BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. Mar. 1, 2017 –The Senate Select Committee continued its hearing today, Wednesday, into the Auditor General’s Special Report which claimed that an elected United Democratic Party (UDP) official, former Belize City Council Deputy Mayor Eric Chang, as well as the Council’s financial controller Patrick Tillett, were both involved in the purchasing of visa stickers stolen from the Immigration Department’s Western border.
Mark Tench, an Immigration officer of eighteen years who was stationed at the Western Border during the period when the stickers were stolen, appeared in front of the Senate Select Committee today and recalled what transpired.
Tench recounted, “On the 26th of December, which was Boxing Day, I was the supervisor on shift, 6 a.m. shift. I came to work with two other officers, Requeña and Crawford…Upon entering the door, 6 o’clock… we shift over from the night person … there is one night person that works there…and there was a gentleman wanting to buy a visa…I went to the cabinet, took out the visa foils that was there with the book. We have a book, a visa book…Upon checking the last number in the visa book, it was not corresponding with the numbers in the foil, and so I looked through the things. I thought that it was maybe placed randomly… I called the two officers who were working with me, Crawford and Requeña, and we looked over it again, and I came to the realization that those visas were missing.”
Mark Tench claimed that Immigration officer Edgar Cano never contacted the police
According to Tench, his superior, Immigration officer Edgar Cano, allowed him to investigate the incident, which led him to Patrick Tillett. Tillett reportedly agreed to meet with Tench at Calypso Restaurant in Belize City.
However, when Tench and two other Immigration officers arrived, they did not meet Tillett alone; instead, he was with Eric Chang.
Here is an excerpt from the hearing of the questioning that followed Tench’s account:
Senator Aldo Salazar: “Did anybody explain the purpose of Mr. Chang being there?”
Tench: “Well, Mr. Chang informed us that he was the one who was getting the visas for some people and they had bought it through a person and they had realized that the visas were not good, not valid and that is why they had taken it to Belmopan office. What they wanted, they wanted us to help them get back their money; that was why they chose to meet with us. They wanted to see if we could help them get back their money that they had lost through that deal that they had made.”
Salazar: “Do you know the amount of money?”
Tench: “According to them, it was $5,000 per visa.”
Salazar: “They wanted their money back?
Tench: “They admitted that they had bought the visas. They paid $5,000 per visa, and that the visas were not done properly. They also told me that they had looked at a person who had gotten another legitimately issued visa and they could have seen some of the discrepancies. So, once they saw that, they decided to see if they can get the visas fixed in the office in Belmopan.”
According to Tench, Chang and Tillett claimed to have bought the stolen items from a man identified as “Mr. Middleton,” who then claimed to have received the items from another man identified only as “Gaddafi” from Corozal.
Tench travelled to Corozal and met Gaddafi, who claimed that “Mr. Middleton” was the “brains behind this operation.”
Tench told the Senate Select Committee that he suspected several Immigration officers were involved in this operation, because the general public never had access to the visa stickers.
He told the committee, “…Any officer who had the intent, they would have just waited for the opportunity to take out [the foils]and because they have been officers for over, most of them a long [period], nobody would have looked at them in any kind of suspicious manner.”
While the investigation launched by Tench was very fruitful and revealing, he conceded he was unable to go any further and indicated to his superior that he should contact the police. However, the police were never called in for assistance.
Tench told the committee that upon returning from his meeting with Gaddafi, he telephoned Immigration officer Edgar Cano, requesting that Cano contact the police for help.
Here are Tench’s exact words shared with the committee: “I told him you need to call the police because we have done everything. We cannot take this anymore. We cannot call in anybody from off the street. The reason why those people met with us is because they thought we could help them with something, but now that it would have turned into a point of a criminal offence, they wouldn’t talk to us anymore. They would not do that.
“So I told them, call the police. Let us get the police involved, so that they can do a thorough investigation and we already knew most of the facts; it would have been just to push a little more [and] we would have gotten that whole thing, but they never did.”
According to Tench, Cano never called the police. Instead, Tench and Immigration officer Vernon Leslie, were blamed for the missing stickers.
“…Me and Mr. [Vernon] Leslie was blamed for these visas being missing. I am the only person who has done any investigation on this matter and even when they had the hearing last year and we got exonerated from that hearing through the Public Service Commission, they still have not done any investigation, and the thing about this is that it is unfair to the department, the scandal with the department, to all the officers who have been dragged here, and the real culprits have never even [been] asked a simple question,” Tench told the committee.
When she appeared in front of the Senate Select Committee some weeks ago, former Immigration CEO Candelaria Saldivar-Morter told the committee that Tench had been sanctioned and charged for the 8 stolen visa stickers and was forced to pay $16,000 for them.
However, according to Tench, no such thing happened. He went on to accuse Saldivar-Morter of slander against him during the Senate hearing. He presented a letter to the committee from the Public Service Commission, suggesting that he was freed of those accusations brought against him.