Heredia and The Harmouche’s

Last night's news was all about UDP Ministers Rene Montero and Manuel Heredia Jr. testifying before the Senate Select Committee.

Montero's testimony was significantly shorter than Heredia's because the Tourism Minister had to answer all those Harmouche's, who he helped to become Belizean citizens back in early 2012.

The Auditor General was concerned with Heredia's interest in the Harmouche Clan, even questioning if there was a conflict of interest between him and Khodr (Coder) Harmouche, the Honorary Consul of Belize in Lebanon.

As we showed you, Heredia claims that there are close to 100 Harmouches living in San Pedro, and so the Senate wanted to know if he was eager to help them get nationality because he was in election mode. Here's that exchange between Heredia and the Senators on the Commitee:

Michel Chebat- PUP Senator
"Would it be a coincidence, sir, that within days of your intervention, on behalf of Samir Harmouche and Ahmad Harmouche, Mr. Perdomo signed off on their nationality certificate?"

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. - Minister UDP Minister
"Not so sir, I will never ask any one of my colleagues to go ahead and do something that hasn't fulfilled the time or hasn't been vetted the right way or whatever."

Michel Chebat- PUP Senator
"So it would be a surprise to you that they got it a few days after your intervention?"

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. - Minister UDP Minister
"If they get for over there then that is for the minister or the persons or who are vetting to see that it was right or if anything is wrong."

Michel Chebat- PUP Senator
"What benefit is there to you for this service?"

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"Personal benefit? No personal benefit from anyone; and I think I said it, why I have been very successful is because I provide services free of cost."

Michel Chebat
"Would it be any coincidence or surprise to you that within a day or two after Samir and Ahmad got their nationality they went to register as voters in your constituency?"

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"Well, like I said, most of the people in the island, as soon as they get their - Central Americans, Canadians, Americans- as soon as they get it, two things that they do: get their ID and then get their passport."

Michel Chebat
"So this was the benefit in providing this service?"

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"I wouldn't say that. Indeed, if they got it then it was a benefit for them because uhm…but if it didn't qualify well then they shouldn't have gotten."

Michel Chebat
"No, but that's not my question."

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"But then don't blame Minister Heredia for getting a nationality if there were irregularities. Blame the persons that were in charge."

Michel Chebat
"No, that's not my question minister. You see, there is a clear pattern established with these Harmouches. You intervened on their behalf, within a few days of your intervention they got their nationality certificate. And within a few days of getting their nationality certificate, they registered in your division, as voters in your division. And so, there was a benefit to you personally."

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"Well, if you want to call it so, call it so but I don't regard it as such. I think it is their duty, their rightful duty if they want to get register within hours of getting their nationality."

Michel Chebat
"This was not their way of repaying you of your service?"

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"I don't regard, I will never and I think, probably you might not know me but your brother know me very well what type of person I am."

Hon. Heredia Courier Service?

The Senators also wanted to know about the immigration courier services Heredia claimed to have been providing since 1994.

As viewers will remember, the Auditor General flagged the practice when she noted that he received 52 visa stickers back on September 7, 2012. Those stickers were for the Immigration Officer in charge of the San Pedro office.

The Auditor General says that it was improper for him to do so, but yesterday, he explained that he started doing this for San Pedro because its isolation from the mainland causes undue delays:

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.- Area Rep, Belize Rural South
"From 1994, when I was mayor of the island, right, the previous administration was in power, they had asked me if I can provide services because usually, I will come at least once a week to tend to the businesses of my constituency in different departments. So being myself, that I usually come Mondays, particularly, for the business of the constituency, immigration in San Pedro with the consent of the Minister responsible had asked me if I can take and bring sealed envelopes from San Pedro to Belmopan and from Belmopan to San Pedro. And that is what I had been doing from 1994 until Minister Hulse became the minister, and there was a lot of scandals over there, that he asked him that I can no longer continue to do the services but it was just more a service to the constituencies because San Pedro is isolated and the officers in charge will usually only come sometimes once a month and then those applications are delayed in San Pedro, it takes three weeks to a month before it arrives in Belmopan and then it takes another two to three months before it can go back to the island. That is why they had asked me if I can provide that but there was nothing that was individually it was a sealed in a manila envelope addressed to the officer in charge of San Pedro and addressed to the officer in charge of Belmopan. I believe that my job as the area representative, at the time as the Mayor, is to provide services to my constituency, the best service possible to my constituency and that is exactly what I tried to do, it is not something that I on my own went over there 'give me this' or the demand, it was something that I was asked to do. If it was illegal then I was not aware of that but it was just a service that I was providing."

Aldo Salazar- Chairman, Senate Select Committee
"Were you aware of what was in the envelope?"

Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
"Definitely not, because I will never open the envelope to see if it was visas or if it was passport or no matter what. My job was just to deliver, providing that service but I will never know what is in there. So when I saw that so many visas were taken by Minister Heredia, something is wrong here because I never knew what was inside of the envelope."

Channel 7