Politics — 14 March 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks

The former Minister of State for Immigration, Elvin Penner, the disgraced UDP politician and area representative for the Cayo North East constituency, is about to become the first sitting member of the House of Representatives to face criminal charges for official wrongdoing, say lawyers for PUP leader Hon. Francis Fonseca.

Deputy Commissioner of Police and Head of the National Crime Investigation Branch, Russell Blackett, confirmed today that the police’s investigation of the Penner passport scandal is well underway.

“A file has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but there are still a few minor details that the police have to deal with, before the investigation is actually completed,” Blackett said.

When asked, however, how many persons have the police interviewed during the investigation, Blackett would only emphasize that “the investigation is almost complete.”

But as the police move to comply with the Supreme Court order of mandamus, directing the Commissioner of Police to proceed with and conclude the investigation of Elvin Penner, new details of the law that he is said to have violated are beginning to emerge.

Apart from a private lawsuit that the activist group Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) has filed in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court, Penner is still liable to face indictment under the criminal code.

Unlike the charges under the Passport Act and the Belize Nationality Act, which have a six- month statute of limitation period under the Summary Jurisdiction Procedure Act, there are charges which can be levied against Penner that have no statutes of limitation under the Criminal Code, the Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal announced last week via an email to the media.

In her email, Vidal pointed out that: “My analysis of the evidence presented to me thus far however, has centered around a consideration of a charge under Section 178 of the Criminal Code which makes it an offence of a person to ‘make a statement which is to his knowledge untrue for the purpose of procuring a passport whether for himself or any other person.’ This is an indictable offense and IS NOT subject to a period of limitation.”

Vidal’s email added: “I have also given certain directives to the police in relation to the gathering of further evidence which would enable the consideration of yet another indictable offence which is not subject to a period of limitation.”

Attorney Kareem Musa, who is a member of the Leader of the Opposition’s legal team, told us today that they had written to Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie last week, because the timeframe for the laying of charges was about to expire, and they had not heard anything from the commissioner.

“So we wrote to him and reminded him that there is a court order and if he continues to willfully defy that court order, we will have no choice but to bring contempt of court proceedings against him,” Musa said. “He immediately responded, telling us that he was carrying out his investigation and that he had sent his file over to the DPP,” Musa stated.

We later learned that same day that in fact, that was not so. The DPP confirmed that she had not received anything from the police until about 5:30 p.m. that evening—making it practically impossible for her to advise on any charges against Mr. Penner, Musa explained.

Musa pointed out that Section 178 of the Criminal Code that the DPP mentioned in her email is one of the sections that the PUP has long ago contemplated. But because that does not have a statute of limitation, that did not play any role in the mandamus application.

Musa said that Section 178 of the Criminal Code has a harsher penalty, and if Penner is prosecuted and found guilty under this section of the law, he could be sentenced to two years in prison.

Asked how optimistic he is that Penner will be charged criminally, Musa said that as long as the Commissioner of Police carries out a real investigation, “I am one hundred percent confident a conviction will result.”

Musa said that if the Commissioner of Police does his job, which is to investigate all matters pertaining to Elvin Penner at the Immigration Department, “I am certain he will uncover other irregularities, particularly those three Asian nationals who got passports that Elvin Penner lied about. Charges can be brought against him under Section 178.”

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