BELIZE CITY, Tues. Jan. 5, 2016–The three containers of Guyanese rice that were brought to Belize by businessman Jitendra Chawla, aka Jack Charles, and which have been sitting at the port in Big Creek for the past three weeks, while Charles makes the legal rounds in the courts to get clearance, were almost wrestled out of his control today, when the Customs Department obtained an ex parte order from the Magistrate’s Court to seize the imported rice, presumably to destroy it—amid public outcry against what many deem to be a wasteful, senseless, almost obscene act.
On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonya Young denied Charles’ request for judicial review of the refusal by the Belize Agriculture and Health Authority (BAHA) to allow him to unload the rice for sale on the Belizean market. The court ruled that Charles was in violation of the BAHA Act when he brought the rice into the country without first getting the necessary permit.
The Customs Department’s legal advisor, attorney Tracy Sosa, made representation before Senior Magistrate Sharon Fraser this morning, without notifying Charles or his attorney; and by the time Sosa left court, the Customs Department was armed with a court order to seize the rice.
The Customs Department’s coup de main was short-lived, however. By midday, attorney for Charles, Michel Chebat, SC, was seen at the Supreme Court Registry. Later in the afternoon, Charles was conspicuous, as he stood on the outside of the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.
Chebat had completed the necessary paperwork and had obtained an injunction from the Chief Justice, stopping the Customs Department from seizing the containers of rice.
In an exclusive interview with Amandala, Charles said that he learned about the Magistrate Court’s ex parte order when someone called him and informed him about it.
“I was shocked and surprised,” Charles said. “I immediately called my attorney and he told me that Customs had applied and gotten an order this morning … to detain and destroy the rice. On those grounds, we went and got an injunction against the Magistrate’s decision.”
Amandala asked Charles what the value of the rice is.
He replied: “68 to 70 thousand Belize dollars.”
Amandala then asked Charles what is his next move.
Charles said, “We were just caught off-guard. We got information and we just had to act on that.”
Amandala further asked Charles what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios of the outcome of his efforts.
“I don’t see a worst-case scenario, because what we are trying to do is in the best interest of Belizean consumers, so that they could get cheaper rice,” Charles said.
Charles added, “… it is sad for the country to make those kinds of decisions. We never acted so efficiently in the time of Ebola or H1N1.”
Jack Charles and his attorneys, Chebat and Leroy Banner, will return to court on Tuesday, January 12, when Chief Justice Benjamin will decide if the Customs Department has enough grounds to seize the rice.
The notion of having so much rice destroyed, in a country where over 20,000 people are said by the UNFAO to be undernourished, has galvanized a lot of social criticism against the Government and its agencies who appear hell-bent to block the importance of the Guyanese rice.
For now, however, the matter will continue to be played out in court, and Charles’ legal bills as well as his port fees continue to mount.
Justice Sonya Young had ordered him to pay legal costs to the respondents in the failed judicial review application.