Crime General — 15 August 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks
COLA appeals decision to strike out charges against Elvin Penner

BELIZE CITY—Almost one year since the Elvin Penner passport scandal exploded on the national scene on September 19, 2013, there have been all kinds of public relations tactics on the part of the Dean Barrow administration to shield the former Minister of State from facing criminal charges.

The move for a private prosecution on the part of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) was met with all kinds of official roadblocks.

And ultimately, COLA’s efforts to hold Penner criminally responsible in its private prosecution were described as “a waste of time” by the titular head of Belize’s Judiciary, the Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington.

On Wednesday, however, the grassroots organization filed an appeal of the Belmopan Magistrate’s decision to strike out the two immigration charges against the former Minister of State with responsibility for Immigration.

The case climaxed in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, July 24, when Magistrate Aretha Ford struck out the two charges that were brought by COLA’s president Giovanni Brackett, and activist Nedal McLaren, for want of prosecution.

On the day the case was set for trial, COLA’s attorney, Kareem Musa, still was unable to get his hand on the hard evidence needed to succeed in the private prosecution, so he attempted to invoke Section 30 of the Summary Jurisdiction Procedures Act, to summon government officials to court who are in possession of pertinent evidence.

Musa told Amandala that Section 30 of the Summary Jurisdiction Procedures Act provides the Magistrate with that discretion.

“The appeal is going to argue, that, essentially, the Magistrate erred in the exercise of her discretion, because she ought to have summoned the Commissioner of Police under Section 30,” Musa explained. “Her decision not to summon him was that this matter was already before the Supreme Court in the form of a writ of mandamus against the Commissioner of Police.

“But as I argued then, and as I will argue now, it’s two different cases entirely,” Musa said.

“She is saying that the responsibility of summoning a witness is our responsibility and we ought to have done that,” Musa stated.

He added: “That is not what Section 30 is. Section 30 is us applying to the Magistrate to summon a witness. Had we summoned the witness, the witness had to have given us a written statement.”

Musa said that COLA never had that power to summon the Commissioner of Police, but the Magistrate had the power to summon him and other witnesses.

“If the appeal succeeds, the Commissioner of Police would have to turn over his investigative file to the COLA prosecutor,” Musa pointed out, “and the case would then have to go back to the Magistrate’s Court for a proper trial.”

The Director of Public Prosecutions had indicated that there are indictable offences that Elvin Penner could be charged with, that are not statute-barred as are the two criminal complaints that COLA had filed against him, Musa confirmed to Amandala tonight.

There has, however, been no word from the Commissioner of Police about whether or not the police’s investigation has been completed, up to the last time a check was made, Musa said.

Indeed, the government’s reluctance to proceed with criminal charges against Penner can be deduced from the appeal against the writ of mandamus filed on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, by the Solicitor General, Musa opined, adding that the one valuable piece of evidence, the Won Hong Kim Belize passport that Penner allegedly used false information to procure for the South Korean, in prison at the time, remains in Taiwan, out of reach of COLA, the DPP and the Commissioner of Police.

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