The Juice and Biscuits Trial
‘Herald, read the accusation!’ said the King.
The Queen of Hearts; she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!
‘Consider your verdict,’ the King said to the jury.
‘Not yet, not yet!’ the Rabbit hastily interrupted. ‘There’s a great deal to come before that!’
-The trial of the knave of hearts, Alice in Wonderland
“For that Said Musa on the 28th day of December 2007, in the City of Belmopan, in the Cayo District, stole the sum of US$10,000,000.00, the property of the Government of Belize”, is how the historic charge reads against former Prime Minister Said Musa. But there’s a great deal to come before the jury considers their verdict, if indeed it ever gets to that.
The charge of theft arose from a grant of US $20 million made by the Venezuelan Government to the Government of Belize for housing for the people of Belize in December 2007. The allegation is that the money was gifted to the Government and people of Belize specifically for housing and the former PM and the Minister of Housing, unlawfully re-allocated half of the money to pay a government debt to the Belize Bank which the government had guaranteed on behalf of a private hospital. For this, they have both been charged with theft.
When asked by a reporter about the appropriateness of the charge, the DPP replied that theft wasn’t quite what the layman understood it to be and that it had to do with the assumption of rights belonging to others.
This is interesting.
Whatever the technical elements of the charge of theft, the layman’s view is the touchstone in a jury trial, especially one as high profile as this, and laymen, as well as media houses, are puzzled as to how theft arises.
As most people understand it, the money did not go into anyone’s pockets and, in any event, the new government succeeded in getting back the money from the Belize Bank. To the layman, this might amount to something, but not theft.
The following exchanges between reporters and the DPP capture the public reaction to the charge of theft:
Misappropriation of funds or fraudulent diversion seems to be the public opinion out there, that is the appropriate charge. Your opinion?DPP
My opinion obviously is that he should have been charged with theft because that is what I directed.Reporter Two
Did you consider misappropriation?DPP
I considered every possible offense that could have been charged and theft is the most appropriate.Reporter Two
I guess this is obvious but there are sufficient grounds you are certain for theft?DPP
Or else why would I have directed that he be charged for theft?Reporter Two
A lot of times people are charged and the prosecutions aren’t successful for a variety of reasons.
For a variety of reasons yes, in this case it certainly won’t be because the charge is incorrect.
Perceiving, no doubt, the public puzzlement about the charge of theft, the DPP was armed, at her next interview, with an illustration to explain to the ordinary man in the street, just how the charge of theft came about.
In doing so, she unwittingly succeeded in parodying the matter.
While technically sound, the illustration caused more befuddlement. Seasoned reporters, and even a few lawyers, confessed to having to read the transcript of the interview to understand the illustration. The reference to Caribbean Pride orange juice and Shirley biscuits in her illustration of the theft of 20 million dollars did not help to bolster the credibility of the charge in the eyes of laypersons already unconvinced of those charges.
There are few who believe that those charges will stick.
That wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Straining and staggering under the immense weight of the public perception of its intractable corruption the PUP Government collapsed on February 8th 2008. As it lay in the wreckage of its spectacular, homegrown financial mishaps, the new government, to rousing applause, virtually guaranteed the expectant masses, fed-up with impunity, jail-time for the fallen ministers.
Several factors contributed to the less than lukewarm response to the charges. Belizeans cannot wait a long time and despite early pronouncements at the highest levels of the new government that Mr. Musa and Mr. Fonseca would soon be charged, the charges came nine months later, interspersed with several false starts. One television station dubbed the matter a political dud. All this gave a clumsy and contrived appearance to the whole affair.
In the interim, the former Minister of Health had also been charged with theft in wholly unrelated circumstances. That charge, denounced by that minister as politically motivated, fell apart before reaching trial and the charge was withdrawn.
The worsening economic conditions and rising cost of living have also aided in dulling the populace’s interest and attention to political retribution.
Said Musa has had his share of trials. He has been on trial before the courts of law, before parliament, before commissions of inquiry and before the court of public opinion, and survived. Those so inclined should perhaps contain their schadenfreude. http://www.flashpointbelize.com/flashpoint+articles.aspx?EntryID=70