Former prime minister charged with Theft in Belmopan …

Ending months of speculation of his arrest, this morning former Prime Minister Said Musa was brought before the courts to face charges of Theft in relation to US$10 million gifted by the government of Venezuela late last year when Musa was head of government. When Musa returned to the nation’s capital today, his successor, the current Prime Minister, was nowhere in sight. Musa handed himself in to Belmopan Police and was first processed at the station and then taken to the Magistrates’ Court under heavy protection and with a crowd of supporters on the sidelines. He left the court after meeting bail of a whopping $100,000. News Five’s Marion Ali was in Belmopan this morning for the historic event.

Marion Ali, Reporting
The Belmopan Police Station had so many police officers barricading its entrance this morning that if you didn’t know better, you’d think the President of a first world country was on an official visit. But such was not the case. Today was the first time in Belize’s history that a former Prime Minister was criminally charged. In this instance, former Prime Minister, Said Musa is facing a single charge of Theft. And so when the Police were finished with him at the police station and handed him his charge sheet, Musa was escorted under heavy police guard to the Magistrates’ Court.

A group of about a hundred staunch P.U.P. supporters who had travelled mainly from Belize City and Corozal Town, were already gathered outside. And they made their presence known with placards and cheers as Musa arrived at the courthouse.
But the lower flat of the courthouse where the case was supposed to be heard did not have enough space to accommodate the 8-member legal team, P.U.P stalwarts, and the many reporters who were there to cover the event.

So Musa was then escorted to the upper flat where he flashed a wave to his supporters just before walking inside to face his charge.

Magistrate Albert Hoare read him a single charge of Theft, which is in connection with $10 million in December of 2007 gifted to Belize by the Government of Venezuela and earmarked for housing projects. The funds were directed to the Belize Bank as a loan payment for the now defunct Universal Health Services.

Musa’s heavy weight legal team, led by his law partner Senior Counsel Edwin Flowers, also includes political colleagues, Francis Fonseca, Anthony Sylvestre Junior, and son Karim Musa, former Minister in the past Musa Administration Lisa Shoman, Kevin Flowers and Arthur Saldivar. Because the matter is indictable, no plea was taken from Musa and Magistrate Hoare granted him bail of $100,000 and adjourned the case until January 9th, 2009.

Upon exiting the courthouse, Musa repeated that he was innocent and lashed out at the Government of the day.

Said Musa, Charged with Theft
“I am innocent of this charge of this charge and of any charges that they threaten to bring against me. I acted in good faith always when I secured the grants from Venezuela for the benefit of the Belizean people. What we have here happening is this Government, this regime is trying to harass me, trying to shame me, but in fact they are shaming themselves because they are dragging our country, Belize, down to the level of a failed state where a rogue totalitarian regime is subverting the justice system, controlling the justice system, and using it and instructing people to use it to persecute and to jail their political opponents.”

Anthony Sylvestre Junior, Attorney, Musa’s legal team
“The information of the imminent charge did appear on the front page of the Government’s newspaper, so that, I think, speaks volumes and I will leave it at that.”

Lisa Shoman, Attorney, Musa’s Legal Team
“Which would be today even before, I might add, it was read out to the person who was being charged, so you ask yourself then what kind of justice there is when even before you are charged it is already appearing in a sector of the media.”

But despite everything, Musa was confident that he will be victorious and criticised Government for using him as a distraction from the problems affecting the country.

Said Musa
“I am not worried about it. They know that they will not succeed with this ridiculous charge against me. What is very worrying is the amount of victimisation that is going on in our country. This is the distraction that they are trying to create from the major political victimisation against hundreds of innocent people, Many single mothers can’t even feed their babies today because of this vindictive Government who have taken away their jobs. They want to distract the people from the taxes that they are raising, from the economy that is falling down. They want to distract the people from the raging crime and violence in our country and they are trying to distract the people from all the problems; economic and social problems that the country is going through. But the people are awake and I’m sure they will not be fooled by this attempt to divert and to distract their attention from the serious problems that are affecting our country.”

After his supporters bade him farewell, two of Musa’s attorneys, Anthony Sylvestre Junior and Lisa Shoman fielded questions from reporters.

Anthony Sylvestre Junior
“What we will say at this juncture in terms of what the legal definition of what Theft is we don’t think what has been ventilated in the public domain would not accord with that definition of Theft.”

Lisa Shoman
“Remember that this is a criminal case and like in any other criminal case it is not for the defendant to prove anything. It’s for the state to prove their case against Mr. Musa and so the issue of disclosure is going to be very important. It is the D.P.P’s duty and responsibility to make out the case and according to the case that is made out the, disclosure that is obtained, the proof and evidence that they present, that is how the defence will unfold.”

As far as the Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Branker-Taitt is concerned, the fact that she is going up against a strong legal team does not trouble her.

Cheryl-Lynn Branker-Taitt, D.P.P.
“I would not have been intimidated if the entire bar was on the other side.”

Jules Vasquez, Channel 7
“You will bring additional charges as well? It will be more than just the charge of Theft?”

Cheryl-Lynn Branker-Taitt
“In relation to this particular issue, no, but in relation to the entire U.H.S matter, yes, other charges will be laid.”

As far as former Attorney General, Francis Fonseca is concerned, Taitt could not immediately say whether any charges will be laid against him. Meanwhile, former Minister of government under the Musa regime, Ralph Fonseca, will face a similar charge of Theft when he appears in the Belmopan Court tomorrow. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

P.U.P leader Johnny Briceño was not present as he was leaving the country today for Houston. But Musa did have other current and former P.U.P Area Representatives by his side today. And this afternoon the P.U.P. Fort George committee came out in solidarity with the area representative saying that the arrest was political persecution at its worst and a way of distracting the country from the incompetence of the U.D.P. administration.

… But it’s not his first time in court
This is not the first time that Said Musa has been charged criminally while in opposition. Musa faced the music before under a U.D.P regime, and came out victorious.

This was the scene on the streets leading to Independence Hall on Queen Street back on November 25th, 1993 when Musa, then as P.U.P party chairman, was charged with Bribery. The charge was dismissed by Magistrates’ Court.

David Reid, Channel 5 (November 25th, 1993)
“You’re gonna be arrested again. What are you going to do then?”

Said Musa, P.U.P. Chairman (November 25th, 1993)
“Well, we have to go through the legal process. I know that this is political persecution and we have to go through it for the next 5 years.”

David Reid
“And how is this affecting you personally? How do you feel?”

Said Musa
“I’m holding up strong, I think.”

In another instance in January 1998, Musa, then as Opposition Leader, was accused, tried, and found guilty of Contempt of the House of Representatives, also under the U.D.P. regime.

Belize Bank: It acted in good faith to settle U.H.S. debt

The reaction to Musa’s arrest and arraignment was swift from the Belize Bank which says in a release that whether or not there is any substance to the charge is now a matter for the courts.
According to the bank, it was not a party to the discussions between Belize and Venezuela and it did not have knowledge of what was agreed between the two. The bank says it acted in good faith to settle the U.H.S. debt and advanced substantial sums to the hospital on the basis of Government’s assurances and is entitled to repayment of those sums. In reaching a settlement, it discharged the U.H.S. debt and withdrew litigation proceedings against the Government and agreed to forgo millions of dollars so that the hospital can continue under new ownership.
The release also says that the bank has been wrongly forced by the Central Bank, acting at the behest of the Barrow administration, to pay $10 million to the Government and that by holding on to the monies, the new Government has sought to avoid the obligations of the past administration. According to the Bank, the Government has used the tools of the state to obtain free money. And to drive home the point, the Belize Bank says it expects to recover the money in full in due course.

Instead of treasure, Polish divers find human remains
Police have confirmed to News Five that human remains were found yesterday in the Blue Hole at the Lighthouse Reef formation. Efforts to bring the body to surface are set for tomorrow.
Polish divers on vacation in Belize, on a tour with Aqua Dives of San Pedro, reportedly discovered skeletal remains. According to the report, the sighting was made after 7:00 last night in waters 300 meters deep within the Blue Hole.
According to an unconfirmed report, the remains were found with the suit, oxygen tank and camera still intact.

This find is linked to an incident back on August 5th of 2001 when Dr. Ruben Delgado, a 43-year-old cardiologist of Miami, failed to resurface from a dive into the Blue Hole. Many search efforts were made to find Delgado’s body, but all were futile.
On Friday an expedition will be sent to retrieve the remains and diving equipment.

Channel 5