Yesterday must have felt like déjà vu for Prime Minister Dean Barrow who held a press conference to address yet another major international scandal that involves senior Government officials. Just last October he was in the same hot spot over the biggest scam in the US Federal Trade Commission’s history, Sanctuary Bay. In the most recent scam, Americans Isaiah and Jacob Kingston have pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. Government of over US500m in false tax credits for their fake bio-fuel company.
Jacob Kingston has further testified that between 2012 and 2016, through a third associate in the business deal, Lev Dermen, he paid a Government Minister from Belize U.S. $25,000 in cash monthly. That Minister reportedly assisted in securing nationality and possibly a diplomatic passport for Kingston. Kingston also added that another Belizean official was also bribed and that he personally sent him funds electronically. To back-up his allegation, Kingston has provided investigators with the text messages sent to the Belize Minister.
But while the scandal is mounting, the Prime Minister stated yesterday that he cannot take action against anyone because no names are mentioned in the report and in Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, all the Ministers denied being involved.
The Prime Minister said that in due time, when the trial facts are revealed, whoever the Government officials are revealed to be, they will be fired instantly.
But the UDP finds itself in a serious quandary. They have a national convention coming up on February 9th and six of the nine candidates competing in party executive positions, including UDP leader, are Cabinet members. What would happen if any of them turn out to be the Minister who collected US$25,000 payments? Barrow responded.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
“If any of the two leadership aspirants turns out to be somebody who received cash, I would find that person and I believe that the party would absolutely disqualify such a person from proceeding with the leadership challenge because how will you get fired from the Cabinet, remember if I choose to, I hold the whip hand you know, recollect that I don’t need to go anywhere until the General Elections are called. If I were to fire a leadership aspirant and the party says well we don’t care if you fired the person we will still elect that person and we will say he must take over and lead us into the General Election, well I would save them from their own fall you know because I will make it plain that cannot happen but we are really spinning the wheels and getting into outlandish theoretical scenarios, come on and be practical, if any of the leadership aspirants were to be fired by me before the convention that’s the end of it you must know that practically.”
The PM revealed yesterday that Minister of Housing Michael Finnegan had been approached by Dermen as he was lobbying for an honorary consul posting in Las Vegas. John Saldivar also admitted via a Facebook post that he knew Dermen in relation to his dealings in the 2013 Gold Cup. Saldivar denied being the Minister who received payments from the U.S. businessmen. We asked Hon. Hugo Patt if he knew Dermen.
“Do you know this individual Lev Dermen?”
Hon. Hugo Patt, UDP Minister
“Not that I recall.”
No other Minister has spoken out.
Of interest, Patrick Faber did not attend Cabinet meeting since he was at the inauguration of the new Guatemalan President. And neither did Tracy Taegar Panton, but she was not a Cabinet member yet in 2013.
There is also disgraced UDP politician Gaspar Vega, who was Deputy Prime Minister and a powerful Cabinet Minister in 2013. It is doubtful the PM asked him, however, since he and the PM are reportedly not seeing eye-to-eye at the moment.