Elvin Penner goes to court Print E-mail
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Thursday, 03 April 2014 00:00

Former Minister of State Elvin Penner, and a sitting member of the House of Representatives, was arraigned on Thursday, March 28, on 2 criminal charges for his role in the passport scandal involving South Korean fugitive Won Hong Kim. At this time, he is out on bail, awaiting his next court date.

It has widely been reported in all sections of the media that in September 2013, South Korean Won Hong Kim tried to use a bogus Belizean passport to avoid being extradited from Taiwan back to his country where he was wanted in connection with embezzlement in one of the country’s biggest enterprise, the SK Shipping Company.

It caused the Taiwanese authorities to investigate how he managed to travel to Belize to even get the passport because he was in jail the entire time. So, they made diplomatic requests of the Belizean Government, to offer an explanation, and when Godwin Hulse, the Minister of Immigration, did his digging, he found that Penner, who was the Minister of State with responsibility for Immigration, was somehow connected with it. He informed Prime Minister Dean Barrow of the situation, who took swift action asking Penner to resign from Cabinet because he didn’t discharge his duties in a manner above board. PM Barrow even made the matter public.

But instead of speculating what happened, it is more useful to review the only statement on the matter that Penner sent out to the media.

Dated September 27, 2013, Penner wrote to the press, “What I do know is that an Asian person whom I have known through business trips, even before I entered politics, came to me for a signature so he could get his passport.  He also mentioned that he needed it urgently since he was about to go on a trip and was more than willing to pay the regular one day service fee.

The picture on the nationality document he presented to me, the Korean passport that he had with him and the passport size pictures that I also signed did not raise any suspicion since they were all of the same person. The person whom I knew as Mr. Kim.  Wanting to help a business person I made sure that everything was in order on the application form and personally went with him to the passport office to see to it that he would get proper attention and would get his passport the same day.”

He claims that he was duped, and that someone did show up to impersonate Won Hong Kim, but members of the public are highly suspect of that story, since there is no record of that imposter ever setting foot into the Immigration Department to take any picture. Rather, an old picture of Won Hong Kim, which obviously looked like the one on his old Taiwanese passport, was somehow placed into the Immigration system, and then superimposed onto the bogus Belizean passport.

In that statement to the press, Penner outlines how he pressed the application through, delivering it to the immigration officers, after signing off on the application, and personally made sure that it would “get proper attention”. This has led to the public laying fault of this entire international embarrassment at his feet, but the grassroots organization, COLA, believes that he acted criminally. Because police have yet to bring any charges against Penner, President Geovanni Brackett and Executive member Murphy McLaren started a private prosecution against him.

Both men charged him with an offence under the Passport Act with "vouching the fitness" of Won Hong Kim, without having actual knowledge of Kim as an applicant. They additionally charged him under the Nationality Act with “making a statement which he knew to be false" for signing the Nationality Certificate knowing that Won Hong Kim has never been a citizen of Belize.

He was arraigned before Magistrate Aretha Ford, and he appeared with his attorney Ellis Arnold. COLA’s attorney, Kareem Musa, acted as prosecutor in the case, and he didn’t object to bail. Magistrate Ford then granted him bail of $2,000, which he was able to meet, and he must return to court on May 29. COLA has pledged to have disclosure ready for Penner on that date so that he can see what evidence they have against him which shows that he acted criminally.