BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 19, 2021– The Belize Police Department is carrying out a criminal investigation into the apparent embezzlement of a little over $60,000 of the COVID-19 Unemployment Relief Program’s funds by employees of the Labour Department.
This investigation was launched following the completion of a report by the Audit Department which highlighted various instances in which employees of the department approved funds for persons close to them: friends, spouses, and family members.
These funds were deposited into those persons’ accounts using the relief program’s platform and were subsequently withdrawn.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the then Government of Belize, under the Barrow administration, rolled out the Unemployment Relief Program to provide some assistance to those persons who lost their jobs as a result of the economic fallout brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While hundreds of thousands of dollars were disbursed, many qualified citizens did not receive a cent of the relief funds, despite filling out various applications.
The new Ministry of Labor has already taken disciplinary action against some of the persons involved in the fraudulent scheme — firing one staff member and suspending another. Others are also being investigated by both the Labor Ministry and the Police Department at this time.
They are now awaiting the finalization of the Police Department’s investigation to determine whether any criminal charges will be levied against the persons in question.
The CEO in the Ministry of Labour told local media that while it appears that the misappropriation was carried out by low-level officers at one particular office, the Unemployment Relief Program was national and involved various offices, all of which will be investigated to determine whether this was done elsewhere.
The Auditor General’s report has indicated that so far at least $62,000 was taken fraudulently from the program by employees in that Labour office alone.
The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, said that his department has begun to discuss the report in length and has noticed three recurring names.
“I received a copy of that report, I think about 2 to 3 weeks ago, from the Auditor-General. We sat and we had a very lengthy discussion over it, and that matter has been assigned to CIB to investigate as well. I think I saw three prominent names in that report, where persons connected to those persons were getting relief funds that they were not entitled to, and so, the matter is, as I said with the police now, and we’re doing our investigation,” he said.
Compol Williams said that they believe the CIB will be able to complete this investigation rather quickly, since this report is not as “tedious as the previous audit reports.”