BELMOPAN, Wed. Jan. 6, 2021– During a press conference held by the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MOID) on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Minister Julius Espat alleged that former Minister of Works, Rene Montero, while he held the reins at the Ministry, used human and physical resources from the Ministry to carry out development of private lands in which he allegedly had personal interest or investments. Espat claims that this misuse could not have occurred without the knowledge of former Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Works, Errol Gentle.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General Magali Marin Young, the CEO in the Ministry of Infrastructure Development requested that the Attorney General consider compiling a civil suit against Montero and Gentle.
A report was also sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Commissioner of Police and the Integrity Commission, and Minister Espat has called on those bodies to carry out a full criminal investigation into the evidence that has been compiled by the Ministry so far, with a view to bringing criminal charges against the former Government officials.
Rene Montero, the former Minister of Works and three-time area representative for Cayo Central, has publicly refuted all claims made against him, calling them vindictive and grossly negligent on the part of the Government of Belize.
His attorney, and son, Rene Montero, Jr., stated, “All the allegations against the former Minister is false.”
During his presentation, Minister Espat explained that his Ministry was triggered to initiate an investigation after reviewing media reports from Plus TV. He claims that currently, the Ministry has a number of eyewitnesses and solid evidence which prove wrongdoing on the part of the former Works Minister and CEO. The evidence, which he says supports his claims, has been passed on, as previously mentioned, to the Police Commissioner, the Integrity Commission and the DPP, but was not presented to the media during the press conference.
“The ministry has interviewed and secured sworn statements from multiple workers directly involved, confirming that Minister Montero used heavy equipment, personnel and fuel from the ministry to develop his private farms over some three and a half years at significant expense to the public. Abuse was flagrant and facilitated by public officers of the Ministry of Works at the highest level, as a form of ministerial entitlement. As bad as the conduct of Mr. Montero appears, Minister Montero could not have engaged in such prolonged abuse of public resources without the assistance and connivance of his Chief Executive Officer Errol Gentle and others in the public service.” Espat claimed.
Montero issued a statement on January 6 that specifically addressed an allegation that he had misappropriated a starting gate, which is a piece of equipment used in the conducting of horse races. In that statement, Montero said that he never had possession of the item, nor had he ever claimed ownership of it. He also stated that the starting gate is the property of the Santa Elena Horse Race Committee exclusively. He did admit that he approached Cayo Steel Works to create the item, but said it was for the use of the horse race community. He also said that it was a member of the Horse Racing Sporting Committee who had placed the starting gate on the property where it was found, and from which it was later confiscated.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports had requested more information regarding the ownership of the item. The owner of the company that made the starting gate was contacted by government officials and subsequently sent a letter in response to the Ministry of Youth’s query to confirm that the item was, in fact, a donation. The gate was later retrieved by the Government of Belize with the help of the Belize Police Department.
In regard to the alleged use of the Ministry’s heavy equipment, the former Works Minister’s attorney, his son, Rene Montero, Jr., has claimed that the gear in question was being used to push farm roads in the Young Gial area of Yalbac, so that farmers could have access to their plantations. In a phone interview with 7News, Montero, Jr., refuted all the claims made against his client and father, saying, “To try and say that those farms belong to the minister is not only wrong, but defamatory. When those statements were made, our client came to us to write a demand for an apology.”
Reports are that three additional pieces of heavy equipment — graders, were returned to the Ministry of Works. Two of these were found in Ladyville and another in the Spanish lookout area. Minister Julius Espat believes that some Ministry equipment is still at large and unaccounted for, and called on his Ministry to locate and identify the gear.
What remains to be seen is whether the investigations by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Commissioner of Police and Integrity Commissions will confirm or disprove these damning allegations. The Briceño administration has committed, it said, to continue to investigate instances of wrongdoing which took place inside the former UDP government.