General — 15 March 2012 — by Aaron Humes
Late this evening Amandala learned that the Customs and Excise Department continues to hold a total of seven “suspicious” imported containers while it checks samples taken today to determine if the chemicals the containers are said to hold are in fact what they are said to be.
A Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed tonight that six containers imported by the company Belize Garden Consortium, three of which are manifested as containing the chemical ammonium sulfate and the others containing titanium dioxide, have been and are being examined.
The official declined to say at this time why the Department’s suspicions were raised by these particular containers, and a seventh, registered to a Belize Evergreen and also said to contain titanium dioxide.
He did confirm, however, that the inspection, if it determines that all is aboveboard, will result in the release of the containers, and said that thus far the owner of the six Consortium containers is cooperating with authorities.
As for the seventh container, the Department has spoken with the person whose name is listed as the contact for the company, but that person, whose name has not been released to us, has told the Department that they did not import anything, and so that container, which has been held since February 14, remains unclaimed.
The listed owner of Belize Garden Consortium, registered as a company approximately a year ago, is Vernon Cuthkelvin, a known supporter of the United Democratic Party (UDP).
Cuthkelvin has gotten into scrapes with the law, most recently when he failed to pay a hotel bill in Corozal Town and ran into trouble at the Ministry of Housing. Even Housing Minister Michael Finnegan has gone as far as to denounce him publicly as “a UDP soldier who has gone astray and needs psychological care.”
But speaking with Amandala tonight, Cuthkelvin insists he has “gone straight,” and is now peeved at the delay in the release of containers he says he imported legally some 2 to 3 weeks ago.
According to Cuthkelvin, his business specializes in the making of fertilizer, in which these two chemicals are important. However, he notes that since the 2010 “pseudoephedrine epidemic,” in which as many as eight containers in six months flooded Customs, the Department has been flagging and checking containers with certain products and from certain places, most notably the People’s Republic of China, from where Cuthkelvin admits these chemicals originated. He also thinks that the amount of containers, six, was an issue.
Cuthkelvin told us that Customs had previously taken samples from his containers last Friday, and after not finding what they were looking for, approached him to take further samples, which he agreed to. He has also offered – and Customs accepted, he says – to have another laboratory in Florida test the content of the containers.
“How can you find what you are not looking for? The substances in those containers are legal; they cannot find what they are looking for, and so they will have to do the honorable thing and release the containers,” a confident Cuthkelvin told Amandala.
He insists that the whole matter is being “blown out of proportion,” including reports that the contents of the containers are worth a fantastic sum of money, which would be enough, he notes, to pay off the “Superbond” of Belize’s debt and have change left over.
The two chemicals he is importing, Cuthkelvin insisted, are legal to import in Belize and have been imported by his larger rivals for many years, in at least one instance. He also incurs charges and other expenses the longer the containers stay at the Customs yard.
The experience, says Cuthkelvin, “…is costing me my energy, my time, my money; it is not fair and it is not right…”
Ammonium sulfate is banned in Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular for allegedly being used to make explosives, but as Cuthkelvin pointed out to us, “not everything used illegally is illegal.”