BELIZE CITY–Two Bahamian men who have been named in a United States federal indictment for allegedly being involved in a money laundering and securities fraud scheme, appeared in the Belize City Magistrate’s Court today, where their trial on a charge brought by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) began.
On September 12, 2014, the FIU charged Kelvin Leach, 34, and Rohn Knowles, 29, with attempting to leave Belize without declaring U.S. $6,000 in cash, which is more than the prescribed BZ$10,000 allowed by law.
The two men had chartered a plane to fly them to their native Bahamas, and were apprehended at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA).
The FIU case is being prosecuted by attorneys Leni Ysaguirre and Sheena Pitts, who told the court that they intend to call nine witnesses.
This morning, two of those witnesses testified.
Nigel Carter, the Chief Operations Officer for the Civil Aviation Department, was the first witness to take the stand.
In his detailed testimony, Carter explained to the court that he was at his workstation at the PGIA on September 11, when communication was received from an aircraft that wanted to enter Belize airspace.
“The plane was not allowed to enter, because there were no submissions to Civil Aviation about the nationality of the aircraft”, Carter testified, adding, “We did not have any information regarding the aircraft.”
Carter testified that after the aircraft was refused entry to Belize airspace, Civil Aviation received several e-mails which contained some of the information required before an aircraft is allowed to enter Belize.
The e-mails contained a copy of the aircraft certificate and a copy of its airworthiness certificate along with the pilot’s license.
Freddy Romero, a Tropic Air employee, also testified today.
Romero told the court that he provided a quotation from Tropic Air to Chi Chez, someone who had inquired about the cost of chartering a Tropic Air plane to the Bahamas, for Leach and Knowles.
Chez agreed to pay the U.S. $10,000 it would have cost to charter the plane to fly the two men from Belize to the Grand Cayman Islands.
The case was adjourned to November 11, 2014.
Leach and Knowles are being defended by attorneys Godfrey Smith, S.C., and Leslie Mendez.
The two Bahamians are among four others indicted in September in an unsealed federal indictment in the District Court of New York.
Belizean Andrew Godfrey, 51, U.S. citizen Robert Bandfield, Canadian Brian De Wit and Cem Can, who were all involved in Belize’s offshore banking sector, have all been named in the U.S. indictment which accused the men and their companies of ripping off the U.S. tax system of 500 million U.S. dollars.
Apart from the case in the Magistrate’s Court, the FIU has also secured a court order to freeze the accounts of the companies and the individuals named in the U.S. indictment. That case is being heard in the chambers of the Supreme Court, before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.