PUNTA GORDA, Toledo District, Thurs. Sept. 24, 2020– A cargo of goods brought in by boat from Guatemala has been confiscated and two Customs officers and 6 other men have been detained after they were intercepted by police as they were unloading contraband cargo out of the boat from Guatemala, into vehicles at about 10:00 Saturday night.
Reliable information to us is that police declared the cargo to be illegal (contraband), since it was brought in at night after the Customs office and the pier had been closed, making the cargo unauthorized.
The eight men have been placed into mandatory quarantine, after which they will face charges for possession of contraband goods, among other charges.
Senior Customs officer Richard Garbutt and junior Customs officer Jareth Tillett were arraigned yesterday, September 23, for inciting the illegal entry of a vessel into the country and conspiracy to cause a vessel to enter the country illegally.
Garbutt told police that they were only assisting a vessel that was experiencing mechanical difficulties.
Commissioner of Police Chester Williams said that before a boat can enter the country from another country, several actions must be done and there must be collaboration with other agencies. There must be pre-clearance from the Port Authority, and pre-clearance from the Customs Department.
It is also required that a boarding team consisting of Customs and Immigration officers and personnel from the Belize Agricultural Authority (BAHA) be present when a boat from another country docks, but in this case, there were only two Customs officers.
Commissioner Williams said that he checked with the Comptroller of Customs, Colin Gillett, who informed him that the Punta Gorda port was closed and that no boat or cargo should have been in that port at that time, so the activities were illegal.
Two trucks that were already loaded with the contraband goods were still in the compound at the time that the bust took place, and these were impounded.
The six men who were unloading the vessel were also charged for not wearing face masks, and other charges are pending.
Importer/businessman Donaldo Chun of Punta Gorda was also charged. He told police, however, that the Customs officer at the port told him that he could bring in the boat and the goods to that port.
Police believe that the Customs officers were paid to grant the importer permission, but the importer was reluctant to say so because he would be committing an offense.
Williams said that the actions of the two Customs officers gave him no choice but to arrest and charge them. He said that allowing people to come into our country without following proper protocols to ensure our safety puts the country at risk, and there will be no hesitation on the part of the Police Department to enforce the law,
The contraband goods have been handed over to the Customs Department, and charges for the possession of contraband goods will be brought against the two Customs officers.