BELMOPAN, Fri. Jan. 8, 2021– Over the past two months, the ministries of the Government of Belize, under new headship,
have been engaged in rigorous investigations to reveal misconduct that seemingly took place within government departments throughout the 12-year reign of the United Democratic Party. During Friday’s House of Representatives meeting, Minister responsible for Lands, Hon. Cordel Hyde, made shocking revelations of widespread and thoroughly calculated land scams, that were perpetrated through identity fraud. These schemes, in many instances, were allegedly executed by the former UDP ministers and their cronies.
“Huge tracts of land have been gobbled up by a tiny few — you name the area: Mountain Pine Ridge, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia, Independence, Hopkins, the Coastal Road, and I could go on and on. Huge beautiful, valuable, tracks of land sold for paltry sums by the Government of Belize.” Hyde announced.
Hyde shared that due to this pillaging, very little land is left for those Belizean citizens still dispossessed and in need of a plot of land.
“The schemes were incredible and, of course, they found their genesis under former Minister Gaspar Vega. Thousands of acres in the present Mountain Pine Ridge area are gone forever, just like that,” he said.
Hyde went on to share details about the types of identity fraud that made the huge heist of land possible. The claims are that UDP operatives obtained the Social Security numbers and other key personal information of unwitting persons, many of whom were of humble means, and they then used that data to apply for huge tracts of lands on their behalf, without their knowledge.
“It’s a scheme that starts [with] Ministers and their representatives able to get copies of the Social Security cards of the unsuspecting constituents who have come to apply to the offices for financial assistance. From there these copies of Social cards would form the bedrock of a land application and those needy unsuspecting individuals would be the recipients of massively lucrative chunks of land, but they don’t know. The lands are in their names, but they don’t know. The lands are later sold to wealthy individuals, but they don’t know. The money shared presumably between the ministers and their cronies, but they don’t know.” Hyde explained.
Two instances of this swindling were described by Hyde during his presentation. The first involved 575 acres of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge area. These were distributed among five individuals, each receiving permission to survey 115 acres. One year later, in January 2013, all five individuals were given titles to the lands, each paying only $15,039.00. These lands were subsequently resold two and a half years later to a company named Belize Roadway Construction Ltd.
“Gilda Guerra, Oventino Guerra, Guadalupe Mojica, Hilda Mojica, and John Ramirez all transferred ownership of the lands to Belize Roadway Construction LTD for $325,000, $265,000, $345,000, $275,000, and $230,000 respectively,” Hyde revealed.
According to Hyde, that same company was granted the contract to carry out significant roadworks on two major throughways, the George Price and Hummingbird Highways. Also, a company related to Belize Roadway Construction Ltd. was allegedly given almost 900 acres in the Coastal Road area without any parliamentary approval, as is required. Of the five persons involved in this apparent scam, at least two are Guatemalan nationals, according to Hyde.
The other case supposedly involves the currently embattled former Minister of Works, Rene Montero, and his sons. According to Hyde, Montero’s former CEO, Errol Gentle, fraudulently used the personal identification information of a friend of his to acquire pristine national land.
The friend, Florencio Talbert, was completely oblivious of his ownership of the land until he was approached by an individual who showed some interest in the real estate and proposed to acquire the land.
By that time, it was already too late; according to the Ministry of Lands, the parcel had already been transferred to Errol Gentle and to a company named Scorpio Development Company, said to be owned by Rene Montero’s two sons.
As for former Minister Montero and his sons, what has been unearthed via ongoing investigations in the Lands Ministry seems to show that they too went on a land grab rampage. This time the lands were registered to family and friends of theirs and later transferred to companies purportedly owned by Minister Montero’s son.
According to Hyde, they targeted the Young Gial area. Interestingly, just last week, Rene Montero, Jr., who is an attorney providing legal representation to his father, Rene Montero, Sr., made statements to the media in which he defended his father against accusations that he developed private farms in the same Young Gial area, using heavy equipment and other assets that belong to the Ministry of Works.
While Montero, Jr., refuted all statements against his client and went on to say that the works were being done on behalf of farmers in the area, Minister Hyde’s revelations indicate otherwise.
“Rene and his sons cooked up a similar scheme in the Young Gial McRay registration section in the Yalbac area. This area has prime land, absolutely fertile land. They say if you spit, things grow, if you stand too long on the land, you might take root. Nice lands in the Young Gial area.
They had the government put the lands in their family members’ names, daughters-in-laws, nephews, cousins, village councilors, campaigners, and then the lands are transferred to two companies controlled by Rene’s sons. I think one of the companies is Gosen Products Company Ltd. and Kings Landing Ltd.” Hon. Hyde said.
Minister Hyde further revealed, “They put 80 acres in Danny Martinez’ name in Young Gial; 79.841 acres in Thelma Savala’s name in Young Gial; 100 acres to Myra Savala also in Young Gial; 80 acres in Geovanni X name, another 49 acres in Geovanni X name, another 78.45 acres in the same Geovanni X name in the same Young Gial area. 139 acres in Salvador Martinez name. These lands were all recently transferred to Gosen Products Ltd., whose director is listed as Robert Jaime Montero, the son of Rene Montero.”
“Then there is an amount that was transferred to Kings Landing Ltd., another company led by Rene Amin Montero, 32 acres, several 25-acres plots, 27-acre plots, 18-acre plots — all in Young Gial — all transferred to Kings Landing Ltd. And Robert Jaime Montero got a land certificate from government for 311 acres, again in the Young Gial area. The man them can’t get enough of Young Gial,” Hyde remarked.
“Then he got the land certificate for 19 acres and even a 2.83-acre parcel in the same area. They cleaned up everything in the Young Gial area. They even got some purchase approvals for land in that area, but time had ran out, elections came and they had not gotten a chance to pay. These people are classic land hogs,” Hyde additionally said.
On November 12, 2020, just one day after winning a landslide victory in the 2020 General Elections, Prime Minister John Briceño ordered the closure of the Lands Department. At the time, reports of individuals taking files and/or tampering with land documents had made their way to the Prime Minister.
Llewellyn Usher, the former legal counsel for the Lands Department under the UDP administration, had to be forcefully removed from the office of the Lands Department when he tried to enter the office shortly after the PUP general elections victory, which resulted in a physical altercation between him and the police. Prime Minister Briceño felt that UDP operatives were working to cover up or destroy evidence that could prove their years of misconduct.