Two former United Democratic Party politicians from the Cayo District are among the latest to be fingered in the burgeoning land transaction scandal in the Ministry of Natural Resources. Copies of land rent statements forwarded to News Five suggest that former Cayo Northeast area representative Elvin Penner was still collecting favors from a party that had distanced itself publicly from him in the wake of the Citizen Kim passport scandal, for which he was removed from Cabinet.
By the time Penner was fired in September of 2013, he had been leading for about a year and three months, since June of 2012, thirty-six point one-seven acres of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge area. The lease was to have expired in June of 2019, but the document shows zero balance for annual land rent in March of 2013 and June of 2014, leading to questions about whether the rent was being paid. But in June of 2015, a purchase price was set for the property at nine thousand four hundred dollars, or two hundred and fifty nine dollars per acre of prime property.
Meanwhile, Penner’s parents also seemed to cash in. His father, Edward Penner, got nearly eleven acres of land in the Turneffe Islands at a purchase price of sixty-five thousand dollars, nine months after rent was shown to be a thousand dollars in January of 2014. In October of 2015, that price was reduced to twenty-six thousand dollars. His mother, Lena Penner, received lease for another thirty-seven point six acres of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge for annual rent of just one hundred and thirteen dollars, paid up to 2014 and cleared in 2015.
In June of 2015, she purchased the property for nine thousand, seven hundred and seventy-six dollars, or two hundred and sixty dollars per acre. In the case of surveyor Dean Williams, a former U.D.P. candidate for Cayo North, he managed to flip land he obtained for ten thousand dollars to a foreigner for four hundred thousand dollars, a cool three hundred and ninety thousand dollar profit.
The agreement was signed just four days before Williams got title for land he had been leasing only in 2009. An interesting document attached to the transaction papers shows that Williams authorized Eduardo Vega, brother of former Minister of Lands Gaspar Vega, to collect the first payment of a hundred and forty-four thousand dollars. Previously, there were reports that names of individuals used in these types of transactions are called where they are not the actual beneficiaries.
These are all part of a multi-million dollar land deals at the Ministry of Natural Resources, which resulted in more than seventy-million dollars in compensation was paid out over the last eight years, more than sixty million of that in the last five years alone. These cases are in addition to the million dollar compensation paid by G.O.B. for land in Placencia that was originally sold for over six thousand dollars. Our calls to the Ministry of Natural Resources’ office in Belmopan went unanswered.
More UDP land shenanigans!
In 2013, Prime Minister Dean Barrow fired then Cayo Northeast area representative Elvin Penner from Cabinet when it was discovered he had arranged a Belizean passport for a Korean sitting in a Taiwanese jail who had never set foot in Belize.
As the Penner Passport Scandal raged on, Barrow later announced that Penner would not be allowed to seek re-election.
At the time, critics argued that Penner was getting off lightly because he still was being allowed to enjoy all the benefits and perks of an area representative.
We now know that those benefits extended to choice real estate for him and his immediate family. According to documents obtained from the Department of Lands and Surveys, months after being dismissed from Cabinet, Penner and his family were the recipients of a total of 83.84 acres of prime property in the Mountain Pine Ridge and Turneffe Islands area.
The documents reveal that Elvin Penner’s mother, Lena Penner, received 36.70 acres of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge area of Cayo for the generous sum of $9,776.00.
That was in June 2015, just months away from the November 5 general election. A quick tabulation shows that Mrs. Penner paid a measly $266 per acre for some of the choicest land in the country.
Meanwhile, Elvin Penner’s father, Edward Penner, was the recipient of 10.07 acres of prime land on the Turneffe Island. On October 20, 2014, the purchase price for this property was set at $65,000.
However, on October 26, 2015, days away from the general election, the price appeared to have been reduced by some $39,000, to $26,000, a figure that land aficionados say is rather low for land on Turneffe Island.
Additionally, documents dating back to June 12, 2012 revealed that Elvin Penner himself had also gotten in on the choice real estate in the Mountain Pine Ridge area – 36.17 acres of it.
However, it wasn’t until June 1, 2015, that the purchase price was set at $9,404.20 for this prime land. Again, a quick tabulation reveals that like his mother, the former Minister of State in Immigration paid a mere $260 per acre.
The Elvin Penner and Gaspar Vega cases both suggest that even after these former Cabinet ministers left Cabinet in the wake of heavy controversy and purported corruption, the Government of Belize continued to provide great assistance to them.
In the case of former Deputy Prime Minister Vega, a leaked letter revealed that just four days after the Prime Minister announced his resignation from Cabinet, he requested and was granted duty exemption on a 2016 Lexus SUV.
Our sources say that it is not unusual for area representatives to get duty exemption for at least one private motor vehicle, but this latest exemption has triggered some outrage, since it comes days after it was revealed that Vega’s son was paid $400,000 by GOB for a land GOB originally sold him for $2,500 – a land GOB had no right selling in the first place, since it already had an owner.