Penner only admitted that he met “Mr. Kim” in “Taiwan, in China,” but not in Belize
BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. May 10, 2017 –Elvin Penner, former Minister of State with responsibility for Immigration, today appeared before the Senate Select Committee to face the many accusations made against him in the Auditor General’s Special Immigration Audit.
Penner’s long-anticipated appearance was not short of theatrics. He attempted to end his appearance even before the committee could ask any questions.
However, he did not employ the same blunt tactic used by alleged visa agent, Barton Middleton, who, during his last appearance, immediately chose to “invoke his constitutional rights” and “shut up.”
With a 5-page document in hand, Penner rattled off like a lawyer, even enunciating Latin, as he read why he would not testify.
According to him, he had already been tried and acquitted of charges brought against him in the issuance of a Belizean nationality certificate and passport to jailed South Korean criminal, Won Hong Kim, who never set a foot in Belize.
“Having duly been acquitted by a competent court of Belize, the Won Hong Kim episode is to be regarded as a closed chapter, as a lawyer would say, ‘Res judicata.’ And I will not be responding to any questions relating to that issue or to any related issue which could have been the subject of the criminal prosecution that concluded…” Penner said.
He continued, “There is no provision to compel a witness to answer a question related to his or her acquittal. There are provisions, however, that allow for the questioning of witnesses in certain instances about a prior conviction.”
“Having laid out the rights and privileges afforded to me under the law, I am now prepared to furnish a response to any questions that are legally permissible and questions that are relevant to the findings of the Auditor General’s Special Report,” he ended.
Chairman of the Senate Select Committee, Aldo Salazar, disagreed totally with Penner’s position.
“I’ve listened to what you have to say, and I am constrained to say that I disagree totally with what you have said,” he told Penner.
He continued, “I do not feel that you can pray in aid of that privilege, and that it prevents you from having to respond to any of the questions posed to you here today, related to the Wong Hong Kim matter or any other matter which is referred to in the report of the Auditor General.”
According to Salazar, while Penner has privileges as a witness, those privileges do not extend to his refusal to testify.
“In my view, the only legitimate reason for you to refuse to answer any question is whether it is not a matter which is the subject of this inquiry…” Salazar said.
Salazar further explained to Penner that the questions posed by the committee would not be in relation to his acquittal, or about his trial.
Salazar added, “This committee cannot find you guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. This evidence cannot lead to any criminal finding by us. The only thing that can come from this, in terms of criminal proceedings, is the issue of perjury.”
Salazar also explained to Penner that his refusal to answer questions could lead to a violation of constitutional provisions, which could result in imprisonment.
“It is my obligation to put all the questions to you, which I intend to do; your refusal to answer … that’s a decision for you. I’ve already stated why, in my view, you cannot claim any constitutional right not to answer, because the section which you cited does not refer to what you’re saying…,” said Salazar.
Despite Salazar’s comments, Penner maintained his position on the grounds that he had gotten competent legal advice.
“My decision will be to stick to what I just said in my opening statement, that I will not answer questions that I don’t think that I am legally required to answer, and I will not answer questions that are not relevant to the Special Report of the Auditor General,” he said.
Salazar would not budge and reasserted that the committee would ask its questions. Penner did not object and with that established, the committee was able to try to delve into the meat of the matter, Won Hong Kim.
Here is the exchange that took place:
Salazar: “This is an interview with Gordon Wade; he says the Minister, Elvin Penner, brought in the application without the original documents. This is in relation to the nationality of Won Hong Kim. It says that you brought in that application and you promised to bring the native passport and birth certificate of Won Hong Kim. However, you later requested that the file be passed to the director for her to deal with and thereafter, it was approved. Was that the case?”
Penner: “All I will respond to that is that if you would locate the nationality file as Won Hong Kim, you would see that all proper documents were in that file that needed to be in that file before it was signed.”
Salazar: “That is not the question. Mr. Wade is saying that he held on to this file because it did not have the required documentation, but that later on, you asked for the file. I’m asking you if that is correct. Is this true?”
Penner: “I don’t recall asking him for the file.”
Senator Eamon Courtenay: “I understand it that you said just now that you knew a gentleman by the name of Kim Wong Hong?”
Penner: “No, his name is Won Hong Kim, but better known to myself and friends of his as Mr. Kim.”
Courtenay: “How and when did you meet Mr. Kim?”
Penner: “Again, that’s a question that I will not answer.”
Courtenay: “Mr. Penner, can you tell the committee why you’re not answering that question?”
Penner: “I made my statement and my reasons why in the opening statement. You can refer to that and like I said, if that is not sufficient for you to excuse me to not answer that question, then the Senate has the full right to do and take whatever actions you feel necessary to take.”
Courtenay: “But you are confirming to this committee that this gentleman known as Mr. Kim was known to you?”
Courtenay: “You said ‘and his friends’ — who else are you referring to?”
Penner: “I’m not going to answer that question with regards to Mr. Kim.”
Courtenay: “Why are you not answering?”
Penner: “Refer to my opening statement.”
Salazar: “I don’t understand that answer, because it’s a privilege. You are talking about a privilege against self-incrimination.”
Penner: “I already said I am not concerned about your interpretation of the laws and privileges or privilege I don’t have. I’m relying upon the legal advice I got.”
Salazar: “…I don’t see how you being able to identify the friends of Kim has anything to do with you or what you read this morning.”
Penner: “I don’t know the names of Mr. Kim’s friends. Whenever we had meetings in the past, I’m just saying that he was referred to by the persons in that meeting and myself as Mr. Kim.”
Courtenay: “Who were in those meetings?”
Penner: “I said I don’t recall who the persons are that were in that meeting.”
Courtenay: “Where were the meetings?”
Penner: “In Taiwan, in China.”
Courtenay: “And a person by the name of Mr. Kim was present in those two meetings?”
Courtenay: “When was this?”
Penner: “I don’t recall the exact dates.”
Courtenay: “Was Eric Chang present in either of those meetings?”
Penner: “No, he was not.”
Courtenay: “When was the last time that you met or you were in the company of Mr. Kim?”
Penner: “I don’t recall exact dates.”
Courtenay: “Who introduced you to Mr. Kim?
Penner: “It was a business person from Taiwan; I don’t remember that person.”
Courtenay: “Well, I’m asking you to try to recollect, how did it come about?”
Penner: “It was a business trip where we went to meet with businessmen…”
Courtenay: “Who is ‘we’?”
Penner: “It was myself and if I recall correctly, my cousin Peter, although he was not present in that meeting; that’s because I went by myself. It was simply a meeting where I got to understand that there were some individuals that had interest in investing in Belize and that interested me as well, for the better of the country, and that’s why I attended the meeting.”
Courtenay: “Did you and Mr. Kim at that meeting have any discussion about Belizean nationality, visa anything at all to do with immigration?”
Courtenay” “As a result of that, what business interest did Mr. Kim express, if any?”
Penner: “The main discussion would have been perhaps real estate.”
Courtenay: “Real estate — did Mr. Kim ever come to Belize?”
Penner: “I don’t know that.”
Courtenay: “You ever met Mr. Kim in Belize?”
Penner: “No, I have not.”
Courtenay: “You would agree with me that since you have never met Mr. Kim in Belize, clearly, you did not take him or accompany him to the Passport Office. Is that correct?”
Penner: “I will not answer any more questions in regards to Mr. Kim.”
Courtenay: “Are you prepared to agree to the obvious, that if you have never met him in Belize, he did not accompany you to the Immigration and Nationality Department?”
Penner: “Again, I will not answer any questions with regards to Mr. Kim.”
With that the Committee turned to the case of Yakup Sut, a Turkish national who, with the help of Penner, received a Belizean nationality certificate and passport in a fashion that is similar to the way Won Hong Kim acquired his nationality documents.