7 News Belize

7 News Belize HeadlinesTuesday, June 30, 2015

Public Funds Theft At The Water Board In Buena Vista?
Since the weekend, there has been a developing story in the western village of Buena Vista, near the vicinity of Spanish Lookout, Cayo. A string of dubious cheques has emerged ...
Police Officer On Duty Assaulted; Left Hospitalized
Often in the news, we tell you about allegations of police brutality in which officers on duty are accused of attacking members of the public. But the story tonight is that a police of...
Any Headway In The Investigation Of Mumuchís Murder?
Last night, we told you about 23 year old Desmond Usher also known as "Mumuch" was found yesterday at around 8:30 a.m. in Mahogany Heights. He left his house on Friday night, after 3 d...
Police Need Help To Solve The Murders of The Teenage Students
As we told you last night, the two high school students, 15 year-old Tyrique Thompson, 16 year-old Reuben Leslie succumbed to gunshot injuries they suffered to the head. At this time, ...
Accused Of Owning Killer Dogs, Patnett Is Acquitted
Viewers may remember the public outrage caused when 65 year old man Edmund Spain was killed by 2 vicious pitbulls. Well, the defendant who was criminally charged with his death has b...
BTIA Vs The NCL Project To Court
Recently, the lawsuit between Developer Mike Feinstein, the Government and the Principals of the Fort Street Tourism Village, has been making the news regularly over the future of cruise...
Delroy Cuthkelvin Offers Candidacy; PM Says Stand Down
Last week, we told you how UDP's Melvin Hulse willingly threw himself on his sword and resigned as the Standard Bearer for Stann West. That's after 4 days of scandal which raged in the wake ...
FIUís New Director Discusses Titanic Losses
9 months ago, it made headlines in practically all the news outlets in the country when the US Department of Justice unsealed indictments accusing offshore securities trading compani...
Was There An FIU Investigation Into The Immigration Scandal?
One more inquiry which the press took the opportunity to ask of the FIU Director was a supposed investigation into the immigration scandals. Yes, they've become ghosts… remembered now and ag...
The PUP Fix To the Petrocaribe Law
Since Friday, we've been telling you how the PUP walked out of the biggest House Meeting on the calendar year yet. They were supposed to debate the amendments to the Petrocaribe Loans Act, b...
Central Bank On Political Spending Of Public Funds
And Recently, whenever the Opposition Party criticizes public spending from the UDP government, the members usually imply or directly accuse the Barrow Administration of using public funds -...
SSB Approved Loans For Citrus And Banana Companies; Any Connection To Jonny Zabs?
Last week, news broke that the Social Security Board had approved loans to two companies Meridian Enterprises Limited and Diverse Development Limited. One is a banana growing company and...
The Marijuana Decriminalizing Committee Sticks To 10 Grams
That's what SSB Chairman Doug Singh had to say on the recent loan approvals. He also wears the hat as a member of the Committee looking into the Decriminalization of Marijuana. So, we took t...
Armed Robbery At Atlantic Insurance Belmopan
A woman was held up at knife point at her workplace in Belmopan. It happened on Friday evening between 4:30 and 5 at the Atlantic Insurance Company in the Garden City Plaza. The Office M...
A Child-Friendly Family Court
Child friendly isn't the term that comes to mind when you talk about court rooms. But, the fact is, children are very much a part of court proceedings and so the first child friendly f...
Police Influence In Resisting Gang Life
This morning four hundred and sixty four Belize City students graduated from the police department's Gang Resistance Education and Training Program. GREAT - as it is better known is one of t...
A Summer Camp For Photography
This afternoon 7news caught up with a group of photography students in one of their sessions. The youngsters partake in the 2 day workshop this week to help improve on their skills. The ses...
The New SISE Bridge In Cayo
The residents of San Ignacio and Santa Elena will finally have a new bridge. Today the contract for the construction of the bridge was signed at the Ministry of Works and according to the de...
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7 News Belize - News:
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

Public Funds Theft At The Water Board In Buena Vista?

Since the weekend, there has been a developing story in the western village of Buena Vista, near the vicinity of Spanish Lookout, Cayo. A string of dubious cheques has emerged in the name of one member of the Village's Water Board. Money of equivalent value is missing, and he has to answer questions because the immediate perception is that he pocketed money he ought not to have access to.

It has wider implications because this money is public funds to be used to fund the village's water access. Our news team has been out in Cayo following up the story, and Courtney Weatherburne Reports:

Iris Yande Garcia, Buena Vista Villager
"We have to wash early in the morning and we had to wait for the water."

Courtney Weatherburne reporting
24 year old Iris Yande Garcia is only one of the residents who had to wait for the water supply to be restored to the village this morning. It was cut out last night at around 8.

And turned back on until around 10 this morning. But this is not just another case of not to pay the water bill. The residents are paying for the service but according to the chairman of the Village Council, the bulk of the money is being pocketed for personal use.

The chairman advised the residents to stop paying the water board because he believes that the money isn't being used for the upkeep of the community or the water system.

According to him, the red flags were raised when he realized that there were no financial reports from the water board since October of last year.

Eddy Delarosa, Chairman, Village Council
"What happened is that monthly I received a report from the water board from the village chairman, stating the expenditures of the board or what's not. But from last year October I didn't get any and that started to raise my concerns and I went and talk to the secretary and the treasurer and told them that I need to find out what is going on, why am I not receiving the reports?"

And why did it take 9 months to for him to speak out? Well, he told us that he simply couldn't because there was no evidence just suspicions - until now. Chairman Delarosa finally got the reports and statements from the bank via email last week and those raised even more concerns.

Eddy Delarosa, Chairman, Village Council
"Last week Thursday I received mails from Belize Bank. It was so disturbing, it made me a bit sick and I went early in the morning. At 5am I got up and I went over the mails and I found an amount of cheques. Some of them I believe they were legit cheques written to BEL for the electricity of our pump, but 85% of the cheques I knew something was wrong with them. Because in our board we don't purchase cement and they had some for cement and steel and we don't need that in the board."

This cashed cheque dated April 15th 2015 for the sum of $3,000, along with this one dated April 29th for the sum of 6,000 and this other one dated February 11th in the amount of $10,000 were all written in the Chairman of the Board's name. According to Delarosa, this is just a portion of the funds he believes were misappropriated.

Eddy Delarosa, Chairman, Village Council
"A rough estimate is about $30,000 - $40,000. Because what they did was to write vouchers in people's name. We went to the people that the vouchers are written to and question them if they knew about any payment done by the Buena Vista Water Board and they are totally lost. They don't know anything."

"Presently we have $19,000 amounting to these cheques and this $30,000 - $40,000 had been happening from last year. I just found out about this this year, but the $30,000 - $40,000 is from last year."

A part from the amount, the other suspicion raised had to do with those who might also be involved in this alleged scam.

Eddy Delarosa, Chairman, Village Council
"We had a project last year, the village is extending over the next side and we paid some money for the backhoe guy and we bought some pipe. Those are the two main expensive things in extending the water to the village. The person who was paid, that guy got $10,000 for backhoe service. I went and hunt for the man and the man have 5 years living in the states and the man signed the voucher stating that he received the money. I got the phone number from his mom and I call him in the states and he said that he doesn't know anything about that and that he doesn't have any backhoe. So, here is where the question come, how do my villagers - on how do my chairman know this guy from Teakettle or know that guy from Roaring Creek or this guy from St. Margaret's and my villagers barely come out. You understand the point now that had to be something from outside that led them to find these kind of people to sign the vouchers."

Now, according to the Village Clerk and the Chairman of the Water board himself Julio Castillo, these allegations are all false. They say the records speak for themselves.

Vicente Sanchez, Village Clerk
"He used those 3 cheques but not to take money for himself or for me, the money he got was used to maintain the water system here in the village, that's what he got the money for. The reports are there at the Ministry - how much came in and how much went out and how much is deposited every month and everything is clear there in the bank and at the Ministry and the records I have here because I have my own records."

Sanchez admits that the Chairman signed the cheques in his name but that they were cashed and given to workers who completed jobs and other water works in the community. The Chairman also maintains this position.

Julio Castillo, Chairman, Water Board
"That is what it was used for because that was what was collected - whenever there was a need to buy tubes and any other item for the water system and all the receipts go along with those as well."

While both sides have been presented, the investigation is ongoing and the financial reports and copies of records are being reviewed by the investigating officer.

For now many questions linger for members of the community as to the future of their water board and more importantly to their livelihood.

The Water Board was formed 3 years ago. Today, we spoke with the Minister of Rural Development, Godwin Hulse, who told us that he cannot reveal anything about the case at this time because the Ministry's auditors have only just gone in to start investigating. In terms of the investigation, the Coordinator of Rural Development says that the financial reports are being examined to determine the next step. We understand that new chairman of the water board will be sworn in.

As the story develops, we'll update you accordingly.


Police Officer On Duty Assaulted; Left Hospitalized

Often in the news, we tell you about allegations of police brutality in which officers on duty are accused of attacking members of the public. But the story tonight is that a police officer on duty became the victim of an assault which has left him hospitalized with head injuries. So, what's the reasoning behind it? Well, it appears that the man who assaulted him simply wanted to steal his car.

Today, the Commander of the Eastern Divisions Criminal Investigations Branch disclosed the details of the attack on Constable Jason Hall:

Supt. Hilberto Romero, O.C., CIB, Belize City Police
"We had an incident yesterday in the general area of Rhaburn Ridge on the Phillip Goldson Highway where Police Constable Jason Hall received a blowout on his vehicle; he got assistance to repair and get the vehicle going. At some point, the said person that assisted him inflicted an injury to the side of his face after which he stole the vehicle and made his way to Orange Walk. The constable regained consciousness thereafter and he asked for assistance. The police came and he was taken to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital where he remains in a critical condition. An investigation was conducted. The suspect were detained and brought to Belize City in connection to this incident. The vehicle was also recovered."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir is this suspect, this gentleman, is criminal charges being brought against him?"

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"Yes, charges will be brought against him at the conclusion of this investigation. We have recorded some statements, we have the vehicle that is being processed and at the end of the investigation, he will be charged."

Daniel Ortiz
"Is it believed that this was a theft or did the assailant and the victim have any prior connection?"

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"No. They didn't have any prior connections before. As I've said, the officer had an incident with his vehicle with the tire and that is why he had stopped in that area. The suspect that we have in custody assisted and at some point he inflicted the injuries to the police and stole the vehicle."

Reporter
"What weapon was used?"

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"A piece of board was used to inflict the injuries."

Reporter
"Has the officer given a statement?"

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"Like I said the officer is listed at KHMH in critical condition."

As soon as the police finalize the criminal charges against the main suspect, and he's arraigned, we'll reveal his identity to you.


Any Headway In The Investigation Of Mumuchís Murder?

Last night, we told you about 23 year old Desmond Usher also known as "Mumuch" was found yesterday at around 8:30 a.m. in Mahogany Heights. He left his house on Friday night, after 3 days, he was discovered, with obvious signs of violence on his body.

The police were unavailable yesterday for comment, but Superintendent Hilberto Romero fielded questions on it from the press. Here are the police details as they know it at this time:

Supt. Hilberto Romero, O.C., CIB, Belize City Police
"On Monday the 29th June, 2015, police personnel visited an area off a road at Mahogany Heights where they found the lifeless body of Desmond Usher, partly decomposed. He was last seen alive on Friday. Post mortem was conducted on the spot and he had blunt trauma injuries to the head. An investigation is being conducted at this time, we have several persons in custody and we are continuing with this investigation."

Reporter
"What is the motive?"

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"We don't have any motive at this time. We are following several leads that we have. I know he was last seen alive on Friday and persons who were conducting searches in the area found his body on Monday."

Reporter
"We understand that he received a call prior to going missing."

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"Like I said, we are following several leads at this time. We don't have anything conclusive at this time and we have not charged anyone at this time and we are doing follow up work on it."

Reporter
"Is it true that some of his teeth has been knocked out and other signs as foul play."

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"That is as far as I would go as to the injuries, he had injuries to the head."


Police Need Help To Solve The Murders of The Teenage Students

As we told you last night, the two high school students, 15 year-old Tyrique Thompson, 16 year-old Reuben Leslie succumbed to gunshot injuries they suffered to the head. At this time, there is no plausible explanation as to why 2 young men with no apparent gang connection would be killed so mercilessly.

So, do police have any answers at this time? That's what we asked today:

Supt. Hilberto Romero, O.C., CIB, Belize City Police
"We had Tarique Thompson who succumbed to his injuries on the twenty-sixth day of June 2015 and Reuben Leslie also succumbed to his injuries on the twenty-seventh day of June, 2015. These were two shooting incidents. One of them was shot on Magazine Road and the other had been shot on Lakeview Street."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir we are told that it is in the same general vicinity, the same neighborhood. Are police looking into an angle that it may be connected in some fashion?"

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"Yeah, we are looking at several angles for these shootings. From the incident happened, we've had our investigators on the ground recording statements, following up on these two reports. So far we have not charged anyone but we have several angles that we are following up on."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir we are told that these two young men were students and that on all outward appearances are that they didn't have any gang relations."

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"Yeah, we have no background on them any at all. Yes they were students and we don't have them in our system any at all. So we are still working to try to solve these murders."

Reporter
"Sir so no real progress on these murders?"

Supt. Hilberto Romero
"We have not made much progress. Again we are asking the public's assistance. If they have information, they can call 922-TIPS or come in and give us the information. We are still working on these cases but we have not charged anyone."

Police are asking for assistance from the public to solve these 3 recent murders.


Accused Of Owning Killer Dogs, Patnett Is Acquitted

Viewers may remember the public outrage caused when 65 year old man Edmund Spain was killed by 2 vicious pitbulls. Well, the defendant who was criminally charged with his death has been acquitted because the prosecution was unable to establish the ownership of the dogs.

She's 31 year old Shelda Patnett, a store clerk of Tropical park, Hattieville, who stood trial for manslaughter by negligence in the court of Justice John Gonzalez. It was alleged by the Crown that on May 31, 2010, two dogs purportedly owned by Patnett, attacked Spain. He was bitten on his right hand and he succumbed to his injuries 5 days later at Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. The prosecution called 9 witnesses to prove that Patnett was negligent and that she was the owner of the dogs. But there was no evidence of negligence and there was no evidence that Patnett was the owner of the dogs. In addition to that there was no evidence that Patnett resided at the house where the dogs were.

A statement given to the police by Spain while he was in the hospital was admitted as evidence. In the statement Span said he was walking to his house and while he was passing his neighbor's yard he heard the dogs barking and they attacked him. Spain said one of the dogs bit him on his right arm and he fell to the ground and lost consciousness. After the prosecution closed its case Patnett's attorney, dickie Bradley, submitted that Patnett don't have a case to answer to.

After hearing response from Crown Counsel Kileru Awich, Justice Gonzalez upheld the no case submission and acquitted Patnett. Tomorrow Patnett will be formally acquitted by a jury of 7 men and 2 women.


BTIA Vs The NCL Project To Court

Recently, the lawsuit between Developer Mike Feinstein, the Government and the Principals of the Fort Street Tourism Village, has been making the news regularly over the future of cruise tourism in Belize City. Well today, the lawsuit on the other big development, Norwegian Cruise Line's Harvest Caye started in the Supreme Court.

The BTIA is challenging separate decisions of NEAC and DOE in relation to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for Harvest Caye, a project managed by Belize Island Holdings Limited on behalf of Norwegian Cruise Lines.

The BTIA argues that the NEAC decision to recommend approval of the EIA without a public hearing and in violation of environmental law statutes and the DOE decision to approve the EIA in contravention of the terms of reference and minimum requirements of the law, as well as a legitimate expectation that the Government would abide by the National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan which outlaws mass cruise tourism in the South.

Justice Abel last year granted leave on two of the four grounds: the fact that there was not enough opportunity for the public to properly comment on the EIA before its consideration and that the DOE approval was in contravention of the terms of reference for the EIA.

The case started under President Herbert Haylock, and his successor Osmany Salas was there along with the President of the Placencia BTIA Chapter, Stewart Krohn.

The project continues without any application for an injunction by the BTIA, who are hindered by the legal precedent set by the case of BACONGO and the DOE in 2003 among others which indicate that even an injunction cannot be sought by anyone not directly affected by the result of a Government decision.

Most of the day was given over to cross-examination of expert witnesses for the BTIA concerning the EIA, ECP and terms of reference for the project. It continues tomorrow, and we'll have more for you then.


Delroy Cuthkelvin Offers Candidacy; PM Says Stand Down

Last week, we told you how UDP's Melvin Hulse willingly threw himself on his sword and resigned as the Standard Bearer for Stann West. That's after 4 days of scandal which raged in the wake of a leaked conversation in which he was backbiting his Party Leader and Prime Minister. We've told you how the Stann Creek West Executive Committee has chosen its chairman, Nathan Young, as the man who should become Hulse's successor. Well, two other players have emerged on the scene, but the most controversial character who's expressed interest is Delroy Cuthkelvin.

Viewers will remember that at the convention held in March of last year, Melvin Hulse was chosen in an open convention to return as standard bearer. That's a convention which Cuthkelvin contested but one which he boycotted last minute after complaining that the party had taken off his voters approved list. That's not something that should be taken lightly, but since the standard bearer's position is vacant once again, Cuthkelvin has announced that he wants back in the race.

Over the weekend, he told Love News why:

Delroy Cuthkelvin
"As you know, the situation has arisen where Mr. Melvin Hulse has resigned from the position of Standard Bearer of the United Democratic Party in Stann Creek West. And so the party has indicated that there is a need for a new standard bearer and a name has been suggested by Mr. Hulse. And as the party leader said, 'if no one else has stepped up then you would have probably be endorsed'. Well I want to announce to you that I have been meeting with my people since yesterday from Stann Creek valley coming all the way down, right now I'm in Independence. And after meeting with the core committee, that has supported me in the last convention, we have decided that we are going to offer ourselves as the UDP Standard Bearer for Stann Creek West. So the party will be getting by application bright and early on Monday. We have activated our committee already in all portions of Stann Creek West and we are confident that we have a broad-based support. Broad enough to win the convention and certainly broad enough to go on with the general elections."

Reporter
"Previously you have submitted your name to the previous convention but then you backed down."

Delroy Cuthkelvin
"Yes as you know the situation that occurred there, we had serious concerns about the way the convention was being conducted but that is water under the bridge, we don't want to regurgitate all of that."

As you heard, Cuthkelvin said that the voter's list complaint is now water under the bridge. Well according to the Prime Minister it certainly is not, and he reports that there will be significant resistance to Cuthkelvin's candidacy. He explained why to us yesterday:

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"I have seen where he said that he will offer himself. I will tell you and tell him that there are people in the Stann Creek West Committee who will make representations to our screening committee with a view to having them reject any application on the part of Delroy Cuthkelvin. In terms of what happened the last time when he was supposed to participate in the convention, where he campaigned and obviously got some kind of support including financial. And then at the last minute, pulled out of the convention and used as an excuse the fact that according to him, allegations about the party, having behaved in a way that is unfair. That has left a bad odor in terms of the constituency, certainly in terms of the party. There is a process in our party, there is, as I've said, a screening committee and they ultimately will have the last word. But he needs to be served notice that there is going to be tremendous opposition to his being allowed to contest on other UDP conventions."

Reporter
"Sir, he says that's water under the bridge and he feels confident..."

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"It is not water under the bridge sir, I am telling you that members of the Stann Creek West Committee will be lining up, (he will have a chance to state his case), to complain to the screening committee with a view. Making strong representations with a view to his candidacy not being allowed. What will happen is a matter for the screening committee."

Reporter
"Would you advise him not to go ahead and...?"

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"In my view, that he would be best advised to withdraw. I think otherwise he's going to create the kind of distraction and diversion that we don't need but it's a matter for him."

So, who's the other new personality who has announced interest in taking the standard bearer's post? Well, the Prime Minister told us that it's a candidate who reportedly has the respect of people in Stann Creek West who are on both sides of the political divide:

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"Mr. Walter Garbutt who is an absolutely outstanding individual, he is from the area, and was the first principal of Independence High School. He was for a while, I believe, the principal at Belmopan Comprehensive. He also was the director of the ITVET in the Valley, in Hope Creek. He now runs an NGO that’s working with fisher folks. He is absolutely well known in that constituency, respected by all and sundry including members of the opposition. I was told that Emilio Zabbaneh posted something saying 'all this PUP will say is that that is a man that I respect'. So wonderful candidate, I’m not sure what’s going to happen now since there are two good candidates, both Mr. Garbutt and Nathan Young. I believe they are meeting to try to work things out but Wally Garbutt is somebody I had approached twice before and he wasn’t ready, he felt that his mission as an educator had not been completed. It’s great to see him be prepared now to take that plunged."

Reporter
"You fully support him."

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
“I fully support him, in the context of a convention or working out who will go forward between himself and Nathan Young. These are both good individuals so I’m not going to, as it were, choose a side. I think that it would be a pity if we had a contested convention between them because somebody will lose and their too good to have any of them lose. So I am hoping we can work it out."

We'll keep following the developments in Stann Creek West.


FIUís New Director Discusses Titanic Losses

9 months ago, it made headlines in practically all the news outlets in the country when the US Department of Justice unsealed indictments accusing offshore securities trading companies in Belize of scamming the US Government of 1 billion dollars in taxes. We're of course referring to the indictments brought against Belizean Andrew Godfrey, Bahamians securities traders, Kelvin Leach and Rohn Knowles, Canadians Brian De Wit and Cem "Jim" Can, and American Robert Bandfield. Among the accused companies were IPC Management Services, LLC; IPC Corporate Services Inc.; IPC Corporate Services LLC; Titan International Securities, Inc; Legacy Global Markets S.A; and Unicorn International Securities LLC (Unicorn).

A few days later, the law enforcement agencies in Belize cleaned out the offices of Titan Securities International of every single document and electronic equipment. The Attorney General's Ministry and the Financial Intelligence Unit also got orders of the Supreme Court to freeze the financial assets of these defendants which were in Belizean banks.

After an intense back and forth, the Supreme Court reversed those orders and freed up those frozen monies on the premise that there was not enough evidence presented to substantiate any money laundering offences. Going further than that, several of these defendants have launched lawsuits against the Government of Belize seeking damages for effect that the state's actions has cause. The only agency which has been quiet on this case since the time it broke was the Financial Intelligence Unit. As we told you, the new director broke long his silence and granted a press encounter yesterday, It was his first since taking office as the successor to Marilyn Williams. Here's what he had to say about it when we asked him about it:

Eric Eusey - Director, FIU
"Belize has a mutual legal assistance treaty with the United States and under that treaty, when the US makes a request which is legal for their system, Belize is obligated to respond and assist. And the request under this treaty was to assist in a search and seizure of records for Titan and Unicorn, and that was the extent of it. We were not aware which companies or which individuals were being targeted until the day the operation unfolded. So the action by the Attorney General's Ministry which is the legal entity to carry out enforcement was quite legal. The issue was before the court to convince the court that A, these entities were involved with money laundering and other activities, but the FIU was not given sufficient time to make a case. So the court rule that there was not a case to restrain the funds of these entities."

So, what about these claims for damages? Tax-payers money are at risk of being awarded to the claimants should the court agree with them that the state agencies acted beyond their authority and jurisdiction to take such drastic action against them. We put that to the director, and here's how he responded:

Daniel Ortiz
"At this current moment tax paying dollars are at risk for a claim to damages, the basis on which they do that is that FIU which is an agency of the state, took certain actions against them which they believe is unlawful. How does one assure the public that the FIU acts in its best interest and in the interest of the countries which we have obligations to, but at the same time it is not acting irresponsibly?"

Eric Eusey - Director, FIU
"Well, they are claiming damages but it doesn't automatically mean that they will succeed. The Attorney general's Ministry and the FIU are vigorously fighting, resisting those accusations and we have representations in the court. And we are guided by the laws and act strictly under the law. An entity might not like certain activities when it happens but we have a legal basis on which to make our actions. It would appear that the FIU was the lead agency in this activity when in fact it was not. It's actually the government of Belize by the Attorney General's Ministry, which under the Mlat Treaty, they are the principal entity that has to respond to a request."

Daniel Ortiz
"Do you think it hurts our image internationally when a case like this, some would describe it as a bungle, we dropped the ball. Where 500 million US dollars is said to have been pocketed from US taxes that should have gone in."

Eric Eusey - Director, FIU
"No it wasn't a bungle because it wasn't a Belize case, it was a US case and the American government was very clear as to their request. They were very clear in respect to that and to the extent that is request, then that is as far as we go."

Eusey reminded that these cases aren't completed as yet. He also added that the nature of the cases they investigation are sensitive and as such, they must keep details on them confidential. This he says, is the reason why the FIU does not come to the public with them.


Was There An FIU Investigation Into The Immigration Scandal?

One more inquiry which the press took the opportunity to ask of the FIU Director was a supposed investigation into the immigration scandals. Yes, they've become ghosts… remembered now and again by the politicians from the Opposition Party who remind that a great wrong was committed against national patrimony 18 months or so ago. So, we thought we'd ask the new director for an update on it.

He told us that he had no information to share on it at that moment:

Eric Eusey - Director, FIU
"I am not aware of that investigation, it may have come as a request probably from the Auditor General but I am not aware that that investigation was ongoing."

Daniel Ortiz
"So then sir, this whole immigration scandal which there was a private constitution attempt that failed. An appeal of that private prosecution that failed. DPP office said it cannot get involved unless there are certain things done by the police, then the Ministry of the National Security says that the police are the ones involved with it. But there seems to be no movement with it all together and now you're saying that the FIU is not aware of the case. Does that mean that it has been left on the way side?"

Eric Eusey - Director, FIU
"No, since it has been raised I can look into that and see but as far as I know, it's not an FIU case per say. It's not a case normally, certain evidence or information will have to come to the FIU for them to act, and since I became director I have not seen that evidence come forward. Perhaps that's the reason why the DPP is reluctant to move. In a case like that, you have to have evidence that the court will believe and accept. If you cannot have the evidence, what you will have is rumours, conjectures, finger pointing and things of that sort. Before you proceed to court you have to have firm evidence."

Reporter
"Is it that the FIU was at no point involve in an investigation regarding the immigration department? Is that what you're saying?"

Eric Eusey - Director, FIU
"No, I am not saying that. There could well have been an investigation but you have to understand that when I took over as director, the issue with Belize standing was at the highest importance and we had to address that. So most of the effort of the FIU was done in that regards."

He was of course referring to the efforts made to make Belize's Banking Sector transparent and compliant with regulations of the international community.


The PUP Fix To the Petrocaribe Law

Since Friday, we've been telling you how the PUP walked out of the biggest House Meeting on the calendar year yet. They were supposed to debate the amendments to the Petrocaribe Loans Act, but then, the Speaker had Senator Patrick Andrews ejected. The PUP followed behind, and with them went all the research and preparation made to challenge the Government in a proper debate.

So now, the PUP has to resort to a media manufactured discussion to inform the general public on what their position is, something which the Prime Minister refers to as a cheap knock-off. Still, we must oblige the Opposition on their agenda, since they make up portion of the Elected Representatives in the House. So there's one more excerpt we must share with you, the viewers. It involves the Leader of the Opposition's revelation of a Petrocaribe Revenue Management Bill, a document drafted as their fix to the problem that Petrocaribe access creates. Here's that explanation from Francis Fonseca:

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"A team of legal advisors headed by Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck, has examine this very important issue of the Petrocaribe loans act and have come up with a draft "Petrocaribe revenue Management Fund Bill 2015." This bill is not drafted from scratch. It is fashioned from Belize's Petroleum Revenue Management Fund act, which in turn was based on recommendations from the Commonwealth Secretariat Petroleum advisors to Belize. Our draft bill proposes the introduction of Petrocaribe revenue management fund provisions on the use of the fund, provisions dealing with annual as well as exceptional withdrawals from the fund an independent oversight board drawn from a list of esteem local organizations and transparency and public access to information."

"Our proposed bill is therefore based on the product designed for Belize and which is already in effect and has been demonstrated to work in other territories. We reiterate that we fully endorse acceptance of the Petrocaribe funds, but we insist that there must be transparency, accountability and compliance with law in the use of these funds."

It remains to be seen what forum or opportunity the Opposition will use to present this draft to the UDP Government.


Central Bank On Political Spending Of Public Funds

And Recently, whenever the Opposition Party criticizes public spending from the UDP government, the members usually imply or directly accuse the Barrow Administration of using public funds - or Petrocaribe funds - for political patronage. The suggestion is usually that these important monies, which are often needed elsewhere, but instead, they are spent to court voters or keep them loyal to the party.

So, what does the Governor of the Central Bank have to say about such an accusation being repeated at every opportunity? That's what we asked him yesterday, and he told us that there is no evidence that he has seen to support it:

Daniel Ortiz
"As far as you're aware as the banker of the government, can this allegation of public funds being used for politicking by the UDP government be a legitimate case that can be made to the general public?"

Glen Ysaguirre - Governor, Central Bank of Belize
"I haven't seen any evidence to indicate if that can be so. Whether or not the government makes or as a policy, the government in its budget makes allocation for instance to provide money for constituencies and area representatives to host these social events. From my understanding of the Petrocaribe arrangement, and I was at the anniversary celebration this morning, there is a component intended for social activities and social events. And so I do not know is that is consistent, those who have that concern would have to have a point to what in the agreement prevents the government from doing that. I don't know if anything does, I understand from comments made by Venezuelan representative at the function this morning that they don't see anything inconsistent with some of those things and what the program requires them to do."

Reporter
"Sir one of the suggestion by the critics has also been that the reason why the money is being kept at the Central Bank is because it is out of the reach of the Auditor General."

Glen Ysaguirre - Governor, Central Bank of Belize
"That's absolutely inaccurate and untrue. If you look at the Central Bank Act, there's a clause somewhere almost at the back of the Central Bank Act whereby if there is any concern, the Auditor General does have access to go in there and audit. We provide statements to the accountant general for all the accounts operated by the government on a monthly basis. In fact I think when one media house was waving around a statement it came from the Central Bank. It probably did, because we are the bankers for the government and we provide them with monthly bank statements so they can reconcile. So the auditor general does have access to all that information."

The Governor of the Central Bank also spoke generally on the effect that Petrocaribe monies have on the spending power of the country's financial reserves. He explained that those who make the comparison between the borrowing done for the Superbond and the loan arrangement for Petrocaribe continue to miss the point that the assets under the care of the Central Bank are far greater today than what they were during the Musa Administration:

Glen Ysaguirre - Governor, Central Bank of Belize
"The monies from the Petrocaribe are being spent in Belize. A lot of comparison are being made in regards to monies borrowed from under the super bond. There were concerns as to how it was used and disposed of. But there's a clear distinction between what is happening under Petrocaribe and what took place under the super bond. Under the super bond we borrowed some 500 million US dollars over a period of time. But if you look at the Central Bank reserves during that same period of time, you'd have seen that the Central Bank reserves actually shrunk. so that would suggest to you that that 500 million dollars did not go on spending significantly in Belize but went to pay external debts or went somewhere else. Now when you look at what is happening under the borrowing we are doing, the Petrocaribe, if you look at the Central Bank reserves since 2007 or since 2008, it has grown to about 60 million dollars US. we now have reserves I think in the neighborhood of 500 million US and to a large extent, the build-up of those reserves are as a result of the hard currency that comes in from that Petrocaribe program. So yes, Belize dollars are being spent here but the US dollars are also coming in and building the reserves of the country so that when we need to repay any of the obligations of the government including the obligations of the super bond, hard currency is there to do it."

To reiterate, Ysaguirre says that the reserves at the Central Bank are valued at close to 500 Million US Dollars.


SSB Approved Loans For Citrus And Banana Companies; Any Connection To Jonny Zabs?

Last week, news broke that the Social Security Board had approved loans to two companies Meridian Enterprises Limited and Diverse Development Limited. One is a banana growing company and the other is a citrus processing company. But, there has been a lingering suspicion that Johnny Zabaneh has some interests, either as a beneficiary, or as the personality behind the curtains that is orchestrating the push for financing.

Viewers may be well aware that Zabaneh is one of the biggest banana producers in the south, but in 2012, he was blacklisted by The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. This sanction, under the US Kingpin Act, prevents any US Nationals and US companies from conducting business with him, and it has put a hurting on his business empire.

So, that's why when the proposals from both companies landed on the desk of the SSB Investment Committee and they were approved, eyebrows were raised. We got an opportunity to ask the Chairman about it yesterday. Here's what he had to say about the risk of the investment of the contributions made by the workers of the nation:

Dough Singh - Chairman, SSB Investment Board
"I don't know what you mean by individuals behind the company. The documentation is clear and I guess the media can seek to go to the registry and check to see who the shareholders are of the companies that borrowed the funds. There were two companies that applied to borrow the funds, and I suspect your referring to Mr. Zabaneh. He is not a shareholder of either of those companies, he's also not a surety, which means someone that guarantees anything relative to the loan and he has provided no security for the loan. So I don't understand the context under which the question is, legitimately he is not a party of any element to the loan agreement. The concern in this particular area wasn't Mr. Horst, I think, it was Mr. Zabaneh. The board was concerned that Mr. Zabaneh was a party to the loan, he is one of those people who are listed on a website and that sanctions have been applied against the United States government. That I don't believe is the situation with Mr. Horst and probably not your cousin who may have been convicted of something too. We wouldn't want to discriminate just about everybody who may have faced some allegations or convictions, but we certainly want to respect certain other initiatives being placed. And I think that it's fair enough to tell you that the details are what the details are. Mr. Zabaneh is not a party to this loan as a borrower, as a shareholder of the company, and as a surety or guarantee provider."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir are you all confident at the SSB investment board, for practical purposes as you've put it. These persons are on the paper trail - the persons who have borrowed this loan, but in the background there may be a moving hand who you all are not aware of."

Dough Singh - Chairman, SSB Investment Board
"That's entirely possible, but when an institution gives a loan, it gives it on several basis. It gives it on its ability to recover on whether or not it's a good project, whether or not the security is there in the event of any default. We're pleased to say that the value of the security is far in excess of the value of the loan."

Diverse Investments was approved for a loan of 1.5 million dollars, quote, "the purchase of fertilizer and other inputs" End quote.


The Marijuana Decriminalizing Committee Sticks To 10 Grams

That's what SSB Chairman Doug Singh had to say on the recent loan approvals. He also wears the hat as a member of the Committee looking into the Decriminalization of Marijuana. So, we took the opportunity to ask him for an update.

As we've shown you months ago, the committee is proposing to the Government to decriminalize the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less. The committee is also proposing to lessen the penalties of this quantity of week. Instead of being jailed and being given a criminal record if convicted, a person will be given a fine.

But in the era of mass decriminalization and legalization of weed in other parts of the world, pro-marijuana persons say that 10 grams is too limited a quantity to remove criminal penalties for. They are pushing for larger amounts, and since Jamaica, as of February, has decriminalized up to 2 ounces. That's almost 57 grams, six times the amount in this proposal, and so since then, has the Committee revisited its figure to Cabinet? Singh said "no" in our conversation yesterday. Here's how he explained why not:

Dough Singh - Member, Committee Looking Into Marijuana Decriminalization
"The bottom line is that the committee was tasked with looking at the decriminalization not the legalization. I think there are tremendous differences between what Jamaica has done and what Belize is recommending. One I think, Jamaica is allowing a possession of a certain amount of plants also and they are also allowing possession of certain amounts for medicinal purposes which is essentially legalization. The committee looked at decriminalization which is essentially changing the penalties for possession of a small amount so that you don't have any possibility of jail time or you don't end up with a criminal record. That really is all the committee is recommending."

"The question that was asked is if that the committee go far enough, there are suggestions. I am not sure, if there's a movement that others feel passionately about, relative to legalization or certain quantities or decriminalization of larger quantities. I suspect that that's a process what they will have to take up. Cabinet has asked us to do a bit more consultation, so to speak. There are some issues that they believe are relevant such that they don't believe that it's clear enough to the public, the distinction between decriminalization and legalization. People still think that this is a process to legalize. The sense we get through the consultation is there's tremendous support for decriminalization but not necessarily across the board for legalization. And we then have an obligation to ensure that people understand what the recommendations mean and the implications of the recommendations. But I can't speak to the direct question."

Singh told us that the committee continues to conduct consultations to make the distinction to members of the public that there is a very important difference between decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it. He said that this was an important distinction that the Government wants to make clear in everyone's mind.


Armed Robbery At Atlantic Insurance Belmopan

A woman was held up at knife point at her workplace in Belmopan. It happened on Friday evening between 4:30 and 5 at the Atlantic Insurance Company in the Garden City Plaza. The Office Manager 28 year old Mishelene Guerra was alone in the office and was getting ready to close up when two men walked in and held her up at knife point. The men then tied her up with shoelaces and stole an undisclosed amount of money along with several of her personal items. After the men ran off, she let herself loose and called the police. When we spoke to Belmopan police this evening they told us that they are looking for these two men in connection with this incident. This is the second burglary in Belmopan in about a week. The other happened on the 18th at The Belize Infrastructure Limited at the Market Square. In this case, the culprits entered the building through the roof and stole an assortment of electronic devices. Police still haven't caught those men in connection with that burglary and they told us that they do not have sufficient evidence to link both incidents. Police continue to follow lead on both cases.

A Child-Friendly Family Court

Child friendly isn't the term that comes to mind when you talk about court rooms. But, the fact is, children are very much a part of court proceedings and so the first child friendly family court was officially inaugurated today in Punta Gorda.

The construction of the child friendly family court began in December of last year and was completed last week. The 2 story court building has 2 child friendly interview rooms, 2 one way mirror rooms and a play area for the kids. The construction of this building is just a part of a joint project between UNICEF and the Supreme Court called "Promoting Children's Access to Justice".

This project also entails institutional reform of the court system to better cater to and protect children involved in court cases. Efforts are being made to build another child friendly family court in San Ignacio. The overall cost of this project is $1 million and will run for about 3 years.


Police Influence In Resisting Gang Life

This morning four hundred and sixty four Belize City students graduated from the police department's Gang Resistance Education and Training Program. GREAT - as it is better known is one of the department's attempts at intervention into the lives of the children. It is a life skills program facilitated by police officer. The program first started out as a pilot project in 2011 and quickly expanded. Today 7news was present at the graduation.

Two thousand and fifty students from around the country are graduates of this year's program


A Summer Camp For Photography

This afternoon 7news caught up with a group of photography students in one of their sessions. The youngsters partake in the 2 day workshop this week to help improve on their skills. The sessions were facilitated by Dirk Francisco:

Francisco will be conducting other photography sessions throughout the summer.


The New SISE Bridge In Cayo

The residents of San Ignacio and Santa Elena will finally have a new bridge. Today the contract for the construction of the bridge was signed at the Ministry of Works and according to the design plan the bridge will have unique safety features and help with ease the heavy traffic on the road. The CEO in the Ministry of Works told us more.

The project costs $19,961,575 Belize Dollars and is funded by the Government and the CDB.






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