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Extradition Proceedings begins against Attorney Print E-mail
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Thursday, 25 January 2018 00:00

Attorney-at-law Andrew Bennett remains out on bail after being brought before the Magistrate’s Court in the first instance to answer to the extradition request that the US Government has made for him. The extradition proceedings have begun, and it is now in the hands of Chief Magistrate Sharon Frazer to decide, after subsequent hearings, whether or not he should be sent to the US to stand trial for 7 counts of money laundering that they say he committed.

Bennett was arraigned before Chief Magistrate Frazer on Thursday, January 18, 2018 as part of the extradition proceedings. As readers are aware, the US Government have furnished documents to the Belize Government in which they outline that he was the subject of a DEA investigation. They say that they have evidence of an operation in which they allegedly sent in a confidential informant to catch him in the act of laundering drug proceeds. Their documents say that he accepted a job to launder $250,000 US that he was allegedly told was the proceeds of a Colombian and Puerto Rico drug trafficking organizations.

The actual details of the case itself, such as these, were not the subject of Bennett’s first appearance before the Chief Magistrate. The examination of those finer points will take place in later adjournments of the case. Instead, the big issue of concern was whether or not he should be admitted to bail.

Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, who is empowered under Belize’s extradition treaty with the US to act as their attorney, submitted to the court that he was formally objecting to bail because Belize has its treaty obligations for extraditions.

In response, Bennett’s attorney, Anthony Sylvestre, submitted that the state would not be violating its treaty obligations because Bennett is not a flight risk. He stressed that through the local press, Bennett was aware of all the steps being taken against him, up until the point of his arraignment, and he has not made any attempts to flee the jurisdiction. Sylvestre argued that Bennett has shown a willingness to comply with all the proceedings. He also stressed that Bennett maintains his innocence, and that he has a right as a citizen to the protection of his presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. Sylvestre insisted that to deny bail would violate that right, since remand to the Belize Central Prison could end up becoming a form of punishment.

After considering all factors, Chief Magistrate Frazer noted that he is a practicing attorney and an officer of the court. She also agreed that up until this point Bennett has shown a willingness to comply with what is required of him as a defendant in these extradition proceedings. She also agreed that he has a right to the presumption of innocence.

She then granted him bail in the sum of $100,000 with the conditions that he must surrender his travel documents, and that he must not leave the jurisdiction without the consent of the court. He also has to report to the Queen Street Police Station every Monday and Friday until the extradition proceedings against him have been concluded.

As far as the press is aware, Bennett is the only defendant in an extradition case to be admitted out on bail.

His case has been adjourned until February 2, 2018.