BELIZE CITY, Wed. Dec. 14, 2016–In August 2012 when word broke that Lands Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega had been gifting his family prime government land at dirt cheap prices, he defended his actions by saying, “I am not a normal person in Belize. I work much harder than a lot of other people.”
The proud Vega would go on to resign from Cabinet in October of this year when his son, Andre Vega, walked away $400,000 richer from a questionable land transaction which occurred while the senior Vega was Minister of Lands.
With his resignation, many believed that Vega’s name would not pop up again for such things, but it has quickly resurfaced, as a result of revelations made by PUP Deputy Leader Cordel Hyde during the house meeting of December 9.
Hyde revealed that 1,600 acres of farmland outside Carmelita, in the Orange Walk District, were systematically transferred into the hands of three members of the Vega family only weeks after Minister Vega issued them.
In some cases, the lands were transferred to the Vega family even before they were, officially transferred from the Ministry.
Documents leaked to our newspaper confirmed Hyde’s seismic allegations.
For example, Danilo Armando Cu received his land from the Ministry on September 2, 2013, but had already sold it to German Vega and Sons Limited, owned by Minister Vega’s brother, Ignacio German Vega, on August 27, 2013.
Other persons who sold their lands to German Vega and Sons Limited even before they received it include Rosalyn Cruz, Norma Elis Aldana, Marcos Aldana, and Cynthia Alyce Cruz, Narmo Cruz, Faviola Cruz and Angelita Cruz.
Coincidentally, they all received their lands on the same date and conducted transactions with Ignacio German Vega on the same date too.
In the case of persons who sold their lands immediately after it was transferred to them by the Ministry, our newspaper noted several trends.
For example, on July 17, 2013, Minister Gaspar Vega transferred lands to Luis Angel Jimenez and by August 1, 2013, those lands had been transferred to German Vega and Sons Imports Limited.
Strangely, the same thing occurred on the same dates, involving Nazle August, Elias Muñoz, Adelita Muñoz; Normando Muñoz, Shahira Elizabeth Tillett, Hector Godoy, and Araceli Del Carmen August.
Another big day for German Vega and Sons Imports Limited would be July 22, 2014, when it received lands transferred to several persons by the Ministry on July 8, 2014.
Those persons include Josett Justine Hyde, Nortberto Junior Perrera, Rogelio Gregory Cocom and Wayne Mitchell.
Interestingly, Ignacio German Vega, who, as we have said, is the owner of German Vega and Sons Imports Limited, would be directly transferred a piece of land from his brother, Minister Gaspar Vega, on July 22, 2014.
Our newspaper noted several more trends in which groups of lands were issued by Minister Gaspar Vega on one day and then transferred in groups to German Vega and Sons Imports Limited on another day.
Shockingly, the same was done in the case of Marlene Vega, wife of Ignacio German Vega, who had by that time accumulated many parcels of the farm lands.
Hilmar Alamilla, his wife Alma Alamilla and Jane Benita Sealey all received their lands on June 23, 2011, but on November 23 of that same year, they transferred the lands to Marlene Vega.
Ignacio German Vega’s wife was not the only wife involved in these transactions, as Gaspar Vega’s wife, Marilene Roxane Vega, was also actively involved in transactions of this nature.
She, too, was the recipient of lands transferred in groups to her at a date shortly after they were originally transferred from her husband’s ministry.
In August of this year, Prime Minister Dean Barrow appointed Vanessa Retreage as Lands Minister; she had taken over from Senator Minister Godwin Hulse, who had taken over from Gaspar Vega following the 2015 general elections.
Retreage had gone on record to suggest that she would bring order to the Ministry, described by PM Barrow as a hotbed of corruption.
However, at her press conference on Tuesday, where she announced her exit from Cabinet, she conceded that she was clueless about this organized and highly coincidental transfer of 1,600 acres of farmland to the Vega family.
She claimed she only heard of it when the PUP’s Deputy Leader, Cordel Hyde, shared it first in an interview at the start of last week with LOVE FM news and at the House of Representatives meeting held on Friday, December 9.
“When I heard the presentation by Mr. Hyde in the House, of course it caused concern for me. It is an issue that I would not have looked at had it not been brought to my attention,” she said.
During his presentation at the House sitting on December 9, Hyde claimed that the documents were leaked to him by a concerned public officer.
On Tuesday, Retreage condemned that public official.
“…that concerned public officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources was not so concerned to bring it to my attention so that I could address it. So, I wonder, what was the mischief trying to be created because nobody brought it officially to my attention? I had only been privy to what has been said in the media and I have not seen the documents at all in relation to what was referred to,” she commented.
Regarding transfers that were made to German Vega and Sons Imports Limited, even before they were transferred from government, the Prime Minister mildly warned, “If that is so, it may well be that those transfers are not valid, and as the Attorney General said, nobody brought the file to her, but we are happy to receive your documents and she will no doubt call on the officials to do that to the extent that anything can be properly set aside because there was failure to comply with the law, it will be set aside.”
When the media asked PM Barrow if there was an investigation into the apparently organized transfer, he said:
“I don’t know that there is any need for an investigation. If the facts are as you say and as the honorable member for Lake Independence recited, then that is to be condemned out of hand. There’s no need for any investigation,” said Barrow.
According to the outgoing Lands Minister, Retreage, she will provide an update on compensations made in shady land transactions before she demits office at the end of the month.
One such compensation involved Ron J. Limited, which was compensated $1 million from government for a land that it had bought from government for only $6,540.30.
While the PUP’s Deputy Leader, Cordel Hyde, revealed that Government had paid out almost $70 million in land compensation since 2008, Retreage told the media that it was a bit less.
However, according to her, those figures will be shared at a later date.