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Locked Up Abroad !

September 15
12:43 2019

“Extortion: the unlawful exaction of money or property through intimidation. Extortion was originally the complement of bribery, both crimes involve interference with or by public officials. But extortion and, to a limited extent, bribery have been expanded to include actions by private citizens as well.”

There has been word in the business community, for some time now, that there is an “extortion ring” inside Belize’s tax circles. When that “ring” gets wind that you owe taxes they offer to clear your books for a price. Say you owe $75,000 in taxes; the “ring” can convert that to an outstanding sum of $25,000 for a fee of $15,000. Your $75,000 in outstanding taxes for all intents and purposes has been reduced to $40,000; a good deal to the average business person.

If one fails to play along, the “ring”, with connections across all branches of the public service, sets out to harass you. You become subject to endless audits and you fall under full and unending scrutiny: in other words, you become a victim of official harassment. After a while, the “ring’s” offer becomes a matter of practicality!

However, things don’t always go as planned and there have been stories where the “ring” took people’s money but the taxes did not go away. Whether the extortion money did not reach the right people or whether it was an outright jacking, we will never know because there is no recourse in the courts for such dubious undertakings. So the “victim” (used loosely here) must either weep in silence or seek street justice.

Increasingly, Belizeans have been complaining about the state of corruption in our beautiful country. Those complaints, for the most part, are focused on our politicians. We seldom stop to think that corruption requires a complex web of accomplices for it to become ingrained. Corrupt politicians must, therefore, rely on corrupt public officials, lawyers, business persons and so on.

Over the last few years, we have seen a Ministry CEO turned back from the US as a persona non grata; a lawyer subjected to extradition proceedings; a bank folding under the weight of the FTC’s probe and now the second-highest ranking tax official arrested. Yet still, as a people, we seem to care so little as our country suffers one international black eye after another.

Many of us are complicit in this corruption. Our politicians are in bed with our business people who provide the $50 and $100 you lust for during the election cycle. In return our politicians allow these business people to play with such reckless abandon, that in one instance, there was a real and palpable threat to Belize’s financial and banking sector.

Let’s hope that Verde’s arrest turns the spotlight on white color crimes such that we can begin to take serious action to eradicate it. The thing is that white color crimes are committed by people in jackets and ties: people with political backative!

When most Belizeans think or speak of crime, their minds often wander to street-level crimes. This is understandable because it is the murders, rapes, and jackings that shock us and put fear in our hearts; whereas white color criminals drive around in Prados and live in million-dollar mansions. Many of us wish to be like them but many of us do not know of the things they do to live such lifestyles.

In response to what is now clearly a culture of corruption in public offices, there have been calls for a Belizean version of the CICIG (The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala) set up under UNCAC (United Nations Convention against Corruption). To be honest I don’t like such mechanisms because they infringe upon our sovereignty.

The Americans would never set up such a system to deal with their citizens but the Americans have been sure to set up their own systems that deal with wrongdoers no matter who they are. It is this mindset that we need to develop if we are to stem this high tide of corruption.

They say that a drowning man will cling to a straw, so if it takes our version of CICIG to address these criminals then so be it. But in the meantime, take them, Uncle Sam, take them!

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