Three custom officers acquitted of forgery charges Print E-mail
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Thursday, 13 October 2011 00:00

The last Customs Officer who was left to answer to two counts of forgery from an incident in September 2008 that allowed a 40 foot container to leave the Port of Belize without properly being signed out was acquitted on Wednesday October 12th.

It took a jury of 9- 6 women and 3 men, a little under four hours to reach the unanimous not guilty verdict against the former Customs Officer. The jury had stepped into the deliberating room at 11:47 a.m. and by 3:26 p.m.they announced that Aruny Perez was not guilty of the two charges of forgery.

 Judge Adoph Lucas who did the sum up within a 2 hour period had told the jurors that they are to acquit Perez if they had any doubts about his guilt and that not just because Perez was left with one of the documents in question means that he was guilty of the charge of forgery.

Perez, along with two other customs officers, 39-year-old Karl Augustine, who was then a Grade 1 Customs Officer with the Belize Customs and Excise Department and 24-year-old Michael McKenzie, a Grade 2 Customs Officer had been charged jointly with two counts of forgery upon official documents. Perez was additionally charged with a third count of forgery by himself.

On Thursday, October 6th, Justice Adolph Lucas who was hearing the case ruled at the conclusion of a no case submission made by the attorneys for the accused that Augustine and Mckenzie did not have a case to answer. The ruling was done because there was a lack of evidence to support the charges of forgery that they were being accused of committing.

  He then directed the jury to acquit the two other defendants, Augustine and McKenzie of two counts of forgery however, he ruled that day, that Aruny Perez had a case to answer to since his signature had appeared on one of the documents. That document was the container application form. In his view, Perez must have known that something was wrong with the documents in question.   He then decided that there was sufficient evidence to lead the case of Perez to the jury.

 In the trial, Perez was accused of forging the signature of another person without having the authority to do so on a container application;he was accused of doing the same with an out of charge form as well as on a way of bill form which allowed the 40 foot container to leave the Port of Belize unauthorized. There was only evidence of his signature appearing on one of the forms which was the container application form.
But the jury in the end concluded that he did not commit any such forgery as was alleged against him.

In his defense, Perez testified underoath that he counter signed the documents because everything that was ought to be in place was there.

After being told he was a free man, Perez hugged his wife and left the court.

Perez and McKenzie both claim they were wrongfully terminated by their workplace after being accused of being involved in the release of the container. They plan to take legal action in the matter in the future.  Augustine is the only customs officer who was placed on interdiction and now stands a chance of returning to his workplace and position.

 The DPP representative in the case against the men was Senior Crown Council Cecil Ramirez while Aruny Perez was represented by Michael Peyreffitte and Karl Augustine was represented by Ellis Arnold while Michael McKenzie was represented by Carlo Mason.