Prime Minister Dean Barrow: John Saldivar resigns as UDP Leader elect and suspended indefinitely as Minister of National Security
Here is his statement
"Like all Belizeans, the Office of the Prime Minister has been closely following developments in the Salt Lake City trial of accused U.S. fraudster Lev Dermen. It has been some time now since documents related to the trial have surfaced with allegations that Belizean officials, including a Minister of Government, have been involved with Dermen in improper activities related to Belize.
The allegations contained assertions that Belizean officials were paid by Dermen and his associates in connection with Dermen's efforts to obtain Belizean nationality, and a Belizean diplomatic passport and Ambassadorial or Consular status.
The testimony given in the trial this Monday and Tuesday by one Jacob Kingston has proved, to say the least, explosive. Kingston incriminated Minister John Saldivar, in particular, and produced text messages in support of his evidence relating to the allegations he made against Minister Saldivar.
As Prime Minister I have earlier gone on record about this matter. This was after Ministers had 'sworn' to Cabinet that none of them had taken any money from Dermen and associates. I said in Cabinet at the time, and later at a press conference, that any Minister subsequently proven indeed to have taken money and therefore to have lied to Cabinet, would have to leave the Cabinet.
That time for leaving, in view of what happened Monday and Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah, has unfortunately come. I, therefore, today asked Minister Saldivar to submit to me his resignation as Leader Elect of the United Democratic Party. He has agreed to do so.
In addition to the resignation, I have decided to put the Minister on indefinite suspension from the Cabinet. This will do two things: It will give the Minister a chance to prove the innocence which he strongly maintains; it will also give time for the Government to obtain official transcripts from the trial and direct the Police to Launch and complete a thorough investigation into all the allegations made in the course of that Dermen trial.
The UDP will in due time choose a new Leader Elect for the Party. "
Re: John Saldivar fired from cabinet, resigns as UDP Leader elect
#540548 02/13/2005:31 AM02/13/2005:31 AM
So that's what he said he would do, but what will he really do, or what must he now do?
In studio with us tonight to analyze all that is our news director Jules Vasquez - who's been in Belmopan all day, circling the Cabinet meeting and trying to get the download on what's next for the Barrow administration and the UDP.
Jules, what's next?
Re: John Saldivar fired from cabinet, resigns as UDP Leader elect
#540553 02/13/2006:15 AM02/13/2006:15 AM
In a Special Cabinet meeting today I informed the Prime Minister and colleagues of my decision to resign as the Leader-elect of the United Democratic Party. I have come to this decision after careful consideration and consultation with colleagues. While I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing, bribery, or corruption and the testimony in Utah has confirmed that their was no bribery, I feel that the negative attention being generated by this trial is overtaking my Party and can hurt our chances in the upcoming general elections. I have therefore stepped aside to allow a new leader to be chosen. I thank all those who supported me during the recently concluded Leadership Convention. It is unfortunate but life is real. Once my name is properly cleared I will resume the work that I love so dearly. I will continue to work with colleagues to ensure victory for our UDP later this year. I am also happy to continue to serving as Minister of National Security.
Related Stories on Channel 7
Saldivar Gets the Executive Axe, Steps Down As Leader-Elect
Tonight, Belize's political landscape has been completely re-mapped: John Saldivar has stepped down as UDP Party Leader Elect - less than 72 hours after he was elected by a large margin in a lavish national convention. And, he has been suspended indefinitely from Cabinet.
It is a stunning reversal of fortune and a precipitous fall from grace; two days ago he had reached the political pinnacle, sworn in as party leader, and said he would be in discussions to take over as Prime Minister after the budget presentation in March.
But, tonight, Saldivar is on the political equivalent of life support after a meeting in the Cabinet room where Prime Minister Dean Barrow used the full weight of his office to force him to step down.
PM On Why He Moved Against Saldivar
And an hour later we learned what that tightly guarded decision was. The Prime Minister issued a statement which laid out the penalties for Saldivar, who he concluded had misled him and the Cabinet.
The PM referred to Jacob Kingston's testimony in a Utah Federal Courthouse. As we told you testified on Monday that he saw John Saldivar receive packs of cash valuing $10,000 dollars each from Lev Dermen at a Turkish businessman's residence in Belize.
And yesterday, he also testified that in 2014 he sat in a meeting with Saldivar and Lev Dermen who promised to pay for John Saldivar's re-election campaign in cash disbursements. Kingston also discussed text messages he exchanged with Saldivar a 50 thousand US dollar donation in cash which was to be picked up in Miami.
Hon. Hugo Will Lead UDP?
In a statement published on his Facebook page this afternoon, Saldivar says, quote:
"I informed the Prime Minister and colleagues of my decision to resign as the Leader-elect of the United Democratic Party. I have come to this decision after careful consideration and consultation with colleagues. While I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing, bribery, or corruption and the testimony in Utah has confirmed that their was no bribery, I feel that the negative attention being generated by this trial is overtaking my Party and can hurt our chances in the upcoming general elections. I have therefore stepped aside to allow a new leader to be chosen. I thank all those who supported me during the recently concluded Leadership Convention..."
Patt Cautious On Leadership So, thanks for that insight Jules. The days ahead are sure to be interesting. And much of the talk will focus on Hugo Patt, the humble and soft spoken representative from Corozal North. Right now, he's looking like the man who would be the UDP's next leader - and, yesterday at his swearing in as Deputy Prime Minister, having a sense of how things were heading, Jules Vasquez asked him if he's ready to lead. We wouldn't say he was chomping at the bit:
"Is it unforeseeable that you may have to for whatever period assume the leadership of the UDP."
PUP Says It's A Slap On the Wrist Before our commercial break, we gave you a blow-by-blow account of the current crisis that Barrow Government and the UDP face, following this week's big reveals in the Lev Dermen Trial in Utah.
Jacob Kingston has testified under oath that he sent $50,000 US dollars in cash to John Saldivar in Miami, back in early 2014. The context of this evidence is that the prosecution in that US court is attempting to show that Lev Dermen had an "umbrella" of powerful people in Belize, the US, and Turkey, who would protect him from the scrutiny of law enforcement.
PUP Distances Itself From Ralph's 1.5M Wire Transfer So, while the PUP stands to gain some political mileage out of the Lev Dermen scandal, observers have not missed the fact that they could take some blows because of it. As we told you, Ralph Fonseca's name has also been called, as one of Dermen's business associates, while he was in Belize.
As we told you, Kingston has testified that back in 2013, he and Dermen were looking at properties for a casino, which was to be named Lion's Casino. According to the evidence, Dermen and another Turkish businessman were in talks with Ralph Fonseca, known him as the minister of finance. They settled on a property and instructed Kingston to buy it. Kingston said that on June 24, 2013, he wired 1.5 million Belize dollars to Fonseca to purchase the property. Kingston said, quote, "He was the minister I was working with," he said. "He got the license for the casino business."
PUP. In No Mood To Compromise With PM And, the PUP is asserting that the Prime Minister is avoiding a conversation about the Supreme Court judgment which says that he did not get prior parliamentary approval to spend over a billion dollars in public funds.
You'll remember that case where the PUP's John Briceno and Julius Espat insisted to Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin that the Prime Minister violated the constitution when he was spending these public monies. And after deliberations, the Chief Justice agreed. He has ordered the government to amend the constitution to retroactively approve 1.5 billion dollars in unauthorized spending.
The Streets Say On Saldivar And while the PUP is using the UDP situation to leverage for position, what are the streets saying? This morning, while that fateful UDP conclave was happening in Belmopan, we took to the Alberts to ask regular folks what they think Saldivar should have done in light of the Salt Lake City revelations. Some of them were right on the money with what was about to happen, others not so much.
Related Stories on Channel 5
PM Barrow Benches Teflon John from Cabinet On Monday and Tuesday, explosive details including text messages between Jacob Kingston and John Saldivar were revealed in a Utah court. Saldivar agreed to go to Miami to receive fifty [...]
U.D.P. Chairman Speaks on Saldivar’s Resignation This afternoon, U.D.P. Chairman Michael Peyrefitte responded to the events of the day by saying that Prime Minister Barrow was duty-bound to request Saldivar’s resignation, but that the beleaguered Belmopan [...]
Is John Saldivar’s Suspension Enough? At the end of the Prime Minister’s emergency meeting, John Saldivar was vanished as Leader Elect of the U.D.P. and was placed on an indefinite suspension. Saldivar will be given [...]
Patrick Faber Considering Going At it Again? Former Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Leader of the United Democratic Party, Patrick Faber told News Five as he left the Sir Edney Cain Building in Belmopan that he supports [...]
More from Lev Dermen Trial in Utah Attorneys for Lev Dermen trial are cross examining Jacob Kingston in the Salt Lake Court and the defense has been carrying on about Kingston’s participation in past frauds and schemes. [...]
The Church Weighs In on Debacle The Council of Churches today chimed in on the debacle of the last seventy-two hours that has resulted in a sense of uncertainty in the political leadership of the government. [...]
Text Messages Big Reveal! Saldivar Asked Kingston For 50K USD
Today in Utah, Jacob Kingston's testimony finished his testimony after the defence retired. And, tonight, Jill Parrish, Judge for the US District Court for Utah has released the transcripts of text messages exchanges between John Saldivar and Jacob Kingston. And we know it is John Saldivar because the cell phone number in the text messages is the number we have for him form many years, up to the present day.
We will present everything that was entered into evidence. It begins at 3:10 pm on February second, 2011, Saldivar opens saying "Hey Jacob".
He asks, "How are things?" And identifies himself, saying (it's) "John Saldivar, brother". Saldivar then tells Kingston he is quote, "Nervous" because he has, quote, "some commitments for this week and am not hearing from Levon."
Saldivar adds, quote, "Four of my candidates have been successful in conventions alreadyâ€¦.It's looking real good so far but am out of cash" end quote.
He then says, quote, "Really need the February tranche." Kingston asks, "Can I wire?" Saldivar says, "Hmmm. Not sure that's a good idea."
Kingston asks, "Tell me how." Saldivar replies, "I could probably fly to Miami tomorrow."
Kingston replies, "I'll send some money to Miami. I'll let you know the contact person to meet. It I'll be there Friday."
He asks Saldivar, "Tell me how much to send."
And Saldivar replies, "Usual is 25k but perhaps it's best to deal with March at the same time." End quote.
So, Saldivar is here asking for 50 thousand US dollars, and then Kingston doesn't reply for about 40 minutes.
So, Saldivar then texts back, saying, "You there?â€¦Awaiting your confirmation." Kingston replies "Confirmedâ€¦I'll talk to Levon."
Saldivar then states, quote, "Ok. I will head to Miami Thursday."
Two days later, on February 13, 2014, Kingston gives him the name and number for a contact in Miami. Saldivar says, "Ok buddy"
Kingston then follows up on February 16th, asking Saldivar, quote, "You get what you needed?"
Yesterday I tendered my resignation from Cabinet. The actual text messages of conversations purportedly between Jacob Kingston and myself have now been published in the local media. I categorically state that those messages do not appear to accurately reflect my recollection of any conversation with Jacob Kingston. Mr. Kingston's credibility as a witness is highly questionable and expert scrutiny of the text messages reveal serious discrepancies that creates high suspicion of being deliberately manufactured. Be that as it may, I feel it is time to tell my story.
I have always maintained that I was never, ever bribed by Lev Derman, I was never a part of any discussion to move any money from the United States to Belize, and I never involved myself in any act of corruption or wrongdoing. This is what I have said repeatedly in all my public releases. I was always careful not to say that I did not receive any cash because I knew that I did receive campaign contributions from Lev Derma just like many other politicians on both sides of the aisle who knew Lev Derman. These contributions were not tied to any favor or quid pro quo, hence were not illegal or improper. Jacob Kingston himself has testified in one instance of campaign contributions, and in another instance was unable to say the reason for the monies. At no time in his testimony has Kingston referred to bribery in connection with any monies he claims to have given to me or to have seen given to me. The media and others are ignoring this fact.
The question would then be why did I not say this from the outset?
Well, I was in the middle of a heated battle for the leadership of my Party and if I had disclosed this information I would have been removed from Cabinet and I would have had to withdraw from the race. Patrick Faber would have been declared the winner and that would have left all of my colleagues demoralized and exposed.
My failure to disclose was a mistake and I deeply regret it. I should have opted to make full disclosure to Cabinet and to the public from the outset. This mistake was unnecessary and avoidable since there was nothing wrong or illegal about receiving campaign funds. Today, I apologize to Cabinet and to the general public for this poor judgment, however, I repeat that I have not been the beneficiary of any bribe nor the participant in any corrupt deal and there has been no testimony to the contrary.
I have already resigned from Cabinet to stave off the mounting pressures on my government and Party. In the ensuing days I will be consulting with my constituents and my colleagues to determine the way forward in my political career. I still have the desire to continue to serve my people as I have done nothing wrong in receiving monies to service my constituency.
This whole episode has caused me to reflect on the real jeopardy that looms over the head of politicians who pursue their work with zeal and gusto. The demands of our constituencies are great and resources very scarce. We politicians spend most of our waking hours soliciting money to fulfill the needs of our constituency. We knock on every door possible and we talk to every potential donor. We meet all sorts of people the background of whom we know very little about and there is no mechanism beside a quick Google search to do a background check. So when we meet people who are willing to help and a cursory check turns up nothing negative, then we gladly accept their contributions. In my case in Belmopan the investment in my community is visible especially in sports where among our various sports programs we assist almost five hundred youths to be active in the various disciplines. On a daily basis I assist many individuals and families with cash for various purposes from health to education to water bill, light bill and the likes. This money has to come from somewhere and it's not coming from government whose budget for sports and community assistance is very limited. The money to help our constituents come from business people who have the compassion and desire to help. If politicians are going to be held criminally liable when they accept financial contributions from persons who later on turn out to be criminals, then all of us politicians are in jeopardy of one day being considered a criminal for having taken an innocent contribution. There are some politicians even in my Party who are pretending sanctimoniously that they don't do the same.
I repeat that I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing and I hope I can repair the damage done by my not being forthcoming from the beginning with my Cabinet colleagues and the public about campaign contributions from Lev Dermen.
Re: John Saldivar fired from cabinet, resigns as UDP Leader elect
#540683 02/19/2006:16 AM02/19/2006:16 AM
So, while he wouldn't answer our questions, as we said, Saldivar did speak at length on the Morning Show - in a no holds barred interview that covered the entire scandal ending in his double resignation as party leader and cabinet minister.
The politician who has gone from a powerful minister to an area representative without portfolio clearly is not throwing in the towel.
Saldivar spoke like a man eager to get his story out - and he made clear that he's in the mix of whatever the future holds for the UDP.
John Saldivar - Area Representative, Belmopan "At this point the party is trying to find its way forward and I will be a part of whatever solution the Party is able to find, and I think we can leave it at that, for now."
Reporter "The Place where your party is now the dilemma, the controversy, the bad place, how much of it are you to blame?"
John Saldivar "Well to the extent that what started out as an innocent contribution towards my political campaign has now ballooned into the scandal that it has turned out to be, quite unnecessarily. To that extent, I have contributed to it but that is why I'm here today to clear the air to tell my story not just to you two but to the nation as I tried to do in the release that I put out sometime last week. In the days leading up to the convention, the days and weeks leading up to the convention there was a narrative that was being told to the Belizean people and that narrative was that this fellow Kingston was going to testify that John Saldivar was involved in bribery and corruption that is what all the media was carrying. Well, he has testimony has come and gone and he has not implicated me in any bribery or corruption and I think that that is a story that the media needs to highlight the same way they highlighted the allegations they need to now highlight that no such evidence has come out in trial so that's the first point that I want to make, no bribery and corruption and I think that is what was most scary about the whole thing."
Reporter "These men have been consistently accused of whatever they've been accused of."
John Saldivar "So, let's clarify that. Because first of all the contributions as you have now seen from the testimony was six years ago."
Reporter "So those had not continued?"
John Saldivar "Of course not. Of course not."
Reporter "Secondly, how much did you receive?"
John Saldivar "I can't recall."
Reporter "Come on, you don't forget things like that."
John Saldivar "No man let me tell you this. First of all, this issue about 25 thousand dollars a month. No man, the man gave different amounts, varying amounts at varying times. And it's not that I was keeping those. And what does that matter? The man was generous. There are many other generous businesspeople around who give substantial amounts to different campaigns, including mine and we are not under any obligation to disclose amounts or who. I will not be held to a standard that nobody else is being held to."
Reporter "But to set the example."
John Saldivar "I will not be held to a standard that nobody else is being held to. So, we talk about it together and we change it together, but you don't single me out to hold to a standard that nobody else is being held to."
Reporter "You got caught."
John Saldivar "No, not got caught. Because got caught with what? You see Ernesto, this is the problem that we're perpetuating. We're perpetuating that I did something wrong, got caught with what?"
One of the soundbites from this morning saw Saldivar claim that Facebook doesn't win elections and yet he took to the platform this evening, to grandly sum up his Love FM appearance. The Belmopan area rep says the interview served to vindicate his name and confirm his original position.
To John Saldivar – How Did That Money Get into Belize?
In the Utah court, Jacob Kingston testified that he saw Dermen hand bundles of cash to Saldivar during a visit to Belize. This morning, Saldivar admitted to accepting monies from Dermen through Jacob Kingston as a proxy, but how those monthly disbursals made their way into the country without being flagged by the Customs and Excise Department remains a pertinent question. When asked by the hosts of The Morning Show how he was able to get the funds past the necessary clearances, Saldivar was sure to say that he did not travel with currency in excess of the prescribed amount. He also outlined three means through which those ill-gotten monies were handled.
Ernesto Vasquez, Co-host, Love FM’s The Morning Show
“How did that money get into Belize?”
John Saldivar, Area Representative, Belmopan
“At various times they would bring it, they would bring or they would have their interests here in Belize and they would give… I think you have read the testimony, you have read the text messages. I am saying to you that I have received monies in the past in the U.S. What I want to say categorically to anybody who has any imaginations in their head that I have never traveled into this country or out of this country with more than the amount of cash that is to be declared. I have never done that, so…”
“That’s the ten thousand U.S.”
“I have never done that.”
“But you’ve done that.”
“I have never traveled with more than the declared amount. Well you can’t travel with ten; it has to be less than ten, according to the law.”
“So you have done that?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“So how did the U.S. enter the country.”
“Ernesto, you can travel with people, you can leave it, you can spend it in the U.S. I have, and that gives me the opportunity to say this much, and on one occasion, for instance, I bought equipment for my football team, for my sports organization, thousands of dollars. This is expensive you know, and I want to talk about what I do in Belmopan, not just with monies from this particular gentleman, but monies from all sorts of people who help me to build what I have built in Belmopan in terms of…”
“Like Mason, for instance?”
“Even if you say that, yes he did give me money and one thing about me; I won’t lie about that and about any of them. What I have said is that they have helped me, they have helped my community and I am grateful, the work is there to be seen what I have done with the money.”
In just a few days last week, John Saldivar went from the powerful Minister of National security, to the subject of a police investigation. Now, Saldivar has said publicly that he did nothing wrong when he went to Miami to pick up what he says was a campaign donation from Lev Dermen and Jacob Kingston. Our read of the test messages say that it was a donation of fifty thousand US dollars. Saldivar has said that he did not travel with the donation but used the funds in the US to buy sports equipment.
But police today confirmed that they are investigating - and will invoke the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to obtain the court records from Utah. The Commissioner of police spoke at the opening of a police substation in Guinea Grass, Orange Walk:
Hon. Elodio Aragon - Min. State, National Security "As far as I know, the prime minister had asked that we will look into the matter. And an investigation will be launched. This is as far as I know at this point in time."
Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police "And so, yes, we are looking into that matter. There are several things that must be done. As I've said before, it is not a fly-by-night thing. There are things that we need to obtain in order to trigger investigation. From what I have been made to understand, the matter is still ongoing in the Utah Court. A final determination hadn't been made in the matter. So, once the final determination has been made, we're going to request the transcript of the case through the Utah legal assistance treaty that we have with the US. And along with other things that were exhibited in court as evidence. If it is that we can get those, or whenever we get those, then we will be able to further the investigation more. I have an officer who is going to lead that investigation. I have explained to him what the scope of the investigation is going to be. So, it's just a matter for us to get the relevant documents that we need and then we can proceed further investigation."
Reporter "I just have to ask because that's what our viewers will want to know. Will there be a hesitation on the part of that officer giving the fact that it's his former boss that he's going to investigate, a former minister?"
Chester Williams "If it is that I have to investigate my mother, the ought of office that I took, compels me to investigate my mother. So, if I can investigate my mother, why wouldn't I be able to investigate my former boss? I am sure. And for records, that officer is going to be Assistant Commissioner Vidal. I have said to him that he will be the one to lead that investigation as soon as we have maintained the relevant documents that we need for the investigation. At the end of the investigation the file will have to be send to the DPP to see, a crime has been committed, remember, an investigation is not only to show that crime was committed but it can also show that a crime was not committed."