BELIZE CITY, Fri. Dec. 4, 2015–Whereas the supplementary appropriation bill for $44.7 million in PetroCaribe spending dominated the discussion in the National Assembly today, Friday, another headliner was the scandal surrounding the escape of international fugitive, David Nanes Schnitzer, who was also known in Belize as David Banes, and whose Belizean citizenship was recently revoked on the premise of fraud.
Hon. Kareem Musa, People’s United Party member for Caribbean Shores, who claimed “bragging rights” for being the area rep of United Democratic Party leader, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, raised the issue of the latest Immigration debacle involving Schnitzer.
Musa said Schnitzer was reportedly wanted for money crimes overseas but ran for cover to the beautiful tropical paradise called Belize, where, Musa alleged, officials and ministers “welcomed and sheltered him,” and provided him with residency, passport and even a voter’s ID.
“This latest immigration foul-up only served to open up a very fresh national wound left behind by Elvin Penner and Won Hong Kim,” Musa said.
He added that the Barrow administration had an opportunity to pursue charges against Schnitzer in relation to the alleged Immigration fraud before he skipped bail, but he was charged for a driver’s license offense and released on bail. He said that the outcome was a result of “multi-layered corruption.”
He also pointed to an order from the Minister of Immigration dated November 18, 2015, rescinding Schnitzer’s Belizean citizenship on the basis of alleged fraud.
Musa said that the Government had a fair opportunity before November 20 to make a criminal complaint against Schnitzer. He pointed to Section 22 of the Belize Nationality Act, regarding false statements, which is an offence punishable by 5-15 years in jail and a fine of up to $50,000.
He said this is another “disgraceful scandal for Belize,” and told the UDP administration:
If you’re serious, order an independent investigation, and as the Prime Minister always says, and let the chips fall where they may.
While Prime Minister Dean Barrow expressed regret in his reply to Musa, he did pledge that an independent investigation would be launched into the matter.
He said that although Schnitzer has skipped bail, charges are still pending and so he is being actively sought.
According to Barrow, there was an extradition request made by the Mexicans which had been pending for months, but during that period, Schnitzer could not have been found, so when he was detained, the idea was to proceed with that extradition request to issue a warrant for his arrest on that basis, since bail, as he understood it, is not given in extradition matters.
Hon. Barrow said that Belize did not hand over Schnitzer to the Mexicans based on legal advice, which indicated that although Belize had signed an extradition treaty with Mexico, that treaty had not been incorporated into Belize municipal law.
He added that he tremendously regrets that Schnitzer was able to get a social security ID and other bits of official documents in Belize—which “really he should never have obtained.”
“It is an indictment of the system…” he said, adding that when public officers and ministers engage in that behavior, it is “scandalous…” and he wants it to come to an end.
“Belize is scarred when these sorts of incidents occur,” he commented.
Barrow said that there were public officers taken before the Public Services Commission for the Penner scandal but “not a darn thing ever came out of it.”
“It means that in the round, there are so many things wrong, so many shortcomings, so many failures of our system that a complete review of all the structures is necessary because, I agree, we must and we will do better,” he concluded.
The PUP member for Toledo West, Hon. Michael Espat, alerted the nation of another immigration scam, which he said was perpetrated in the south on unsuspecting villagers of Bella Vista and Trio, who, he said, were pressured into paying in a “clandestine” manner.
Villagers were taken to a remote area in the Valley of Peace, where they were told to pay up for their nationality and some feared for their lives, Espat said. Fourteen Belizean nationalities, for which the persons allegedly paid $1,000 to persons purporting to be agents, were granted by the Belize Immigration Department on October 28.
Espat said that after the hard copies of the documentation were taken away from the villagers, they were advised to use their photocopies to take to Immigration for a residency card.
In reply, Barrow admitted that some weeks ago, he did receive a report of a scam, but went on to say that the person who had been fingered for involvement by police was actually a PUP operative who, he said, is an associate of Espat.
According to Barrow, the “chief architect,” whom he did not name, was “ultimately detained by police after villagers worked with authorities to lay a trap for him.”
While there was much debate over PetroCaribe dollars and Immigration matters, there was other national business on the agenda. At today’s sitting of Parliament, a bill was also tabled for the Belize National Coast Guard Service Act, which entails a name change to the “Belize Coast Guard,” as well as provisions that cover the appointment of a commander for the Coast Guard.
Two money motions were presented for approval: (1) a US$15 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), under the Sustainable Tourism Project II, for works in Corozal, Toledo, Cayo and Caye Caulker; and (2) a US$12 million loan from OFID (OPEC Fund for International Development) for an upgrade of the Hummingbird Highway, including the construction of 8 new bridges, drainage infrastructure and the installation of utilities and street lighting.
Bills were also tabled for Private Pensions, Treasury Bills, and a concession for Belize Island Holdings Limited, which is undertaking the Harvest Caye project for Norwegian Cruise Lines in southern Belize.
Barrow said that the Harvest Caye port will be fully operational in few months.
He also announced that the Commerce Bight Port will be developed to provide an alternate port in southern Belize.