BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. June 7, 2017–Today, Carlos Perdomo, the current Cabinet Secretary and former Minister of National Security (which had then included the Immigration Department), returned from his vacation in Los Angeles.
However, before attending to his Cabinet duties, he was summoned to appear before the Senate Select Committee tasked with investigating a widespread pattern of irregularities in the Immigration Department.
Perdomo was questioned in regard to a portion of a report by the Auditor General, Dorothy Bradley, on her Special Audit of the Immigration Department, in which she revealed that Perdomo had influenced the issuance of a passport to an applicant that was using another person’s birth certificate.
In 2011, that applicant, claiming to be Paul Ku, along with Justice of the Peace (JP), Reina Chiu Hsiang Lo, appeared before retired Immigration Officer of thirty years, Therese Chavarria.
In her testimony to the Senate Select Committee in April, Chavarria recollected, “I asked where was he born, and he could not answer, because she [Reina Chiu Hsiang Lo] claimed that the young man attended school in Belize City at St. John’s School on Euphrates. I asked what was the name of your school? He could not answer. Can you give me one teacher who taught you in primary school? He could not answer. Can you give me the name of the street where your school is? He could not answer.”
Chavarria had gone on to tell the committee, “I told Ms. Reina that this passport cannot be issued.”
However, Lo would not take no for an answer and according to Chavarria, she was offered a bribe of $500, which she refused.
Chavarria had claimed that she decided to put the application on hold until after she had returned from her vacation, but while she was vacation, Minister Perdomo had suddenly instructed that the passport be issued to Ku.
When the Senate Select Committee asked Perdomo about his intervention in this application, he flatly denied any involvement.
“I did not give any directive, as the report says, to the director of immigration, and I would like to say that when I was briefed about this situation, the whole scenario was already completed, because nobody, at least from what was briefed to me orally, I did not know anything about this case,” he said.
While denying his involvement, Perdomo did not hesitate to throw Chavarria under the bus for testifying against him.
“Apparently, according to reports, she knew a lot of things, she was supposedly bribed, but nobody knew of that. She went on vacation, took files at home, which is pretty irregular, but nobody knew anything of that until she came back, and it is after everything is complete, passport signed, blah, blah, blah, that she makes a report after vacation,” he alleged.
According to Perdomo, he always exercised caution when signing off on documents.
“…my first thing is to read the minute (sheet), and if the minute (sheet) would ever say not all the papers are there and so, I would not sign it. So even though some of them have been proven to be fraudulent, I would always look for two minutes, one from the officer in charge of the section, and one from the director. And once they tell me all is in order, they meet legal requirements, and I would sign it,” stated Perdomo.
When the committee asked Perdomo, who was had responsibility for the police at the time, why he didn’t take action against Lo when he learnt that she had attempted to bribe a public officer, he claimed, “When the director briefed me on the issue, we decided that the department would need some additional investigation. Perhaps I didn’t pursue it, but the department did investigate, it didn’t do to the police, I don’t know why.”
Perdomo went on to concede, “I wouldn’t have rushed to the police with the knowledge that I had then, so the decision was to investigate more before going to the police, because it was kind of a little incredible story. We just left it at the department. I didn’t pursue it that strongly.”
According to him, he simply didn’t pursue because of, “busy-ness or something. However, he maintained, “it was not intentional.”
In his testimony, Perdomo revealed that Lo frequented the Immigration Department. When the committee asked if that raised any red flags, Perdomo claimed that at that time it did not.
Perdomo went on to tell the Committee that he wasn’t aware of any culture of corruption in the Immigration Department.
“I wasn’t aware that there was a culture of corruption, but in every talk with friends and so, you hear about customs, you hear about immigration, you hear about police, so that is how you hear,” he said.
He continued, “But I wasn’t aware there was a culture within the department, but you would hear jokes like this one got big house, like that so… I did not know there was the operative type of thing.”
After less than 2 hours of interrogation, Perdomo was allowed to leave the Senate hearing. He will be brought back to testify at a later date.