BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 8, 2021– On Monday, a warrant was issued for the arrest of former Minister of Works, Rene Montero, for the offense of Willful Oppression — a charge presumably related to acts of corruption committed by Montero during the previous UDP administration that caused injury to the public. While the Police Department is actively on the hunt for the former Works Minister, however, he is currently nowhere to be found.
There are unconfirmed reports that the former Minister, who is a three-time area representative of Cayo Central, may have absconded and is no longer in the country, but Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, believes that he may still be in the country, since he and another person were reportedly in a Toyota Hilux that was turned back from the Western border this past weekend. Montero’s attorney, Orson “OJ” Elrington, however, has told local media that his client is not trying to evade law enforcement, but that he is out of the country and was completely unaware of the warrant that had been issued for his arrest. Elrington also indicated in a statement he released that Montero has all intentions of returning to the country and clearing his name of the accusations that have been brought against him.
During an interview yesterday, Commissioner Williams said, “We have visited a number of places where we believe he might be, but we have not been able to locate him. And so the warrant along with a wanted poster was issued yesterday with respect to his arrest. I know the police did went to his home and looked for him. But now that the attorney knows, he has seen the arrest warrant, then the attorney should do the right thing and bring his client in and make it much easier.”
One well-known local attorney, Richard “Dickie” Bradley, while being interviewed by a local television station, expressed his view that the charge of Willful Oppression for which Montero is being sought will never hold up in court, since the portion of the law which outlines such an offense is applicable only to jurors and public officers.
As a former minister, Montero is considered a former public official.
In January of this year, just a few months after a landslide PUP victory in the general elections that ousted the UDP administration in which Montero served, it was announced that Montero was under investigation. Prior to that announcement, stories had already been circulating about his use of resources within his ministry — including expensive Ministry of Works equipment — for his own personal projects. In November of 2020, a former associate and “henchman” of Montero had revealed on a morning show on Plus TV that equipment and fuel from the Ministry of Works were being used to develop Montero’s privately owned farm, and that even the workers on that private farm were actually Ministry of Works employees. He had even provided photos of the government-owned equipment purportedly being used on the private farm.
About a week later, it was reported that a backhoe belonging to the Ministry of Works was parked in front of the Spanish Lookout Police Station. Subsequently, a number of heavy pieces of GOB-owned equipment, some of which were initially presumed to be missing or stolen, were allegedly confiscated from Montero’s property and returned to the government. The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, had himself told local media that his department had retrieved various types of heavy equipment that had been missing from the Ministry of Works, including a front end loader and a bulldozer, and when questioned by local reporters, he had said that the equipment “may have been on the farm of Mister Montero.”
On January 6 of this year, Minister of Infrastructural Development and Housing, Hon. Julius Espat, who heads the ministry that was previously under the control of Montero, had announced at a press conference that a letter had been sent to the Attorney General, Hon. Magali Young, requesting that she initiate a process that could result in a lawsuit being brought against Montero, and the person who was the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Works when Montero was at the helm of that ministry — Mr. Errol Gentle. He indicated as well that a report containing evidence compiled by his ministry had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecution, the Commissioner of Police, and Integrity Commission and that his ministry had requested that a full criminal investigation be conducted. He indicated that his ministry had “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 three and a half years at significant expense to the public.”
At the time, Montero had denied all the allegations against him and labeled them “vindictive”. His then attorney, his son, Rene Montero, Jr., had told the media, “All the allegations against the former Minister is false.”