Headline — 29 October 2013 — by Kareem Clarke
PM, Castro flee media on return to Belize!

Lady whistleblower has reportedly “spilled the beans” to both the US Embassy and the office of the Ombudsman

Last Friday afternoon the media houses of Belize thronged the Philip Goldson International Airport waiting to “ambush” Prime Minister Dean Barrow for his comments on recent allegations that another of his Ministers of State, Hon. Edmond Castro, was reportedly involved in corruption, this time a visa scandal. The Prime Minister had been in Los Angeles when the Castro scandal broke.

Still trying to deal with Minister of State Elvin Penner’s sensational “Citizen Kim” passport scandal in the Immigration Ministry, PM Barrow, just off a 9-day visit to California, apparently was in no mood to speak to the media about anything of the sort. The Prime Minister used his clout to have his vehicle waiting on the tarmac of the airport, and he and Mrs. Barrow walked from the United Airlines jet, after greeting some of his supporters, straight into his vehicle. His driver sped off, leaving a startled and disappointed media behind.

The PM had been in Los Angeles to meet with diaspora Belizeans, and also to seek medical attention for his chronic back pain. While he was away, all hell broke loose when an informant surfaced on Channel 5 and claimed that over a six-month period she had paid the Minister of State in the Ministry of Works and Transport, Hon. Edmond Castro, hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of a scheme that facilitated the immediate processing of up to 200 visas for Chinese nationals.

This came on the heels of the PM’s expulsion from Cabinet of former Minister of State, Elvin Penner, when stunning and incontrovertible evidence came to light regarding his involvement in a passport scandal that may have dangerous repercussions for the ruling UDP.

After expelling Penner from Cabinet but then vowing that the UDP would help him fight off a PUP attempt to “recall” Penner, the Prime Minister reversed direction two weeks ago and publicly asked Penner to resign from his Cayo Northeast seat and from the ruling party. Penner, at the time supposedly seeking attention for health issues in Guatemala, refused to resign, and in fact, upon his return to Belize last week Elvin Penner held firm to his previous statement that “only his constituents could tell him to resign.”

Though Penner, Belize’s first Mennonite Cabinet Minister, was supposed to have provided an update this week regarding his position on the Prime Minister’s request for his resignation, Amandala understands that he is presently hospitalized once more at Belize Medical Associates in Belize City, his second confinement there since the Citizen Kim scandal a few weeks ago.

Less than 24 hours after the PM’s disappearing act, another UDP Minister of State, Hon. Edmond Castro, who had also been out of the country, took a page out of Barrow’s book and likewise dodged the media on his return to Belize from Miami Saturday morning, going so far as to leave his luggage behind at the airport.

Today, however, Hon. Castro released a statement which said that he, Castro, “utterly rejects and condemns the viciously false and malicious story concocted about him by Channel 5 and its agent…”

Strangely, the title is “Statement by Honorable Edmond Castro,” yet it is written in the third person. In the statement, the Transport Ministry’s Minister of State flatly denies being engaged in any “visa ring,” and said that he never collected “a penny” from the woman who has been identified as the whistleblower.

Hon. Castro did admit, however, that the lady, one Alverine Burgess, visited his office some time ago, and that she asked him to write a letter recommending consideration of five visa applications that she was going to lodge with the Department of Immigration. According to Hon. Castro, that was the one and only time that he wrote such a letter for Burgess. He noted that writing the letter was “consistent with his role as a politician/public servant.”

Hon. Castro said that “as in all such cases, it was thereafter left to the Director of Immigration to decide whether or not the applications were in order and visas ought to be granted.”

The statement concluded by saying that Hon. Castro is “upset and angry” with Alverine Burgess and intends to force Channel 5 and Burgess to retract the story that “has so maligned” him. According to the statement, Hon. Castro has retained legal services to demand not only a retraction, but damages and an apology from both Channel 5 and Alverine Burgess. Reports are, nevertheless, that Alverine Burgess has made reports to both the US Embassy and the office of the Ombudsman on the Castro affair.

Channel 5’s news director, Amalia Mai, a former editor of The Belize Times and a PUP stalwart who has held various posts in PUP administrations, told KREM News that the television station stands by its story and will not be issuing any retraction.

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