Politics — 25 February 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks

Will Prevention of Corruption Act defeat Hon. Castro in his libel suit against Channel 5?

Attorneys for Minister of State Edmund Castro, Channel 5 News and Alverine Burgess were at the Supreme Court today, Monday, for a case management session before the start of a libel suit that Castro has filed against Channel 5 News and Alverine Burgess.

But if attorney Godfrey Smith, S.C., who is representing Channel 5 News, has his way, Castro’s claim will be struck out under a provision in the Prevention of Corruption Act, he told reporters.

Less than one month after the Penner Passport Scandal broke, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, speaking at a press conference on October 23, said he had reports that Cabinet ministers were involved in a visa hustle.

The Prime Minister emphatically begged his ministers to “please stop it,” adding that hustling at the Immigration Department “could cause the government to fall.”

Then into the picture stepped Alverine Burgess, a whistleblower who alleged that she had paid Minister Castro money to secure visas for as many as 200 Asian nationals. While Castro has admitted to meeting with Burgess, he has flatly denied his involvement in the so-called Cabinet visa hustle.

Castro, who was out of the country when the allegations against him were made, threatened a lawsuit against Channel 5 News, and its whistleblower, if the station did not air a retraction.

Channel 5 News Director Amalia Mai had said that the station was sticking by its story.

Now the matter is before the Supreme Court.

Smith told reporters that the case is at “a very preliminary stage, with just the case management occurring this morning, before the judge.”

Smith said that the judge has made a case management order and he (Smith) would be applying to strike out the claim of Minister Castro against Great Belize Productions (Channel 5) on a very discreet ground.

“That is that the Prevention of Corruption Act, which provides us with immunity from civil liability, once we file a complaint with the Integrity Commission,” he explained.

Smith said that “Section 34 of the Prevention of Corruption Act is part of a region-wide initiative by the Organization of American States to encourage whistleblowers to not be afraid of victimization or being sued, so that corruption can be tackled honestly and in a serious way.”

Smith added that orders were given to the filing of that application, exchange of arguments, etcetera, and they would return to court on June 16.

Smith said they intend to test that section of the law in the claim that Castro has filed.

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