The Scandal Exposed: Six Immigration Officers Arrested

This morning - a very unusual, possibly unprecedented thing happened: police investigators went to the immigration department in Belize City to arrest six immigration officers.

Only four were at work, but there are arrest warrants for all six: Senior-most among them is Martin Guy, then Mark Michael Tench, Jason Daly, Lindsay Wade, Angelica Lima and Kandra Coleman Wade. All 6 had been assigned to the airport when three flights from Haiti landed in Belize on September 18, and 19th. and October third.

At a late afternoon press conference today Police Minister Doug Singh detailed how they are all suspected to have been complicit in the smuggling - yes, smuggling - of 33 Chinese - yes, Chinese - nationals through Belize's main airport in an elaborate operation.

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"Information that was put on the arrival record by the immigration officers may have been falsified. In the cases where visa numbers were listed on these arrival records, in many cases the visa numbers were consecutive and the visa numbers that were listed in all cases for all 33 passengers that arrived on all three flights, those originals exist in the vault at the Immigration Department which means that the numbers have never been issued to anyone. I have one of those forms with us just to give you an idea of what it is. It's a sticker with some protection features. If it's erased, it actually goes away, it has the signature of the immigration officer and this is taken off and put in the passport. All 33 of these that were listed by the officers on these arrival records exist in the vault and this is one of those numbers. Furthermore, two of the immigration officers indicated that they assisted the passengers to complete the forms because they could not speak English, which means that the information on the forms, we believe, all of those forms were completed by immigration officers when these people landed. There are a bit of missing information on them such as address, where the people reside, which would be in their home country and what they should have also put on the arrival record was the where the visa was issued, in fact they did not include that. But that probably is self evident since the visas were never, ever issued. We believe that there was some collusion among the immigration offers to put numbers on there that did not exist and to assist these people through the process of clearing immigration. We also believe that the passports that they carried, the Japanese passports may actually be counterfeit. Needless to say these passengers were facilitated through immigration and through customs. At least in the case of the last incident on the 3rd, customs indicated that they completed the customs declaration forms and those forms have gone missing. We feel that it is possible that no customs forms were completed because they would have had to assist the Chinese passengers because of the language issue and we feel that because they had very little to declare which is what our surveillance video camera demonstrates, each one of these passengers had a duffel bag, not a very large duffel bag that they carried with them as they entered the van that was waiting for them. The camera indicated that from landing, the plane landed at I believe 6:54 pm, the camera that showed the individuals walking out the airport was at 7:07 pm. In a matter of 12 or 13 minutes those individuals have landed, have been processed through immigration, processed through customs and had left the airport. Now you and I know that when we go through Phillip Goldson International Airport we don't get through that quickly. We suspect that what the ring does or what they do is pick up the individuals at the airport, they take them up north immediately, we believe if they do stay, they stay at the Princess Hotel at the free zone and they are whisked across the border perhaps within hours. So it is not our belief that these individuals spend very much more than 12 hours in this country."

"I think there is no question that they are Chinese names, Japanese names are generally like Tanaka, Fujimori whatever it might be, and they are very different names. Korean names generally are like Pak and Kim. Vietnamese names are generally like Nu Yen. Chinese names are like Lim, Mak etc., so it clear that it is a Chinese name. We have no question that these people are Chinese and we suspect that the passports are not genuine."

Hon. Carlos Perdomo, Minister of Defence
"It has shown to a great extent the facilitation of the people through the airport and going God-knows-where is essentially the responsibility of the Immigration Department and thus the first arrests have been made in that department."

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"It would be a knee-jerk reaction to think that these are the only people involved in this kind of ring. This ring has to be facilitated from some very powerful people certainly some very influential people who may be local or abroad. There are some leads that we are presently following and we will continue to do so."

Jules Vasquez
"You said powerful and influential people are involved. We have seen in the past at least twice where the smuggling of Chinese has involved ministers of government. It concerns me greatly when I see 2 brothers are actively involved in the investigation. I am not sure how you could oversee an investigation of civil aviation in any honest way considering your brother is the CEO."

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"First of all 2 of us are not involved in an investigation. I am the one that is involved in the investigation. Just let me make that clear."

Jules Vasquez
"But you are investigating civil aviation."

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"Yes but I am investigating the civil aviation body and its operations and if you believe that there is anything unorthodox with that then perhaps you are entitled to do so, but let me assure you that if there was anything that civil aviation did that was unorthodox, it certainly would have come to light and I am sure that the media would be able to get that from someplace else also as you generally do."

Hon. Carlos Perdomo, Minister of Defence
"I would like to say categorically that this minister is not involved and will never be involved with any type of illegal activity dealing with this type of immigration scandal that we have now."

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"What kind of assurance can I give you? Really, none at the end of the day. I would hope that there is a balance between the minister of police and the minister of immigration that we can through our own best judgment hopefully and best interest in this particular job work not to undermine each other, and work for the best interest of the Belizean people and try to uncover anything that we can. There should be no sacred cows. At the end of the day this has to stop. I understand that we will never be able to close every hole within the immigration, the police department or the customs department but we must make an effort and when we talk about powerful people, they are not necessarily politicians some of them are very well connected business people in our community. I don't know where these leads are going to go, we hope that they will lead to some kind of arrest ultimately. It would be unfortunate for just the officers at the bottom of the totem pole who sign these forms and may have gotten paid (and I say 'may have gotten paid') to do so - would be the only ones that we would be snared in this particular situation. That truly would be tragic but at the end of the day it appears that the people who have the influence and have the money pay the money rather than actually sit there and sign."

Hon. Carlos Perdomo, Minister of Defence
"It's a very well organized network, very expensive and once you land to your end point there is a way where they can collect for the delivery to wherever they were supposed to go, so it's a very intricate, well-organized, well-financed, a lot of money involved."

Jules Vasquez
"Should flags have gone up at civil aviation or somewhere when they receive word that a charter flight is coming in from Haiti?"

Hon. Doug Singh, Minister of Police
"Well I think that flags should have gone up everywhere and this is one of the reasons why we are going to tighten the coordination. We ask civil aviation to ensure. Let me put it this way, we are putting responsibilities on some very senior people and we are going to hold them accountable for the responsibility that we give them. They must advise people at the highest places in certain ministries of certain actions that allow us to react if in fact it is suspect. Take some examples, Special Branch - there is no reason in my mind that they should not have called this an unusual situation and should not have reported on it. For me that is suspect at the end of the day. If there is a need for a public inquiry or an investigation we will do so should the circumstances warrants it."

Hon. Carlos Perdomo, Minister of Defence
"Just in case there might be some collusion internationally, I have ordered a moratorium on all visas of Chinese or non-Cuban persons trying to obtain visas from our embassy in Cuba."

Chinese nationals do not need visas to travel to Cuba - and history has shown that it is the preferred and primary point of departure for Chinese being smuggled into Belize.

A few additional notes, no charges are contemplated at this time for the customs officers - though they are being investigated. As we noted, no customs forms have been found for the passengers - and the officer who was there at the time - says the forms were misplaced or stolen.

It is of note also that the Customs Department blew the whistle on the entire smuggling operation. As for the two general declarations for the October third flight - one showing 13 passengers, the other showing none…this is still being investigated - as it represents a rather complex level of fraud. Singh confirmed that suspicions are not being cast upon the agent, Belize Aero Dispatch.

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