By Marion Ali
The Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), using the Freedom of Information Act, has written to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, requesting whatever evidence, reports and or material that his office has received regarding the investigation into the passport scandal involving former Minister of State Elvin Penner.
The letter, dated May 14, 2014, also reminds Barrow that the laws of Belize provide for “the summoning of witnesses to provide materials relevant to a trial at the summary level”, and COLA expressed the hope it will not have to take that approach at the next court hearing on May 29.
The letter signed by Geovanni Brackett, president of COLA, requests in particular a preliminary report that the Auditor General delivered on March, 21, 2014.
COLA also wants scanned documents that Minister of Immigration, Senator Godwin Hulse presented to Barrow.
Last October, Hulse made reference to such documents at a press conference.
COLA also demands any and all other materials and evidence that any of the authorities related to the investigation have provided to the Prime Minister.
The letter makes reference to the October 15, 2013 press conference where Barrow publicly said: “More evidence has surfaced of the involvement of Elvin Penner in other instances of what to us is impropriety.
“The matter presented to Cabinet was and is enough for us to feel that Elvin Penner was involved in additional instances of what I will term ‘irregularities.”’
The letter comes after COLA claims it has made several futile requests, through its attorney, Kareem Musa, to the offices of the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie and the Attorney General Dorothy Bradley for release of the evidence that they have on the matter.
Brackett said that the letter came on Musa’s advice and also follows “the refusal of the [Acting] Solicitor General [Nigel Hawke] to assist COLA to get any information.”
Commissioner Whylie told the media this week that he was not sure where the Penner case file was, and couldn’t say whether it was with the police or with Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Vidal said Thursday “the file was hand-delivered to ACP (Assistant Commissioner of Police) Blackett on the 30th of April along with my advice.”
She added, “ I am not in a position to say whether anything further has been done in relation to the investigation since then, but the file is to be returned after all of the matters raised have been addressed.”
Those matters that the DPP referred to include her advice that the file needed more evidence/material in order to make it complete.
Reporter also contacted Assistant Commissioner Russell Blackett, the officer in charge of the investigation, to find out if he still has the file.
He said: “Whatever the DPP told you, go with that. The media has to do its job, and I am a professional and will not be caught up in that.
“I must ensure that everyone gets a fair chance in this investigation.”
In a telephone conversation with The Reporter, Brackett sharply criticized ACP Blackett, saying: “Mr. Blackett is not the Commissioner of Police; he has no authority to decide whether COLA gets the file. We wrote to the Commissioner asking for the file, not Mr. Blackett.”
Brackett said he found it appalling that Commissioner Whylie could not say whether the police still has the file. He asked, “Can the Commissioner [at least] give a time frame when they [the police] will give back the file to the DPP?”
Whylie also offered his remarks with respect to the Writ of Mandamus order that Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin delivered, compelling him to conduct a full investigation into the scandal.
He told reporters on Wednesday that it was never his intention to not carry out an investigation.
“We were awaiting an official complaint from the Director of Immigration or we were awaiting the results of the Auditor General’s investigation. It is not unusual, when people believe that irregularities have been committed, the Auditor General goes in, does the investigation, and then send their report to us along with the necessary evidence.”
Since the private prosecution against Penner started on March 27, Brackett says COLA has received little to no information or evidence from the relevant investigating bodies.
The organization, through an unnamed sponsor, is offering a token $500 to anyone who has material that will help to convict Elvin Penner.