BELIZE CITY, Tues. Nov. 13, 2018– Extradition cases are usually a long drawn-out judicial process that can sometimes take years before someone who is the subject of a United States extradition request is either relieved of the prospect of being extradited , or is actually extradited to face trial in the US.
The case of attorney Andrew Bennett is no different from any other US extradition request making its way through the Belize judicial system. After a long adjournment, from February 2, Bennett and his attorney, Anthony Sylvestre, returned to court this morning before Chief Magistrate Sharon Fraser to chart the way forward in his extradition trial.
Bennett was indicted on a 7-count money laundering charge by a Puerto Rican grand jury in July 2015, when an arrest warrant was issued for him and US authorities dispatched an extradition request for him to the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
When Bennett, 46, appeared before Chief Magistrate Fraser in January, he was released on a bail of $100,000, and his extradition case was deemed to be opened.
After the hearing, Sylvestre told us that the last time they were in court, the Solicitor General, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the US government, had promised to provide the court with authenticated copies of the US extradition request because the last time they were there, they had provided photocopies of the request, but the law requires authenticated documents, which are sealed copies.
Sylvester said that was provided in July, and thereafter, they were trying to arrange a date.
“So, essentially that is what happened this morning. Dates were given, because the Chief Magistrate has indicated that she is desirous of having the matter disposed of,” Sylvestre told us.
Sylvestre added, “We were given up to November 20 to file our preliminary and substantive objections and submissions; the government was given up to 14 December for them to file their submissions. We were given four days after to file our reply. There will be oral arguments on December at 10:00 a.m.; thereafter, the matter will rest with the Chief Magistrate.”
The government was represented by Deputy Solicitor General, Samantha Matute-Tucker, and Senior Crown Counsel Leona Duncan.
Following the oral arguments and submissions, Chief Magistrate Fraser will determine if the US has a prima facie case against Bennett for him to be extradited to face trial in that jurisdiction.
In recent times, several Belizeans have prevailed in the local courts against US extradition requests. The most recent cases involved the Seawell brothers, Gary and Mark, who were released from prison after being on remand for a number of years on a US extradition request.
The Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal freed them after the court discovered that the warrants on which they were held were defective.
Businessman Rhett Fuller, who was wanted on an allegation that he had murdered a man in 1990 in South Beach, Miami, fought the US extradition request for 15 years. He was finally freed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2014, when his second application to the Minister succeeded, because, apart from getting instructions from the Court of Appeal on how to handle the matter, the Minister also took into consideration the impact extradition would have had on Fuller’s family, particularly his young children.