BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 31, 2017–On Wednesday afternoon, PUP leader John Briceño called a press conference in which he chastised Prime Minister Dean Barrow, his former deputy, Gaspar Vega, and Vega’s son, Andre Vega, for yet another incident of corruption inside the UDP administration.
“We Belizeans have witnessed an obvious act of misfeasance in public office, which occurred at the Lands Ministry during the tenure of former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega,” Briceño said. “I place on record our utter dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister’s dismissive comment to the press when asked about the recent revelations of yet another Vega land scheme,” he further stated.
When PM Barrow was asked for a comment on the transactions involving the Vegas, he had responded, “It is what it is,” and that he did not know if there was any “actionable illegality” about the transactions.
With another land hustle staring him in the face, PM Barrow said that he did not know if there was any “actionable illegality” about the transactions.
According to Briceño, the PM was simply, “making light of one of his minister’s land hustles,” in a “case of self-dealing on the part of his former Deputy Prime Minister.” The Prime Minister chose “to do nothing while the nation’s patrimony was being looted and stolen,” Briceño said.
He called this newly surfaced land transaction “a well-orchestrated get-rich scheme by the Vega family.” For too long the Prime Minister has, “turned a blind eye to what was happening in the Ministry of Lands under his former Deputy Prime Minister,” he said. Briceño reminded the PM that four years ago he, the PM, was the one to publicly declare that the Ministry of Lands under Vega was “a hotbed of corruption”.
Briceño said that this “latest scam operation that occurred at the Lands Department during the tenure of former Deputy Prime Minister Vega can be added to the Shipstern seafront properties, the close to 1,700 acres of land in the Carmelita area now famously called Rancho Vega, and the more than 400 acres of land in the Spanish Creek area near the Belize River on the George Price Highway,” and the “lands that were de-reserved from the Don Elijo Panti National Park in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the countless caye lands sold cheaply to his family members and associates, and the big hustle in respect to compensation for lands his son Andre and other family members received.”
The PUP leader said that the latest incident could be compared with what occurred with the land near the Haulover Bridge, which was private land for which the Government ended up compensating Andre Vega and Sharon Pitts at $400,000 each.
“Now this Mosquito Caye land swap is an obscene UDP scam designed to reward the Vegas with their own private island located right next to Leonardo di Caprio’s Blackadore Caye,” he said. The PUP believe that Mosquito Caye could fetch around five million US dollars at today’s market price.
Briceño explained that in this latest scandal, the Government of Belize (GoB) compensated a company called Aquarius Ltd. for a portion of land Aquarius Ltd. had acquired privately. The very same private land that the GoB knew it did not own, was transferred to Darrel Henry and Amy Forte (who said that her signature had been forged on the documents) for $2,500 each. Henry and “Forte” then purportedly sold their parcels of land to Andre Vega and Eduardo Vega in separate transactions.
“The lands that were sold to Andre Vega and Eduardo Vega was once again discovered to be private land, and so for the second time the Government had to compensate individuals for the same land. That is the same land for which compensation had been paid to Aquarius Ltd.,” Briceño said.
When the news broke, Forte, in a letter from her lawyer, told Prime Minister Dean Barrow that she never received the title to the land or made any purchase or made any sale to Vega. Forte had tests done to the documents bearing her signature and according to the expert, her signature was forged.
The allegedly fraudulent Conveyance bears the signature of Ms. Darlene Padron, a Justice of the Peace who worked at the Ministry of Lands under Vega.
“We know that she is a UDP operative. She has put her name forward to try to represent the UDP both in San Felipe and in Orange Walk South,” Briceño said.
“We know that Gaspar Vega brought in key people in key areas of the ministry,” Briceño noted. “Remember his nephew—he has one as deputy commissioner of lands and one as deputy registrar of lands, two individuals that knew nothing about land and then he brought in Miss Gillett, the daughter of Derrick Gillett, who is compadre with Gaspar Vega, and he brought in also Darlene Padron and even appointed her as justice of the peace so that they can sign the documents within themselves—they don’t have to go outside of the ministry,” Briceño detailed.
Briceño said that it is time for the Prime Minister to take action.
He is requesting that the PM (1) ensures that the Commissioner of Police instruct the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Police Department to open an investigation “into the fraudulent scams by the Vega family”; (2) in his capacity as Minister of Lands, immediately cancel all land titles issued, since 2008, by the Government of Belize to members of the Vega family; (3) establish a Commission of Inquiry into the hotbed of corruption in the Ministry of Lands for the period 2008 to 2015; and (4) instruct the Attorney General to initiate a claim for misfeasance in public office against Gaspar Vega and ensure the recovery of all the ill-gotten gains by his family, and damages in the millions for loss suffered by the people of Belize.
Briceño revealed that the PUP will table a motion in National Assembly calling for a full and thorough investigation into the Ministry of Lands during the tenure of Gaspar Vega, and that he will also instruct the PUP Senators to call for the same in the Senate.
The PUP also hope to revisit the idea of effecting the recall mechanism to have Hon. Vega removed from the National Assembly, thereby triggering a by-election.