General — 20 June 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks

COLA’s private prosecution a waste of time — Attorney General

There is no list of missing Penner files — Immigration Minister

The Elvin Penner passport scandal that has been rocking the Dean Barrow administration since September 19, 2013, is increasingly appearing to be an exercise of the government’s determination to undermine any and all attempts by independent organizations to force judicial scrutiny of allegations of ministerial corruption.

Today, two ministers of government weighed in on the murky circumstances surrounding what now appears to have been a regular, and likely personally profitable operation at the Immigration Department on the part of the sacked Minister of State with responsibility for Immigration, Elvin Penner, who Prime Minister Barrow dismissed from Cabinet, then from his governmental posts, but who continues to be protected from criminal prosecution by the government.

The Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) held a press conference last Thursday, making bold allegations about items in the Preliminary Auditor General’s Report on the Immigration Department.

COLA said that the report revealed that Ady Pacheco, the immigration officer who heads the Nationality Section at the Immigration Department, had handed a list of missing files to Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse.

But today, when reporters caught up with Hulse in the vicinity of the Supreme Court, he categorically denied that he was handed any such list.

“She [Pacheco] never sent any letter to me, absolutely not, categorically no,” Hulse explained, “So if she says that, that is absolutely incorrect.”

Hulse denied that the Auditor General’s report made any reference to him receiving the missing Elvin Penner files.

“That is not in the report, not the one I saw – that she sent me any letter with the files that were sent to Minister Penner. No, she didn’t write to me. That is categorically – I can say to you unequivocally and categorically and accurately that the letter which was sent to Minister Penner with the files, all of us have seen that. The police have seen that. The Ministry has seen that. The Auditor General has seen that letter that said that Minister Penner received those files on that particular day for his perusal. Finished!”

Hulse added, that they don’t have a letter, or the Won Hong Kim file.

“We don’t have a letter from Minister Penner or his secretary saying I (Penner) have looked at these files and returned them to the department. We don’t have that….That is why we keep saying we don’t have the Minister Penner file because we cannot say if they were returned or not returned. He says it was returned, they say it wasn’t, so it’s he said, they said. There is no chain of custody of that. There is chain of custody saying that it went to him. But there’s no chain of custody to say it came back from him. That’s where we are with that,” Minister Hulse said.

In late February, Chef Justice Kenneth Benjamin issued a Supreme Court writ of mandamus to Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie to conclude the police’s investigation of the Penner immigration scandal.

On the same day the court issued the mandamus to Whylie, COLA filed a private lawsuit against Elvin Penner. But instead of concluding its investigation, the government filed, without adhering to the proper legal procedure of the court process, an appeal of the Chief Justice’s mandamus decision.

But now the monumental challenge that COLA’s private prosecution is facing is to obtain the evidence to successfully steer its case through the court system.

COLA did not release the Auditor General’s report it purportedly has, citing that it does not want to prejudice its case, which has been adjourned to June 26, in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court, when COLA is scheduled to give disclosure of its evidence to Penner.

Attorney General Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, however, told reporters that as a practicing attorney, “ that whole charade with Mr. Musa and others wanting to take a private matter to the Magistrate’s Court is a waste of time and a delusion of the Belizean people because as we have said, getting proof to establish it in court is almost impossible because of the legal requirements that are needed to prove cases of that type.”

Elrington added: “It is the responsibility of the DPP to bring actions of that type. She hasn’t done so because she knows she will lose. And I think that there are many more important issues rather than harping on a matter like the Penner matter. There is nothing more that we can do [about] it. I am telling you from all the experience that I have, that Mr. Musa and his crowd are wasting time. I’m telling you that from my experience as a lawyer. But you’re saying that there are those who have information — let them give it up.”

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