The community activist group Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) held a press conference today at the Radisson Fort George Hotel, at which they confirmed that the preliminary Auditor General’s Report on the Immigration Department which was leaked to them mentions at least five unqualified persons who were granted Belizean nationality through the former Minister of State for Immigration, Elvin Penner.
COLA is pursuing a private prosecution of Hon. Penner, the Cayo North East area representative who was booted out of Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s Cabinet last September when the immigration scandal broke and the country discovered that Penner had approved a Belize passport and Belize nationality papers for Won Hong Kim, a South Korean criminal who was in a Taiwanese prison when he was granted Belize nationality.
COLA’s president, Giovanni Brackett, in his opening remarks at the press conference said: “This report is very damning. If this report was released earlier, COLA, we could have laid multiple counts of the similar charge against Penner. This is corruption to the highest levels. The police should have been brought in much earlier.”
According to Brackett, the Auditor General had difficulties in putting together the report, and Auditor General Dorothy Bradley had written Immigration Chief Executive Officer Candelara Saldivar-Morter to express concern that Immigration Director Maria Marin has “demonstrated blatant disrespect for [my] office and lack of regard for the law.”
“Marin consistently found ways to evade requests made by the auditors for records,” Brackett quoted the Auditor General as saying in her report.
Brackett said that the report also said that “Minister of Immigration Godwin Hulse, at the very least, was uncooperative” with the audit team.
“How else can he [Hulse] explain that the Auditor General’s team has been pushed around?” Brackett asked.
Attorney Kareem Musa, who is leading the prosecution in COLA’s private prosecution of Elvin Penner, said that it is the Prime Minister’s Commissioner of Police and his Director of Public Prosecutions who have not come forward with the report.
Musa went on to say that a massive cover-up is taking place, and that this cover-up is bigger than the charges that Penner is facing.
Musa also mentioned the five instances listed in the Auditor General’s Report in which Penner issued passports, in contexts similar to the circumstances surrounding the issuance of nationality to Won Hong Kim, in the sense that none of those who received passports ever set foot in Belize, none of them have had permanent residence, the signatures that were found on the passport application forms did not correspond to the signatures found on other legal documents, and the nationality certificates for all five were backdated.
“And the Auditor General’s Report said they were backdated by Elvin Penner,” Musa explained.
“The names of the two recommenders for the five individuals claim that they know the individual applicants, who have never set foot in Belize … none of the five applicants paid their $300 fee. They were given their nationality free by Elvin Penner and the high ranking officials at the Immigration Department,” Musa declared.
Musa said that the Auditor General drew the conclusion that high ranking officials at the Immigration Department committed criminal offenses under Section 22 of the Belize Nationality Act.
“That opportunity to prosecute Elvin Penner for those four other cases has been lost, because the Prime Minister and his government have been sitting down on this very critical information that we would have needed [to] prosecute Elvin Penner and the high ranking officials over at the Immigration Department … the six-month limitation has lapsed. So all that we have before us now is Won Hong Kim,” Musa said.
Musa said that according to the Auditor General, she has still not yet received some vital records from the Immigration Department, and that these records are in the possession of Minister Hulse.
The report, according to Musa, also says that Addie Pacheco, a senior employee of the Immigration Department, told the auditors that she did certain things because she feared Elvin Penner would have transferred her to another department.
According to Pacheco, Penner walked into the Immigration Department in September 2013, requested the Won Hong Kim immigration file along with others, and walked out with the immigration files in hand.
“No, I don’t know what you all call that, but I consider that to be theft of government property,” Musa exclaimed. “Elvin Penner has no right to walk into a government department and to take an Immigration file. That is tampering with a very key piece of evidence for this prosecution – that is obstruction of justice,” Musa added.
“Pacheco prepared a list of all the files that Penner stole from the Immigration Department and gave it to Godwin Hulse. Have you reported that to the police, Mr. Hulse?” he questioned.
“What are you going to do about that, Mr. Prime Minister?” Musa asked.
But at a press conference hosted by Prime Minister Dean Barrow yesterday, Wednesday, June 11, he told the nation that: “That report will point to a number of other instances, and will finger Minister Penner, but I’m saying that’s not anything new. I said that a long time ago, but whether — well – my own assessment, it will not take things any further in terms of providing the Director of Public Prosecutions with the kind of provable material that can be introduced as evidence in a court of law.”
COLA’s vice president Gilroy Usher, Jr., and Rufus X also spoke at the press conference.