It was a major scandal during the previous administrations of both the PUP and the UDP, and now, allegations are that a human smuggling ring has been discovered – again.
Allegations are that an aircraft landed at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) on Sunday, October 3, past normal operating hours.
The plane was undeclared at the Immigration Department, and it went on record as though the plane arrived empty, when in fact, allegations are that 13 passengers of Oriental descent had disembarked from the aircraft and disappeared into the night with a trace, as though they had not arrived.
In its defense, late this evening, the Ministry of Defence and Immigration sent out a press release pertaining to the mystery flight, which turned out to be only one of three such flights.
“The Minister of Defence and Immigration, Hon. Carlos Perdomo, has announced that on the evening of Tuesday, 5th October, 2010, the Ministry of Defence and Immigration received information that a private plane had landed at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) on Sunday, 3rd October, 2010, after normal working hours, and that several Haitians had disembarked and entered Belize, which was deemed suspicious.
“As a result thereof, the information was passed to the Belize Police Department and a formal investigation was launched. On 6th October, 2010, an investigation team lead by OC CIB, ASP Alden Dawson, coordinated by CEO Allen Whylie, visited the PGIA, where a number of persons were interviewed, statements recorded and documents seen and retained.
“The investigation to date has disclosed the following:
“A private charter plane operated by Air Century out of the Dominican Republic landed at the PGIA at 6:54 p.m. on 3rd October, 2010, and departed at 7:15 p.m. Thirteen (13) passengers disembarked and were cleared by the Immigration Officials present to enter Belize.
“It was also discovered that on two prior occasions, namely 18th September and 19th September, 2010, a charter flight operated by the same company had also landed in Belize at 5:22 p.m. and departed at 5:53 p.m. and 5:38 p.m. and departed at 6:07 p.m. respectively.
“On both occasions seven (7) passengers and twelve (12) passengers respectively disembarked and were cleared by Immigration officials present to stay in Belize.
The agent for all three flights was Mr. Rudolph Coye of Aero Dispatch Services, who provided dispatching services.
“The full name of the company, the itinerary, type of aircraft, the airworthiness certificate, certificate of registration of the aircraft, worldwide insurance certificate, pilot’s license and medical certificate and flight plan were all submitted to the Belize Civil Aviation Authority and found to be in order, thus approval of a Landing Permit was granted for the aircrafts to land on all three occasions.
“The Belize Airport Concession Company Ltd., which manages the PGIA, was aware that the flights were scheduled to arrive in Belize, that their documentation was in order and that the necessary Landing Permit had been approved by the Civil Aviation Authority. On two occasions, namely 19th September, 2010, and 3rd October, 2010, they were informed by the agent that the planes would be late and request made for the airport to remain open beyond its normal time of 6:00 p.m. On both occasions the request was approved.
“All agencies, namely Customs, BAHA, Immigration, police, were informed that the flights of 19th September, 2010, and 3rd October, 2010, were delayed and would be arriving late.
“Personnel of all agencies were on hand to meet and process all three flights.
“Based on the three (3) flights manifest, a total of thirty two (32) persons of Asian/Oriental descent entered Belize.
“The Arrival Records presented by Immigration Officials at PGIA to the Investigating Team indicated that all thirty two (32) persons were Japanese nationals and had visas to enter Belize.
“The Investigating Team has uncovered procedural errors both at the Customs and Immigration Department at PGIA in respect to these flights, which warrants further investigation.
“The investigation is ongoing.”
Amandala contacted the CEO of the Ministry of Defence and Immigration, Allen Whylie, about the details of the press release and he told us that at this point in the investigation, all documents were in order and the proper procedural authorization was followed which began from the time the aircraft company made the request to visit Belize, the request for the aircraft to land and have passengers pass through the Customs and Immigration Departments, and finally, leave the airport.
With reference to the “procedural errors” mentioned in the release, Whylie told us that at this point in the investigation, the immigrant visas for all the passengers should have had certain details that were to be collected by the Immigration official who processed them, but one particular detail, namely, the place of issue of the visas, was missing. He said that at this point, the missing detail is being considered as a procedural error.
He said that no one is being reprimanded and officials are only under scrutiny; at this point, it would be premature to accuse anyone of wrong-doing, he said.
There is no information as to why the three aircraft needed to land at night, and how it was that the absence of such a vital piece of information - the place of issue of the visas – had not been noticed by the attending officer.
However, Amandala has learnt that several officials have been suspended pending this investigation, and that they have retained the services of attorney Arthur Saldivar. As a result, we contacted Saldivar, who told us that at this point, there are 2 or 3 officials of “very minor rank” who are under suspension.
He said that the suspension of these officials is an attempt by the government to turn these people into “scapegoats.” He said that for two of the aircraft to have arrived after 6:00 p.m., it becomes not a normal circumstance operation, but a matter of national security.
According to Saldivar, this act of “corruption” goes far beyond airport officials, Civil Aviation Department, Aero-Dispatch Services, Customs and Immigration Departments, but to the ranking government officials, because the venture is an expensive one.
Saldivar said that in the previous administration, there was a passport scandal and the minister in charge of the Immigration department at the time, Maxwell Samuels, was asked to step aside. The minister in charge at the time of this act, Carlos Perdomo, is the one conducting the investigation, which, Saldivar said, is a conflict of interest.
Amandala was unable to contact Minister Perdomo for his comments, but Saldivar raised an important point to us - that this occurrence was the first that we knew of. The other two instances may need to be investigated as well.
The question to ask now is: are there more nightly landings of aircraft that are still unknown to the public at this time?