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
Last night, we told you about Dr. Errol Elrington, the well-known brother of Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington - who has been laying low in Belize - after the US Office of the Inspector General, in the Department of Health and Human Services declared him a fugitive.
There is an arrest warrant for Dr. Elrington dating back to October of 2013, in which he is wanted for the federal charges of racketeering, Medicaid fraud and Health Care Fraud. It is alleged that Elrington falsely billed Medicare and Medicaid more than four hundred thousand dollars for services that he never performed, and he employed an unlicensed physician who engaged in criminal sexual misconduct.
Those are very serious offences - which carry huge fines and long prison sentences. And, the Inspector General's website says he is a fugitive, who left the states 24 hours after Federal Agents questioned him. We tried to reach Errol Elrington to ask him about the charges but we couldn't find him at the family home where we are told he has been staying.
Today, though, we did manage to catch up with his brother, attorney Hubert Elrington, and he told us that Errol's woes were actually caused by an employee, and that Dr. Elrington himself didn't actually do anything wrong:
Hubert Elrington "I personally aware that there is a problem because I think about 2 months ago this report that you are referring to was posted on the internet. I don't know, but you all must have been sleeping like Rip Van Winkle."
Mike Rudon, Ch5 "Could you tell us what is the situation with your brother? Is he here in Belize?"
Hubert Elrington "He is here in Belize. Mt brother as you know was a director of medical services in his substantive post up there at a hospital and he also own his own clinic, medical facility and as far as I understand he employed a doctor who represented to him that he had all his license and things but after a while it turned out that this doctor did not have some of the license that were needed. And you know in the United States they are very strict, they want you to check and if you don't check - so it's really a situation where an employee of his, a doctor, failed to get his proper medical license and was operating in my brother's clinic. So that is the situation. Now I understand that my brother has legal experts working for him in the States and they are dealing with the matter up there."
"He is probably the brightest of the Elringtons…he was the one who was able to do the physics and the mathematics and things like that without difficulty. So to me it is kind of regrettable that he was not paying the kind of attention he should have been paying but it sometimes happens in life and we live in a democracy. But it's not that he himself did anything wrong except employing a doctor to work in his clinic up there in the United States where he went and established a clinic."
Mike Rudon, Ch5 "Sir, area you ware if there has been any official move to get his back?"
Hubert Elrington "I don't think that will even arise. I don't think this is one of the circumstances where that would even arise - that's just my view as a legal expert."
Dr. Elrington's brother, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington is currently out of the country. If there are any formal requests from the US Government for Dr. Elrington's extradition to the US, it would come through the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Today a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson indicated that they are not aware of any such request. The US Embassy said that our request for comment has been directed to their Security Office.
We note however that those sympathetic to Dr. Elrington say that the type of offences he is accused of do not fall within the scope of the US-Belize extradition treaty.
Last night, we told you about the Tacos Lady, "Miss Alida", who was well known to set up near the Atlantic Bank Freetown Branch. She was one of 4 people robbed and shot at her Mopan Street house early Saturday morning. Well, after 2 and a half days, 42 year-old Alida Ascencio passed away just before noon today.
Viewers may remember that she was shot in the left side of her chest, and her left abdomen, and she was clinging to life in the Intensive Care Unit. Her family says that the bullet to the abdomen caused massive internal injuries affecting her pancreas, liver, and intestines. In the end, her injuries were too numerous, and she succumbed.
As we reported, "Miss Alida" was preparing her chicken for the day's tacos sales at around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday. She was being assisted by 52 year-old Carlos Mayorga, 19 year-old Karina Avila, and 21 year-old Sejhan Avila.
Just before 5:00, 2 men barged into the house and held them up at gunpoint. The man with the gun ordered Mayorga to hand over whatever money they had. He opened a locker in his bed room and handed over $2,000 in cash.
In what can only be described as excessive cruelty, the man with the gun then ordered them to kneel down. He then shot Mayorga in the neck and shoulder. Immediately after that, he turned the gun on all three women and shot them also. Karina Avila was injured in the left arm, and Sejhan Avila suffered injuries to the left chest and abdomen. Both robbers then fled the scene.
Mayorga died on the spot where he knelt, but the women were rushed to the KHMH.
Another man was killed last night - and again, it appears to have been a case of wanton violence or being at the wrong place, wrong time.
54 year old Winston Whylie was walking on Victoria Street late at night when a gunman rode up and shot him - for no apparent reason. We went looking for answers today. We warn you that the story does have graphic images of him right after he was shot:..
Robin Schaffer reporting
This is Winston Whylie around 11:00 last night, minutes after he was shot on the Victoria street sidewalk. Residents say he was conscious and gasping for air, with a gunshot wound to his midsection. The culprit: a man on bicycle who rode away.
Police came to pick him up within five minutes, and the staff at the KHMH tried to save him, but by 1:00 am, he was dead.
His family got there too late.
Wilma Thompson, Sister of deceased "We went to the hospital me and my daughter and when we got there he was already dead. He was not a person who was violent. His job was fixing bicycles out of Lovely Lane and where he hangs out. I don't know really what was the reason. I can't say until more information comes. But it's also das because I just lost my brother 2 months ago, Norman Thompson, the taxi driver and it's just simply rough - they knocked down my two grandchildren and I just wish I could get some kind justice some kind of way because first, it was two grandchildren on Mahogany where the hit and run took place and Norman died two months ago and now this was my other brother."
The shooting murder is puzzling for residents who only knew him as a bicycle repair man.
But not so puzzling for his family. They say he had been receiving threats in the area where he was killed
Wilma Thompson, Sister of deceased "Yes, he told my mom that he was receiving threats. They discussed it, but he was somebody who his navel string bury at Lovely Lane, so it doesn't matter how many threats he will be out there. He came home after 11, the time when he got shot was the same time he is usually home."
Now, this family which has seen so much loss, just wants closure:
Wilma Thompson, Sister of deceased "I don't know which way to go and I don't know which way to think, but I just wish that the killing would stop, at least for this family - too much tragedy back to back."
Those we spoke to in the general area of the shooting who called police to take him to the hospital, feel that the gunman just wanted to hurt someone on Victoria Street because of gang rivalries.
While that is one theory, it is important to note that Whylie had killed a man and been charged for it in the 1990's.
Up to 4 months ago, Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley was having quite a bit of a headache trying to making payments for arrears to Belize Waste Control. Things got so contentious that Waste Control exercised their legal rights and took him to court ensure that pays them. The council owed them as much as 3 months.
But, now the council is in trouble the other sanitation company, Belize Maintenance Limited. The company is reporting that they are owed 18 weeks in arrears. That's approximately 1.4 million dollars, and they're contemplating laying off employees to keep the company in operation.
This afternoon, Bradley called a press briefing, and he explained that at $78,000 per week owed to BML, the Council will pay when it can:
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor "Every year we have significant obligations in terms of other priorities and I want to be very clear to members of the public. This is a situation that has resulted through deliberate actions of the council and I don't mean that we've wilfully not paid them, but when I took office I look at the Belize City Council Act and the Belize City Council Act says that the major priority of Belize City is to build streets - that's what we are about - infrastructure. And we are putting a significant amount of our resources aside from just the bond. All the earthen street works that are going on, a significant amount of that is being paid for by City Council funds. When we paid off Waste Control 1.2 million dollars - I didn't have that money in a bank, so we are paying all our outlays out to sanitation contractors and then also to prioritize our obligation in terms streets and drains and there has been a significant improvement there. All I am saying is that I fully understand what BML is saying. I fully understand where they are coming from, it is our contractual obligation and duty to pay them. I guarantee that they will be paid. I cannot tell them when they will be paid."
"We have the same situation with Waste Control. They know because they have lawyers who have written me, so they know that their legal rights are and they know that they must be paid and as a public body, this City Council has acted with integrity and we have insured that we are taking into account everyone including Waste Control. But what I ask members of the public to recognize is that BML is only one our headaches; we have Waste Control, we have streets that need to be built, we are mindful of the fact that we have recently have a spout of near heavy rains and we want to get a significant amount of our earthen streets and our concreting done before the heavy rains hit. Those are things which confronts us. We are looking at other successes other projects that we want to do and within the context of everything that we are doing I think that we have BML situation under as best as a handle as we can have at this present moment."
As he has commented before, Bradley once again reiterated that the Council will not be renewing BML's contract when it expires next year. He says that the City is making preparations for that eventuality, so that they can take over the sanitation responsibilities that BML is currently handling.
This evening, we spoke with Lawrence Ellis, the owner of Belize Maintenance Limited, and he told us that the Mayor committed to clear up all arrears from last year. The Council didn't, and that's where 10 of those 18 weeks come from. The other 8 weeks are from this year.
The council also owes BML an additional 2.8 million dollars for a judgment debt, which hasn't been paid as yet. That judgment was granted in 2009, and initially it was 1.9, but with the interest it has increased to that final figure to date.
13 months ago, the Government nationalized the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize, known as Immarbe and the International Companies, or IBC Registry. They were taken from their previous owner, the Ashcroft-Allied Belize International Services Limited, known as BISL.
IMMARBE sold the Belizean Flag as a flag of convenience to international vessels, while the IBC Registry, registered offshore companies which are given tax-free status and assured secrecy in their corporate affairs.
During that nationalization, the Government assessed BISL and determined that it owed 30 million dollars in back taxes which Government claims were not paid by BISL over the last 20 years.
After a year in court, the BISL finally managed to get its hearing fully heard before Justice Shona Griffith. Outside of court, their attorney, Eamon Courtenay explained to us that his main argument is that the Government is seeking to unlawfully use the tax code as a weapon against his clients:
Eamon Courtenay. Attorney for Belize International Services Limited "This case was a challenge to that. Basically the argument was that Belize International Services Limited is an IBC and an IBC is not subject to tax and if you're not subject to tax then the commissioner cannot tax the company. Their argument was that the Belize International Services Limited was carrying on business with persons resident in Belize and therefore it lost its tax-free status, but it was very clear that Section 130 of the Act makes it that even if you lose your status that you are not liable to tax, and we were very clear to the court that there is no evidence that the company had lost its status as an IBC and therefore it continued to enjoy the benefit of a tax concession."
Daniel Ortiz "How does this affect the case where the government acquired the companies, does it affect it in any way the challenge?"
Eamon Courtenay "No this is a different one. That other case which is another case before Justice Arana, the company is seeking compensation from the government for the unlawful acquisition. I think it is no mystery, this is not the first time that the government has done this. What it does is it takes people's property, and then it manufactures a false tax assessment and tries to set off whatever they owe against it. It has to be seen for what it is and the government should stop using the tax code as a weapon against persons whose property it has taken."
Daniel Ortiz "If the court rules in your favour what are your clients seeking?"
Eamon Courtenay "In this particular case that the tax assessments for 30 million dollars are null and void, unlawful and unconstitutional - they will be struck down."
Daniel Ortiz "Sir we know that your clients have claim that they are unable to pay this money, this tax. Is it the same position?"
Eamon Courtenay "Oh yes, absolutely. The company's only income was for managing the registries and the government has taken away that source of income. We cannot pay it."
The Government was represented by the Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke. Justice Shona Griffith has reserved judgment for September 16, or an earlier date to be announced.
While we had the opportunity, we asked Courtney about the settlement between Tropic Air and Brett Feinstein's Construction Depot Limited in the land dispute on San Pedro.
As we reported last night, both sides reached an out of court settlement. We learnt that Tropic Air will get to continue to construction on its new building and Feinstein's Construction Depot Limited will move to another parcel of land along the airstrip.
Today, keeping with the confidentiality terms of the settlement, Courtenay was very brief when we asked about it:
Eamon Courtenay "As I said very briefly yesterday to another reporter, the agreement reached is confidential, so I will not go into the details, but all I repeat is that my client is happy."
Lands Commissioner, Wilbert Vallejos had granted us an interview on the topic in which he explained that the reason that both Tropic and Construction Depot managed to get rights to the same piece of land was caused by a duplication error. He couldn't be more specific than that at the time because the case was already in court.
Today we asked the Mayor Darrell Bradley about reports we've picked up that he has submitted his name as a candidate for the UDP Standard Bearer in Caribbean Shores. We know he's been campaigning in the Shores, so it didn't seem far-fetched.
Now, as recent history has shown, trying to get a straight answer from the mayor on matters such as candidacy can be difficult. But when we asked him about the Caribbean Shores candidacy, he gave us as direct a response has he's ever given about his political future. Here's what he had to say:
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor "This election right here I am running for Mayor - that's what I am doing and everything that obtains in terms of my priorities is to be an effective mayor. I think from day one I have said and this has been something that I have meant that I want to leave this city better than I found it. We found a city rot with debt, we found significant challenges and I felt as a resident of Belize City that the council could do more and we have done more and so going forward into this next municipal election which will be in March of 2015, my commitment is to residents of the entire city as their mayor and I am asking people to vote for us not because of anything else but our record of proven success. Everything that we said we would have done we are doing. It's not perfect, we have substantial challenges but I think that very few people could dispute the fact that our city is moving forward even incrementally. Notwithstanding all of that, I have never been evasive in relation to the view that I intend to aspire for higher office. I have never said no and I am telling you that yes I am not a candidate for Caribbean Shores, I don't think that I will be a candidate for that area anytime soon but I tell you, either that area or other areas that is where I am heading in the future."
So, while the mayor is committed to offer himself up for re-election in the March 2015 Municipal Elections, what about Eric Chang?
As we reported, reliable sources tell us that the UDP higher-ups took the decision that he will not be allowed to offer himself in the next municipal convention.
Is it because of the unanswered questions about his association, whether real or perceived, with the Citizen Kim Scandal? We asked the Mayor about it, and he says that only Eric Chang can answer that question:
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor "Eric Chang as a councilor, he has to be within the jurisdiction, he has to be working as a councilor and if he is not then residents of Belize City can blame me. That's something that I am responsible for. As it relates to anything else that there is out there that Eric Chang has done or may have done, that is not within my jurisdiction. I am Mayor and I have certain functions as mayor and it is my duty to ensure that when he is a councilor that I work with him and I ensure that he is doing the job for which residents of Belize pay him. I said that Eric Chang is a good councilor in relation to the work that he has done. I saw the listing, in terms of councilors, Eric Chang's name was not on there. He's come to council meetings since then, he's participated actively in the council since then. He's indicated to us because several other councilors had asked about it that he had other priorities and other plans, I don't know if it's in relation to him not submitting his name or his not intending to run for council if that has anything to do with the allegations being brought up against him or if it has anything to do with his personal feelings. That is something that you have to ask Eric Chang himself directly."
We've since spoken with Chang, and while he's declined us an interview, he says that it was his decision not to run again because he has other commitments with his family and private business.
On Sunday, there will be a UDP convention held to select the candidates who will offer themselves for the UDP City Council Slate.
Two weeks ago, the news broke that the KHMH was having major financial difficulties - which was resolved with supplementary funding in addition to its regular subvention. At the time, chairman Chandra Nisbet-Cansino said that it wasn't a crisis, but a June second email from the hospital CEO Gary Longsworth to the chairman, wasn't quite so circumspect. He said, quote,
"This matter is now at the point of crisis and there is the high likelihood we will not be able to meet next month's payroll…we have maxed out our overdraft facility where no further checks can be cut, we have vendors calling every day and not releasing orders because we owe them." End quote.
He closed by asking the Chair to appeal for emergency financial assistance in order to, quote, "avert a looming crisis at this institution."
Again, that was in June, and since then an increase in subvention was given retroactive to April.
It didn't make our newscast last night, but the police department released photographs of 9 weapons that they've seized in the past 2 weeks.
While they've not released the details of how all these weapons ended up being taken off the streets, we note that the department now has 4 nine millimetre handguns, two .38 revolvers, one 357 magnum revolver, one .380 handgun, and that 5.56 galil military assault rifle, which we first showed you 2 weeks ago.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Dezerie Phillips, the officer commanding Eastern Division, told the media yesterday that the guns were seized during targetted, intelligence-led operations.
Today at the Youth Enhancement Services' Belize City office, students received books, tuition fees, school bags and school supplies as a part of a joint initiative by the Y.E.S. and community policing. The goal of the project is to reduce youth involvement in crime, and it is funded by the United States Embassy. After the items were handed out, Y.E.S. Director Karen Cain told us that the students were chosen based on need.
Karen Cain, Director, Youth Enhancement Services "We had kids from St. John's College, we had from Maud Williams, Ladyville Tech, Gwen Liz. So there is a variety right across the board and I know that most of them left from here very happy."
Lillian Novelo "Back in my days, I was going through some situation with my family members and things like that. I got pregnant in second form at Excelsior High School and Y.E.S. was there to support me and carry me through my life and things like that. So I've really been there with Y.E.S. and through my life now I am saying that I want to go back to school and Y.E.S. is here sending me back to school and making me have a better life in my thing with my three kids."
The total number of items to be donated include 131 school bags, 35 partial tuition fees paid as well as textbooks and other supplies.
It's only July but carnival fever is already becoming contagious in Belize City's streets. For the past two weeks we've seen children practicing at the corner of Amara Avenue and Dean St. just a few blocks from the office. Our intern Robin Schaffer thought it looked like fun so she decided to join them.
The Trench Town Masqueraders practice for two hours Monday to Saturday Afternoons, with 75 children.
Belmopan police have confirmed to us that a man was shot in Armenia Village on Saturday night. He was returning home from selling his vegetables, when 4 men ambushed him in front of his house. They were trying to rob him, and during the attack he pulled his machete from his truck and chopped one of the assailants in the face.
Police say the robbers shot him because he fought back. Those in the area believe that these robbers are a part of a criminal network establishing itself in Las Flores, just outside of Belmopan.