Headline — 23 October 2015
New passport controversy – “shades of Penner” scandal?

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Oct. 21, 2015–With general elections a mere two weeks away, another scandal involving passports began to unfold in San Ignacio Town on Tuesday after a bag containing a Belizean passport and several foreign-owned passports and other documents was discovered in a business establishment and handed over to police, who have not named the establishment.

The discovery led to two days of protests in front of the San Ignacio Police Station by People’s United Party supporters who view the discovery of the passports with suspicion, because they were connected to a known United Democratic Party operative.

This evening, Amandala spoke to the officer in charge of San Ignacio police, Superintendent Andrew Ramirez, who told us that the passports and documents were turned over to the Major Crimes Unit in Belmopan, and that he cannot make any comment.

We asked Ramirez if anyone had been questioned or detained by police in connection with the passports, but he declined to comment and referred us to the Major Crimes Unit, headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police George Myvett, with whom we were unable to get in contact.

With elections a mere two weeks away, someone in Government ought to have issued a proper official statement about these passports to assure the Belizean public that they were not being used for anything nefarious, having to do with the elections.

7News reported last night in its newscast that a UDP operative suspected of being involved with the bag containing the passports had explained that, “he had collected the passports while campaigning, and he was going to get visa extensions for a Honduran, a Guatemalan, an American, a Belizean, and 4 Salvadorans.”

Today, in a skimpy police press release, the police reported, “On 20 October, at about 2:00 p.m., police were called to a business place where they were handed a bag containing eight passports …. These items have since been handed over to Major Crimes Unit in Belmopan for investigation assisted by OC San Ignacio. Several persons have since been interviewed as investigations continue.”

The way the police is handling this passport issue is similar to what happened in the case of the Elvin Penner passport scandal, which broke on September 19, 2013, and which police refused to investigate.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow, after insisting Penner had broken no law when he signed a passport and nationality document for an imprisoned South Korean criminal, also said at a press conference, “If there is one thing that can and would bring down this government, it is hustling in immigration. That would cause the government to fall.”

Even though Elvin Penner, who was then a Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality, apparently violated the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Passport Act, his former cabinet colleagues, including Prime Minister Barrow, did everything to avoid a full-scale investigation that would have led to criminal charges being filed against him, and the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, disobeyed an order of mandamus from the Supreme Court that the Leader of the Opposition had gotten from the Chief Justice, to investigate Elvin Penner, who was later replaced as the UDP Cayo North East standard bearer.

Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca, after delivering his party’s manifesto yesterday, weighed in on the latest UDP debacle involving passports.

Fonseca said the discovery of passports in San Ignacio “validates a lot of the reports that we’ve been getting over the past few weeks about UDP operatives who are engaged in trying to bring in foreign nationals to participate in this election. We are concerned that the binders at the Elections and Boundaries Commission may be interfered with; that is a concern.”

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