BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Thurs. Mar. 9, 2017–Former Belize City deputy mayor Eric Chang, was summoned to appear in front of the Senate Select Committee on Wednesday primarily to address claims made in a special report by the Auditor General that he (Chang) and Belize City Council Financial Controller, Patrick Tillett, allegedly bought 8 visa stickers that were stolen from the Immigration Department.
However, after the committee sufficiently interrogated him on that matter, senators quickly turned to the Won Hong Kim saga, which involved the issuance of a Belizean nationality certificate and passport to a South Korean national in a Taiwanese prison.
The Auditor General had been able to obtain an email dated September 16, 2013, written by Cherie Nisbet, Belize’s Ambassador to Taiwan, in which she documented that Eric Chang had made efforts to assist Kim.
In her email, Nisbet stated that she had gotten an urgent call from Chang in which he asked if she could urgently issue a visa to two South Korean nationals who needed to go to Belize the next day.
In her email, Nisbet claimed to have asked Chang what the emergency was, as she needed to know before she could issue a visa. Additionally, she claimed to have told him that she needed all required documentation completed and approved.
However, Chang could not give her a reason for the emergency and told her that he may instead have to call a minister in Belize to issue visas upon arrival.
The Ambassador claimed that a day after the first call, Chang called her back to say that he was at a detention center in Taiwan visiting a South Korean National.
Additionally, according to the Ambassador, he told her that Taiwanese Immigration may call her to verify that he was indeed the Deputy Mayor of Belize. According to the Ambassador’s email, Chang never told her that the person in detention was Won Hong Kim.
Ambassador Nisbet further explained in her email that Chang called her back about two days later to say that the two South Korean nationals, for whom he was originally trying to get the visas, were still interested.
She claimed that she asked Chang if he ever got to visit the South Korean man who was in detention, but he reportedly told her that he didn’t.
In her email, Ambassador Nisbet said that about two days later she received a phone call from the Taiwanese Immigration authorities and they informed her that they were aware that Chang was attempting to visit Kim, and that it was not advisable for him to do so because Kim had done bad things in his country.
Here is a verbatim transcript of Chang’s side of this story:
Senator Aldo Salazar: “The impression I get from reading the email was that you’re somehow involved in trying to get a visa for Wong Hong Kim.”
Salazar: “Or that these people were related to Wong Hong Kim and that they wanted visas.”
Chang: “Two separate person, not Wong Hong Kim, two different Koreans. During the Apex Summit I ended up meeting a gentleman named Alejandro Young, in charge of affairs…Me and the mayor met him during the summit. There are a lot of people I ended up meeting. He calls me and told me that some potential investors, which are the two Koreans, they schedule a trip to Honduras and they were also like to take an opportunity to visit Belize as well, see if there is any business ventures, opportunities. Due that they told me it was urgent, that they already had schedules, already bought a ticket to Honduras, they said if I could possibly help them to get a Belize visa, they will come and pay Belize a visit. Mr. Young, he’s the one who introduce the two Koreans to me.”
Salazar: “He introduces the two Koreans who want visas and then he calls you again the following day?”
Chang: “He told me his two Korean friends told him that, you know, there is a Korean get detained in the Taiwan immigration detention center, and also, [he] is a Belizean. Well, I said fine. They asked me, Mr. Chang, can you pay him a visit and see if there is any assistance you can offer him or assist him?
“To my mind, to me [that] is a common practice in Belize. I’m an official translator. I don’t really know anybody in Taiwan. I called the ambassador just to inform the ambassador that in case there is anybody from Immigration trying to verify my status, see if I’m coming from Belize, [it] is true. I went to the Taiwan immigration detention center, at the time in my mind, because I heard he was [in the] immigration detention center. It’s not the media saying he was jail, he was not in jail; he was in the immigration detention center. Let me see what he got himself into, perhaps I can speak the language to help him get an attorney or whatever assistance he might need.”
Chang continued, “The immigration officer spoke to me, say ‘Mr. Chang, Deputy Mayor, you know why Mr. Wong Hong Kim is here?’ I don’t, I get this phone call from my friend, told me see if I could assist her, so I came. They told me, ‘Mr. Chang, this guy is not a good person. He’s not here for immigration offence. He’s done a lot of things in Korea which is not good things…We really don’t advise you to visit this guy because he is not a good person.’
“We had a long conversation, I had a long conversation with the immigration officers to get to the detail, understand what happened. So, therefore. I draw my line, I backed off. I did make an attempt, I was misled by Mr. Young, told me that there is a guy that need help in immigration detention center.”