Headline — 19 May 2015 — by Rowland A. Parks
“I paid Castro $2,000 for each visa application!”

BELIZE CITY, Fri. May 15, 2015–The presentation of evidence as part of the defamation case brought by Belize Rural North area representative Hon. Edmond Castro continued today in the Supreme Court of Justice Courtenay Abel with whistleblower Alvarine Burgess, who is named in the lawsuit as the first defendant (with Channel 5 News being the second defendant), taking the witness stand today.

Yesterday, Thursday, Castro, under blistering cross-examination by attorney Godfrey Smith, S.C, admitted that he signed the visa applications, out of the goodness of his heart, he said, to help Immigration agent turned whistleblower Alvarine Burgess, who needed money to assist her husband to get medical treatment outside Belize.

When Burgess testified today, she insisted that Castro did not help her out of any sense of compassion, but for the payment of $2,000 per visa application that he signed, recommending Asian nationals for Belizean visiting visas.

Burgess told the court, “I handed Mr. Castro money on every occasion that I went to see him at his office.”

Under cross-examination from Castro’s attorney, Rodwell Williams, S.C., Burgess maintained that she paid Castro to sign the visa recommendation letters. She said that she did not think that she did anything wrong, because it was the Minister who had insisted on being paid to sign the documents.

Castro, of course, maintained that he never took any money from Burgess for signing the recommendation letters.

Also of note, Castro told the court yesterday that when he met with Burgess, both his driver, Norman Middleton, and his friend, Vernon Cuthkelvin, were present.

Anthony Sylvestre, Burgess’ attorney, told reporters after the hearing that his client was “excellent and extremely fantastic” on the witness stand.

“In my short years of practice, I haven’t seen a more fantastic witness. I mean, questions were posed to her and she was good. She remained as firm as she was when she gave the first interview on the 23rd of October and the 12th of November. Anyone who was in court can see firsthand how credible she was.”

Burgess told reporters, “I believe that in life, once you tell the truth, no matter, there’s no going around, under or over it. The truth would always be the truth.”

When one reporter pointed out to her that it is his (Castro’s) word against hers, Burgess responded: “I believe I did a wonderful job. It’s for the Belizean public to see that we do have a corrupt government.”

Castro’s attorney, Williams, however, thinks that Burgess’ story has inconsistencies.

Williams said, “I think were you to seek to count the inconsistencies, they do add up. They may appear to be little inconsistencies. She sat on the fence. She doesn’t want to jump over that side or this side of the fence. ‘Fencing,’ as Mister Smith referred to. That’s all she did, fenced, and when the questions were too probing, she simply didn’t respond to them. I don’t remember, I don’t remember, I don’t remember.”

Williams said, “I don’t think it is conceivable to any reasonable person that Miss Burgess would wish to maintain that she could get away with saying ‘I bribe the Minister, but only the Minister is guilty of bribery. I don’t have anything to do with it, because the Minister tell me to give the money.’ No reasonable person would let that fly, in my view, even though there are unreasonable persons. I think that it really destroys her own credibility because she refused to conceive, even though she probably won’t accept she was morally wrong, but she’s more than morally wrong if what she said is true, but she is refusing to accept that.”

Williams said Burgess’ credibility “is impugned by the fact that she had the gall to say to a reasonable person or this court that bribery is a one-way street.” “There’s the briber and the bribee, the giver and the taker, and they’re both liable,” he said.

With the evidence part of the case over, the attorneys will now concentrate on the legal arguments and are tasked by the court to make written submissions before they return to court on July 3, when they will make final submissions, following which Justice Courtenay Abel will rule on whether or not Hon. Edmond Castro was defamed by the two defendants.

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