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Former Minister of Works charged in Magistrate’s Court

HeadlineFormer Minister of Works charged in Magistrate’s Court

BELIZE CITY, Wed. July 27, 2022

The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, in an interview this morning said that he was told that former Minister of Works, Rene Montero, who represented the Cayo Central constituency during the previous Barrow administration (UDP),  was “on his way” to Belize and would be handed over to police by his attorneys upon his return to the country. He further noted that police had been informed by Montero’s attorneys that he would be answering to the charges of “willful oppression” brought against him. And he stated that as soon as Montero was turned in, police would be proceeding “with the matter against him”. It is now being reported that Montero has in fact re-entered the country and was arraigned today in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court, where he met bail of $20,000. The matter was reportedly adjourned until October 24.

Montero, who reportedly arrived at the Philip Goldson International Airport on Sunday evening at 5:00, reportedly had to surrender his passport after receiving bail. 

In September 2021, a warrant was first issued for the arrest of Montero and one George Andrews. It called the former Minister of Works to answer to charges under sections 284 and 309 of the Criminal Code. That section of the law states, “A public officer…is guilty of wilful oppression…if he wilfully commits any excess or abuse of his authority to the injury of the public or of any person.”

Subsequently, on April 25, 2022, it was reported that a Red Notice, which had a publication date of March 2, 2022,  had been issued by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) for the detention of Montero, Sr., and had deemed Montero an escape risk. An AMANDALA article dated April 25, 2022 had reported, “Police have sought—to no avail—to detain the former Minister on the charge of Willful Oppression after it was found that he had willfully abused his authority. According to Belize’s Constitution, any public officer or juror found guilty of the aforementioned crime is liable to be sentenced to two years of imprisonment.”

The Red Notice, which had featured Montero’s photo and listed other details that could be helpful in identifying him, had indicated that, upon the former minister’s arrest, immediate extradition would be sought.

Montero, who served for 12 years under the Barrow Administration, first became the possible subject of a criminal investigation in January 2021 after Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing, Hon. Julius Espat made a complaint to the Belize Police Department about what he referred to as Montero’s “prolonged abuse and misuse of public resources”. It is being alleged that Montero used public resources, including expensive equipment belonging to the Ministry of Works, to develop properties that belonged to him and his friends and family members. Within a month, a police report had been delivered to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), the Integrity Commission, and the Commissioner of Police for review. A few months later, in September, police issued an official warrant for Montero’s arrest.

Following the issuance of the warrant, the chairman of the United Democratic Party had dismissed the charges as unfounded and as an attempt to embarrass the former minister. He had further indicated that Montero had not fled the country, as had been reported, but was in fact visiting the United States for medical reasons and would be handing himself over to the police upon his return to the country.

“Rene Montero called me from the United States yesterday and said that he’s there for medical purposes and as soon as he’s done with that he’s going to come right back and face some willful oppression, some obscure charge in the Criminal Code that says that sometime between 2016 and 2020 he committed willful oppression,” Peyrefitte had said.

One of Montero’s attorneys, OJ Elrington, had stated something similar—that the effort to locate and arrest Montero was just “political mischief”.

However, an AMANDALA article dated April 25, 2022 had reported, “Even long before an official complaint was made against Rene Montero, Sr., reports of his misuse of public equipment had already begun to circulate. In one instance, it was alleged that a number of Government-owned equipment, once believed to be missing or stolen, had been confiscated from one of Montero’s properties. And in another, a former associate of the ex-minister appeared on a Plus TV morning show with photos that purportedly were evidence of the use of government equipment on a private farm. At that time, both Montero and his son, Rene Montero, Jr. had maintained that all the allegations being made against him were false.”

The alleged offenses are believed to have occurred between April 14, 2016, and November 12, 2020, the day after the last general election.

Today, Police Commissioner Williams said that Montero may face justice shortly. At the time that Minister Julius Espat had first made the allegations against Montero, it was said that the criminal code sections under which the charges were being brought, actually applied to public servants and not elected officials. COMPOL Williams has indicated, however, that he disagrees with this interpretation.

“From my understanding of the law, the charges are appropriate, and we are going to see what happens in the court. It’s not a matter for me to decide the guilt or innocence of Mr. Montero, it is to happen for the court, and so the seasoned attorney, if he is going to be the one that will represent Mr. Montero, will have his day in court,” COMPOL Williams said.

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