with all the dimensions of progress or of development. When you try to target poor communities, we have to do a much better job in order to understand where these communities are and why could we define them as poor or vulnerable or in need of support. One of the problems of Belize that we often talk about with other colleagues in the UN system, is the issue of statistics and we try to promote - UNICEF is a strong advocate and other agencies are strong advocate of strengthening the statistical system of Belize and this has to do with institutional strengthening of the statistical institutions, has to do with capacity development of those institutions for them to have a line of budget that is foreseeable and that can maintain the institutional framework. Imagine a scenario where we have a lot of money, we identify the poor (I am just talking generically) and we give them money for them to get out of poverty. That will not be the solution. We know that. Why? Because what we need to do is to create an environment so that at the community level, there is an engagement to find solutions because the solution can come only at the community level, the household level. We have some studies in other countries where we go to the households and we ask them 'so what do you think we should do to help you out? Or what do you need for you to help yourself out and help your neighbors?'"
It might seem that these issues are being presented in isolation, but really they are all closely linked to the goal of national and sustainable development.
Roberto Valent, UN Resident Coordinator "The whole issue of poverty actually is really all these dimensions, from health, education, is really what we are here to support the state and society to work on. It's to establish policies that enable us the private sector to be competitive in a market place that is not Belizean, but its regional and its global."
Other topics addressed include human rights, LGBT Rights and gang violence.
34 year-old Marlon Chavez was caught by police riding "up-stop," and when police stopped him for breaking the rule of the road, they also searched him and found marijuana. So, now, instead of facing a bike offence, he's also being charged with drug trafficking.
Police were on mobile patrol when they spotted Chavez riding his bike against the flow of traffic in the area of St. Joseph Street. They found 60.5 grams - or 2.1 ounces - of marijuana in his pocket - which exceeds the legal maximum for possession, and is listed as drug trafficking.
He arraigned before Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith today, where he pleaded not guilty to the charge. He was released on bail of $500, and his case was adjourned until June 18. If convicted, Chavez faces a mandatory fine of $10,000 and a possible jail sentence of 3 years in prison.
On Wednesday, we reported that the Belize Bank would be losing its correspondent banking relationship with the Bank of America on April 30th. This makes it impossible for them to make international wire transfers and bank drafts. Today in a rare press release, the Central Bank of Belize confirmed that Belize Bank and Belize Bank International are losing their correspondent banking relationships. The Belize Bank International is a foreign currency banking service for non-Belizeans.
The press release confirms that Scotiabank, Atlantic Bank, First Caribbean Bank and Heritage Bank have not been affected. The release adds that the Belize Bank will continue to offer credit card services and is seeking ties with other foreign correspondent institutions.
CEO of the BCB Group Lyndon Guiseppi told us he expects the Belize Bank to establish a new correspondent banking relationship in three months.
The Young, Clean and Green programme started in 2010. It is spearheaded by a German NGO called Aldebaran and targets high schoolers for involvement in environmentally pro-active initiatives. They launched their third campaign today at Steffi Lupp's residence on Princess Margaret Drive and she told me what it's about:..
Stefanie Lupp, Managing Director - Aldebaran "For me it's more to educate the youths. Belize need this and we started visiting up campaign... all districts. And two years ago we started visiting young, clean and green campaign, all high schools in Belize. And this is our second campaign. The first young, clean and green campaign was amazing, it was so successful. And this year 20 schools already decided to be a partner."
Deborah Sewell, Managing Director - Love Foundation "So we work with 200 children in the south side. that's an area where there's a lot of pollution, there's a lot of waste and a lot of the children really don't, have never had an opportunity to think about what that means to the environment. And so one of the main focus is we are looking at is plastic is the real sea monster. So we know some of our communities is in the Yabra area, so it's just so easy for us to work with the kids and in reference to looking at what pollution does to the sea."
Stefanie Lupp, Managing Director - Aldebaran "Then what's really important for all of us is the gardening and composting. Everybody has resources to produce their own foods, their own vegetables and we want to teach the children gardening and composting. To the young people in Belize, please take a little bit more care, keep Belize clean. It's not only for the environment. Belize is a touristic country. People from outside come to Belize from environmental countries and then they come to Belize and see garbage everywhere. This is not very good for the face of Belize."
The program involves more than 2 dozen high schools and each of them is tasked to produce a 2 minute Public Service Announcement.
You may not recall it, but one year ago butane, or LPG prices were at 128 dollars per hundred pound cylinder, and, by contrast, today the price went down to 90 dollars. That's a 30% decrease, and it is owning to world oil prices which are in decline. That's the price of LPG form Mexico, the one from Central America is 88 dollars per 100 pound cylinder in the city.
Last week we looked back at the Troubles of 2005, when Belize was roiled by civil unrest. In mid-April, the phone, lights and electricity went down - and by the end of April, the discontent with the Musa Administration was erupting on all sides. On the 28th of April, then Prime Minister Musa was supposed to address University students at the UB Gymnasium, but because every public appearance attracted rage from the unions and opposition - crowd control was a must. So police tightly screened those going into the UB compound - which included the then opposition member for Collet Patrick Faber. Police took him down like a common thug - in one of the most memorable - and actually quite funny - moments of 2005.
Faber was arrested and charged with two counts of Aggravated Assault. Those charges were later dropped.
But he did make a constitutional challenge of that event - saying he was denied his right to liberty and freedom of movement. But, in 2009 former Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh found, quote, "Freedom of movement is not a license to trespass."
Conteh found that police were in fact justified in their actions under the Police Act and the Criminal Code. He said that Faber was, "obstructing police...inviting them to arrest him..." As the CJ put it, the forum was organized just for UB students and staff, and Faber, "had no right to be there..."