BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. June 28, 2017–At the end of August 2005, as many as 200 passports were stolen from the Immigration Department’s Belmopan office.
Following that major heist, former Director of Immigration, Jose Carmen Zetina, had told the press, “I am a suspect and everybody from Immigration must be considered a suspect, including those who profess that they were on leave. They must be considered suspects.”
Though this incident occurred over a decade ago, it was revisited by the Auditor General’s special audit of the Immigration Department for the period 2011 to 2013.
They had been issued to Immigration officer Ady Pacheco, who said that the theft occurred while she was not in office
The audit revealed that one of the stolen passports had been issued to Chinese national, Qiu-Yun-Lin. It was issued on November 13, 2007, and was scheduled to expire 5 years later. The audit also revealed that this passport issued had been a part of a series issued to Immigration officer, Ady Pacheco.
During today’s Senate investigation into the audit, Senator Mark Lizarraga asked Pacheco to explain what she knew about that matter.
Pacheco said that the theft occurred over a weekend, while she was not in office. She said that someone broke into the office and stole the passports.
The following is a transcript of what she told the Senate Select Committee:
Lizarraga: “Where did you have them [the passports] stored?”
Pacheco: “In the Passport Office. There was no safe at the time.”
Lizarraga: “Was it in a room under lock and key?”
Pacheco: “It was in a drawer.”
Lizarraga: “So anybody that…”
Pacheco: “Broke into that office would have had access to it.”
Lizarraga: “They could have gone missing over a period of time.”
Pacheco: “It was a specific time. They were delivered, I believe, the Friday, and the Monday they were discovered missing.”
Lizarraga: “The reason I am asking you this is that we had asked the question previously, whether the border stations were in fact notified that passports had been missing—had been stolen—because the Auditor General in several instances has highlighted cases where these stolen passports have resurfaced. Do you know what was done internally in regards to making staff know that there were 200 passports stolen?”
Pacheco: “We notified the director immediately of the situation.”
Lizarraga: “So there was no system put in place?”
Pacheco: “I can’t say if there was a system put in place or not.”
Lizarraga: “How would you personally then know whether to look out for a stolen passport or not?”
Pacheco: “If a memo was sent out to the different stations, or once it was brought to our attention.”
Lizarraga: “Do you recall if a memo was sent out?”
Pacheco: “No, Sir.”
According to the audit, efforts were made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have the passport issued to Qiu-Yun-Lin upon his return to Belize.
However, the Ministry was informed that the request had to be made by the Immigration Department. The audit revealed that there was no indication that the department followed up with the request.
In 2006, another 100 passports were stolen from the Immigration Department. Six years later, in 2012, 8 visa stickers were stolen from the department.
While there were no leads in the 2005 and 2006 heists, the 2012 heist pointed to Former Belize City Deputy Mayor Eric Chang and Patrick Tillett, Financial Controller at the Belize City Council.
The audit revealed that they had bought the stolen visa stickers from visa agent Barton Middleton, who had reportedly received them from former Immigration officer Lindsay Wade.
Interestingly, none of the persons named by the Auditor General in connection with this incident have faced any criminal charges.