Senate inquiry comes closer to determine how Citizen Kim’s passport was processed Print E-mail
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Thursday, 27 April 2017 00:00

The Senate hearings on Immigration resumed after a 3-week break, and on Wednesday, April 26, and the Senate Select Committee heard almost 4 and a half hours of testimony from 3 witnesses. They were Therese Chavarria, a retired Immigration Officer, Barton Middleton, a private citizen, and Omar Phillips, a former Immigration Data Entry Clerk who worked at the Immigration Department.

The first witness of the day was Therese Chavarria, who retired last year after serving 30 years in the Department. She spent most of her time on the stand explaining internal procedures at the Department, but she made two very important disclosures. She explained that it is entirely possibly to get a picture of a passport applicant on the Department’s system without having to show up in person. She also discussed how, despite her best attempts to stop an applicant from trying to get a passport using fraudulent documents, an immigration agent went around her to get it done anyway.

The Senators have heard testimony from witnesses claiming that the only way to get a picture into the passport machine at the Department is if the person appeared personally to take a picture. That’s an important issue for the Senate because the South Korean Fugitive, Won Hong Kim, definitely did not come to Belize. He was in a Taiwanese Prison in September 2013, but his picture still ended up in the system, and then on to a passport that he did not qualify for.

In her testimony to the Senate, Chavarria told the Senate that in more than one instance, she managed to get a picture of passport applicants unto the system. These were Belizeans who needed life-saving surgery, but they couldn’t leave the hospital to take a passport picture. So, what she did to get them their passport was that she printed a clear image of these sick patients on a letter sized typing sheet. That image was then taped to the chair they would have sat on to take the picture, and the machine’s camera was turned on. An image of the printed picture was captured, and the applicants’ images ended up on the system without having to show up to take the picture themselves. This proves that any dishonest person at the Immigration Department can get pictures on passports for applicants who did not set foot in Belize, as the Audit Report on Immigration catalogues. One of those persons who got his passport processed in this manner was BSI employee Edward Robinson who on January 19th, 2010 received severe burns at his work place and had to be facilitated with a passport. At the time he was unable to present himself at the passport office and Chavarria with the approval of her supervisors came up with the ingenious way of entering the picture into the system. A second person who was similarly assisted according to Chavarria was a baby who was in need of heart surgery. She only identified the child as baby Wade. There was a third person, also a baby, who also got the same privilege but Chavarria could not recall the baby’s name.

Therese Chavarria also walked the Senate through an incident from 2011. A naturalized Belizean Rina Chiu Hsiang Lo, came to the Belize City passport office, where she was the officer in charge. She brought in a man claiming to be a Belizean named Paul Ku.  While his biometrics were being captured, the immigration officers realized that he didn’t understand a word of English, and so Chavarria interrogated him.

She suspected that this man wasn’t who he was claiming to be, and so she did her own background checks. While she was doing that, Rina Hsiang Lo allegedly attempted to bribe her with $500 after sustained attempts to convince her that the birth certificate was genuine.

Chavarria told the Senate that she gave strict instructions that the application should remain on hold, and for good measure, she took home the application file when she was going on vacation. When she returned, she found out that the officer who held over in her absence issued the passport to the man claiming to be Paul Ku. She did her checks and found out that Former Immigration Director Ruth Meighan allegedly authorized the issuance of the passport allegedly at the instruction of former Minister Carlos Perdomo.

After her time on the stand was done, the Senate called back Barton Middleton to testify. He has quickly become infamous after being linked to 6 of 8 visas which were stolen from the Immigration Department back in November 2012. He was very uncooperative with the Senate the last time he was called to testify, and there was concern that he had disrespected the upper parliament with his deliberate attempts to frustrate their investigation. He refused to answer any questions from the Senators, and Chairman Aldo Salazar warned him that the Committee has decided to forward any evidence from the hearings which shows that witnesses such has himself have committed perjury. They are liable to prosecution for that crime as well as offenses against the Legislative Powers and Privileges law. Barton Middleton still refused to answer any further questions and so he was excused.

The final witness for the day was Omar Phillips, a former data entry clerk who worked at the Immigration Department from 2009 to 2013. That’s when he got into trouble for accepting the passport file for Won Hong Kim. Under intense cross examination, he revealed that Elvin Penner, who was the Minister of State responsible for Immigration, came with a man in a suit. This man claimed to be Won Hong Kim, and he accepted the passport application file. He told the senators that he and other data entry clerks were not given any training to spot forgeries, and so he couldn’t have known that the Won Hong Kim file had forged documents in them.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 April 2017 14:41