Tonight the family of Ambassador Rosendo Chendo Urbina has fled the country because their lives are being threatened by a group of extortionists.
It is a story that is almost certainly without precedent: Rosendo Urbina Senior is a senior personality in the ruling UDP, the Ambassador to Mexico, the standard bearer for the UDP in Orange Walk South and the owner of the A & R chain of department stores
Urbina himself has not been directly threatened - the threat came to his son, Rosendo Urbina Junior.
This evening, a special press briefing was hosted by the Minister of Police and Public safety and he outlined the quite remarkable, very disturbing extortion scheme - which started to unfold on Sunday in the Orange Walk District:
Doug Singh - Minister of Police
"There was an incident that occurred on Sunday night after 6 o'clock at the Honeycamp Lagoon area that involves Rosendo Urbina Jr. and his wife, at the family's residence there, when they were leaving. And it occurred just at the gate at they were leaving."
ACP Mike Segura - Head of National CIB
"The scenario unfolded at around 6 p.m., Sunday, December 4. And actually, the opportunity that the assailants took was when Chendo Jr. and his wife were exiting the gate, that a group of people wearing camouflage and masks approached them and held them. They held on to his wife, who was opening the gate. They then held on to Chendo Jr, and they put them up against a nearby wall. There was a series of interrogations. During that sequence of events, these people were asking questions. They were consulting among themselves, so there was no command and control amongst them. So from there, we made our analysis based on experience of how the types of people operate. Eventually, they searched the watchman's premises, and they even took a vehicle from there that eventually they used to escape. That vehicle was later recovered on one of the feeder roads. At the time, a phone number was requested from Chendo Urbina, whereby he was told that they wanted an X amount of money by a certain time. We immediately started to advise Urbina that these people, based on how they were operating, they were intimidating them, but there was no bargaining chip. So we advised them not to pay. From there, we started to initiate our own investigation internally, in terms of reaching these people involved. Subsequently, we walked them through the Sunday Morning, and Monday morning, we started looking at their own security measures and support. Basically, we didn't bring it the media's attention because it would have then complicated the investigation. And we know that the media would understand this, and most of these cases, we ask the cooperation of the media to assist us in these cases because putting it out there, it also compromises the operation. So, during the ordeal, they made decision that they took certain security measures that eventually, they are not in the country, but we give the assurance to the people here that we are using all available tools and methods that we have. The past MO's of people in Orange Walk who had utilized it, they are our targets. So the message here from the investigation standpoint is that we are looking and exploiting all available avenues, and my advice to people, when these things happen, call and get the police involved. They technology is here, and we need to exploit it. We have even the GPS aspect that we can trace where people are, and there are many things, with the advice of the people, we can do. We are also still conducting the investigation. This will not be left alone, despite that they have taken security measures, and also the family has made an offer of a reward to any person to come forward. So we appeal to anybody who knows about these people to come forward. My number is 610- 4137, and they can call me confidentially, and we will respond to any information that we have. We are working on all of those leads that we have, and looking at the past, because we have some past actors in that district. They know who they are, so the message is clear to them that we will go against them, and we will go on the offense. We will not tolerate this thing here."
Isani Cayetano - Channel 5 News
"I don't know how factual this bit of information is but we were made to understand that this may have something to do with the Zetas Cartel operating out of Mexico, can you say whether or not that is a possibility?"
ACP Mike Segura
"The information - if you look at our borders, they are poor, so of course, people may want to use that also to intimidate people as it may be, we are also not ruling it out, but we are looking at the way they operated in the arena. So we are not ruling it out, but at the same time, other people utilize it to intimidate people, to instill that fear in them, but that doesn't mean that we will rule it out because similar MO's are used by Belizean immigrants who go to the US, where certain people are kidnapped held hostage, and they call the families to extort money, and they say that they are from the Zetas, which in fact, they are not from the Zetas, but there are some pockets of gangs operating. So, answering your question, yes the information may come as that, or people utilizing the name to instill fear, but we are not ruling it out. We are looking at all of these angles."
Alfonso Noble - Guardian Newspaper
"From the information gathered so far, are these men who held up the family, are they Belizeans - the accent?"
ACP Miguel Segura
"Good question, we know for a fact that they have Belizean connections, we know that for a fact that Orange Walk District, there are people with foreign accents, working in cane fields, and these people link up. That has been an MO from the past that we have known of certain individuals in Orange Walk who used to bring relatives from outside, commit something, and go back. So the accents, it's on Belizean support."
Doug Singh - Minister of Police
"The family has left the country. They considered their safety to be the number 1 concern. So the entire family left the country today. They wanted to allow the investigations to proceed and to ensure that their security was taken care of. It's unfortunate. I think we're happy that they disclosed this information to us at the very start, so that we could have commenced our investigation, look at all the information, all the possible suspects, monitor those suspects as we went along. We've tried to track the telephone numbers that were given. One of them was just recently bought and is a prepaid, and we've approached the vendor, but the vendor has indicated that they couldn't exactly remember who the purchaser was, and we like to announce at this time that it's important that we follow the procedures that have been put in place. While we've given a deadline for the all registration of sim numbers - March I think is the deadline - the reality is that prior to that, all of the vendors ought to be following procedures, and registering these numbers as they sell them, so that these individuals don't have to go back. Under those circumstances, we would have been able to identify individuals who purchased these cards, and at least follow the leads. These individuals are organized to a certain extent, but we want to make every effort to ask the public to support us in this exercise, and if you have any information that can lead to the arrest and or conviction of any of these individuals, we will certainly appreciate it. In fact, the family has gone as far as offering $50,000 as a reward for information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of anybody involved in this. So we would like you to keep your eyes and ears open. We want to ensure that this type of activity takes no root in Belize. It's absolutely necessary. If this is successful in any incident in Belize, all Belizean families are risk. Everybody becomes vulnerable, and as long as there is one successful incident, more will follow, so we have to really appeal to all Belizeans that if you are ever in this kind of situation, you must immediately advise the police. Get all the information that you can, record the conversations if you can, do everything, record the time, date, and incident - everything that you remember. All of that is important as part of the investigation. We want to ensure that this does not take root, and that our country does not go the way of our neighbors in context of this kind of activity."
Again, we stress, the threat came to Rosendo Urbina Junior, not Rosendo Chendo Senior - who is Belize's ambassador to Mexico. But, tonight, the entire family has left the country fearing a criminal conspiracy.
The family is offering fifty thousand dollars to anyone with information that may lead police to arresting the extortionists.
One clue to the story may come in a news report we did back in April of this year. There was a quarter million dollar heist which took place over the Easter weekend at the A & R in the Corozal Free Zone.
According to police reports, the robbery was reported to them by the store's Manager, on the Tuesday after Easter where the culprits got in by penetrating the roof of the pre-fabricated building and made their way to two separate Sentry brand iron safes located in the Manager's office. Aldo Urbina told 7News in a telephone interview that the break-in seemed to have been carefully planned.