Highlights — 14 June 2016 — by Rowland A. Parks
Bulgarian ATM thieves sentenced to one year in prison

BELIZE CITY, Fri. June 10, 2016–Today was sentencing day for two Bulgarian men who had each pleaded guilty to 18 counts of theft, for illegally withdrawing a total of $14,800 from the Belize Bank using phony credit and debit bank cards which they presumably brought into the country.

Halid Aptula, 28, and Georgi Petrov, 25, have been at the Belize Central Prison awaiting sentencing. They were supposed to have been sentenced two days ago, but the court did not have an interpreter on hand to proceed.

When they were arraigned on the charges on May 20, 2016, both men pleaded guilty to stealing $8,000 and $6,800 respectively.

The two were videotaped on the bank’s surveillance system making the withdrawals between May 6 and May 7, 2016, the date on which the offences occurred.

When Halid Aptula was caught red-handed by an employee of the bank on Saturday, May 7, police moved in and arrested his partner, Gerogi Petrov.

At the room where both men were staying, police confiscated almost $22,000 in cash, 111 fake credit cards and 250 additional bank cards.

In imposing the one-year prison sentence, Senior Magistrate Sharon Fraser explained that a prison sentence was the appropriate sentence, because if they had not been caught, perhaps they would have still been out there continuing to withdraw monies from the bank.

Fraser noted that the men saved the court the time of a lengthy trial by admitting to the charges. Therefore, she sentenced them to three months in prison for the first 4 counts of theft. Since the sentences are to run consecutively, this adds up to 12 months.

The three-month sentences for the other 14 counts are to run concurrently. This means that the men will only have to spend a total of one year in prison.

After the sentencing, attorney Christelle Wilson, who represented Georgi Petrov, told reporters: “As attorneys we have to be practical when we are advising, our clients. We know that certain information was put before the court and we thought it was in their better interest to plead guilty.”

Wilson explained that the sentence could have exceeded three years, and a fine could also have been levied against the men.

“For them to get 3 months to run concurrently and 3 months consecutively which amounts to 1 year, we find that to be very lenient and we are very thankful to the court for giving us that sentence today,” Wilson told the press.

After the sentencing, the court prosecutor made an application under the Money Laundering and Terrorism Prevention Act to confiscate the properties of the two men. The properties include a Honda car, laptop computers, iPhones and the cash police found when they searched the men’s room.

Wilson and Oscar Selgado, also a defense attorney, explained in court that the threshold to confiscate the properties had not been met because the men were charged separately, and the particular law speaks of a $10,000 threshold —which would not have been met in either case.

Earlier in the week, Amandala was informed by a senior police source that the police were compiling over eighty additional charges against the two Bulgarians.

“Those charges would have had to have been brought at the initial time the first were brought. Remember when those charges were read, our clients pled guilty. So they have already been convicted of those charges that came on the 7th and 8th of May,” Wilson said.

She added that, “in accordance with autrefois convict, they cannot be tried again for the same crime…”

She said that such action by police “…would be putting our clients in a double jeopardy situation, which would be going against their constitutional rights.”

“So I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t see how they would try to do that and if they try that, then they’d be making some very serious constitutional arguments against that,” she further commented.

The case continues on June 21, when the prosecutor and the two attorneys will square off over the application to confiscate the property of the Bulgarians.

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