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As we reported yesterday, the absence of expected witnesses Eric Chang and Patrick Tillett has forced the Committee to seek legal advice on what powers are available to them to get Chang and Tillett to testify. Both men are named in the Auditor General’s special report for alleged roles in the mysterious trading of visas from the Immigration office at the Western Border. Another name called in the report is that of senior immigration officer, George Reynolds who has been with the Department for nearly 27 years. Reynolds, said the report, had confirmed to another Immigration official that the visas in Chang and Tillett’s possession were obtained illegally. On Wednesday, the former Port Commander for Immigration Services in Belmopan was given an opportunity to respond to the allegations, and he claimed that the report did not present an accurate picture.


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Who came to you?”


Screen_Shot_2017-02-16_at_6.40.17_PMGeorge Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Mr. Tillette only”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Which Mr. Tillette?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Patrick Tillette”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Did you know him before that?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Well, I saw him around, yes.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“So he came to you and what did he come to you for?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“He ask me if I could fix this for him because he think the officer did not do it properly and he assumed that it was issued at my office which in return I told him yes these are legitimate files because I saw the security features and thing on it and I told him these were not issued here so you need to take it back to the office where you got it issued in that I don’t expect that he was stealing anything I just did that for more than one people came with different issues and we asking to go back to the office where it was issued to get it completed and that was it, it was just two minutes the most because I was coming out of my office when he met me and right in there I just spoke to him briefly and he left.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“This was in Belmopan?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“In Belmopan”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“And you said the Visas were in passports?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Yes”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee



“Did you take a note of the passport?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“No I did not”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“He left after that you said and did you know where he went?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“I did not”


But the difference in technicalities aside there remains the questions over whether Reynolds, who admitted that the visas were taken to him by Tillett, failed to act adequately when he didn’t secure the important immigration files. This was an issue raised by Pastor Ashley Rocke and it seemed Reynolds was a bit ticked off by the questioning.

 

Pastor Ashley Rocke - Member, Senate Select Committee


“Would it have been in your position to hold those two passports since there obviously were seemingly irregular about that?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“There was nothing irregular Sir, because just of the omission of the stamp sometimes that happens, it was something that happens more than ones, so I didn’t see it as irregular and they usually give them the benefit of the doubt to go get it fix.”


Pastor Ashley Rocke - Member, Senate Select Committee


“How it would not be irregular when this person is asking you to legitimize this document.”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“You are using the word legitimize when I stated he did not use that word, he asked me to fix something, he didn’t ask me to legitimize anything… I didn’t hear your statement Sir, could you speak into the mic maybe I can hear what you said just now.”


Pastor Ashley Rocke - Member, Senate Select Committee


“I was saying so you don’t think that that what you did or you were asked what to do?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“I don’t really understand your question.”


Pastor Ashley Rocke - Member, Senate Select Committee


“Listen to what you said, you said that he ask you to fix, clearly if he wanted to fix something I means something was wrong with the document is that the normal process that happens at your office?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Fix can be wrong or fix can be something omitted but when you say something wrong it could be that something need to be change but if something is omitted that still need to be fix but that doesn’t mean wrong it just mean something been omitted.”


Pastor Ashley Rocke - Member, Senate Select Committee


“When did it come to your mind that something was wrong there?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“When we found out about the, when the news came to us about the missing Visa and the only ones that came to me that was not issued by me were those two so I called Mr Tench immediately and I told him to look at this person because he brought two Visas that were not issued to me and check out to see exactly if those were two of the eight and it turns out that it was…go ahead then.”


Pastor Ashley Rocke - Member, Senate Select Committee


“In hindsight it would have been right to withhold those two documents?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“You see we are talking about timeline and knowledge, if you have knowledge of something you act differently on a situation, I had no knowledge of that so I could be in hindsight or whatever to hold something that I didn’t see the necessity to hold.”


From there it just seemed to get a bit testy for Reynolds. His tone became increasingly adversarial, he raised his voice a few times and even tried to switch roles in the Committee by returning questions at PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay, when he was asked whether applications for visas with letters of recommendation from Ministers had any influence on him.


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“You are aware that there were numerous instances of Ministers making recommendations for Chinese nationals to get Visas to visit Belize, you aware of that?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Yes I am”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“And is it your experience that the ministers knew these Chinese individuals?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“No, they knew the family that was here.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Oh, they knew somebody here and so they were making a recommendation for somebody outside whom they didn’t know.”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“I guess that is what you are saying, yes”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Right, you are the one who was processing it you see so that is why I am asking you, I want to know what is it that you did when you got a letter from a minister recommending somebody who he/she did not know is there any value at all to that recommendation?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Well, the recommendation shouldn’t had that added value if the requirements that identify the person and the family member is there, the recommendation just goes there because usually those get priority.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“You see the interesting thing is this; if in the example you give me there is a family member here and the minister knows the family member why would the family member not make the recommendation, the family member knows the person the minister doesn’t know the person?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Yes but the family member produces their documentation here.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“I understand all of that”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“The recommendation letters just come to additional to the documents to the family member.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Right and I am asking you why would the minister who does n t know the person signed a letter saying I recommend A, B, C for a Visa?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“I wouldn’t know why the minister did that.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Right, and did you pay any attention to it when you were making your decision whether to approve or not?”

 

George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Somewhat yes”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“It did influence your decision?”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Yes it did”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Thank you Mr. Chairman.”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Could I ask you one question?”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Me, not today”


George Reynolds, Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Oh so you don’t want to get a question, I would have ask you something value to the same way you just ask me, ok you don’t have to say anything else, thank you.”


Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“Thank you”


Finally on Senior Immigration Officer Reynolds for tonight, he was asked to comment on previous statements by former Director Ruth Meighan, who blamed officers below her for submitting faulty documents and recommending their approval. Reynolds didn’t agree with Meighan’s attempt to absolve herself from any vetting responsibilities.

 

Eamon Courtney – Member Special Senate Select Committee


“You have heard repeatedly about the culture in the Immigration Department, you heard that?”


George Reynolds - Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Yes I heard it.”


Eamon Courtney – Member special Senate Select Committee


“You heard Miss Castellanos this morning?”


George Reynolds, -Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Yes I did.”


Eamon Courtney – Member special Senate Select Committee


“You head her specifically describe the culture in the Department from top to bottom?”


George Reynolds, -Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“Well, that is the matter of her opinion, yes.”


Eamon Courtney – Member special Senate Select Committee


“I appreciate that, I am just asking if you’ve heard it.”


George Reynolds, -Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“I’ve heard it, yes”


Eamon Courtney – Member special Senate Select Committee


“Right, now I would like to give you an opportunity to comment on her description.”


George Reynolds, -Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“I don’t really like to comment on people opinions.”


Aldo Salazar – Chairman of special Senate Select committee


“Do you share the same opinion?”


George Reynolds, -Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“No I don’t.”


Eamon Courtney – Member special Senate Select Committee


“What would you like to say?”


George Reynolds, -Former OIC of Immigration Services (Belmopan)


“I do my work as is placed before me whatever comes and has what it needs and it goes I do my work, that s is all what I can say a the Immigration Department.”


Perhaps, as Senator Courtenay suggested, Reynolds should have tuned in to the January 25th hearing, because in her testimony former CEO Ruth Meighan stated clearly that her role as Director was simply to accept files and approve them. This moved Senator Courtenay to ask Meighan, rhetorically, if her post was in essence a rubber stamp.

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