Tomorrow, all eyes and ears will undoubtedly be glued to the live television and radio hearings of the Senate Select Committee as it is highly anticipated that appearing before them will be the former politician who is wrapped up in the biggest immigration scandal in recent times, former Minister of Immigration Elvin Penner.
The Penner/Won Hong Kim scandal, as we have come to know it, dates as far back as September 2013. Just two days before Belizeans celebrated Independence Day anniversary and pride in patrimony, the news spread that Penner was involved in a major immigration scandal that involved fraud on our very own patrimony. A press release from the Prime Minister’s office announced that Penner had been stripped of his Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration portfolio and that he was “fired” from Cabinet.
So began the fiasco that, nearly four years later, continues unresolved and for which no one has faced a proper prosecution.
It was later found that Penner had facilitated the processing of nationality documents and a passport for Kim, a South Korean national, who was detained in Taiwan and awaiting extradition in relation to embezzlement charges in his native country. It is reported that when authorities attempted to process Kim’s extradition, he pulled out his newly-obtained passport and claimed that he was Belizean. The attempt didn’t succeed, however, and instead triggered an international investigation of immigration fraud in Belize.
Penner’s was intimately involved in the process. He signed application documents, vouched for the identity of the applicant and even claimed to know Kim as a friend for three years. He also went to the Immigration office to ensure that the documents were processed quickly. He then sent his driver to pick up the passport document, which eventually made it to Taiwan, in Kim’s hands.
Back home, UDP leader PM Dean Barrow was hell bent on containing the political scandal and stuck to his line that he saw nothing legally wrong in Penner’s actions. He argued that getting Penner out of Cabinet was sufficient punishment.
The UDP Government also refused to allow a criminal investigation. A Police investigation that commenced was blocked. A private prosecution was commenced by COLA, but it could not proceed for a lack of evidence. The Opposition obtained a mandamus order on the Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie to do his job, but that didn’t do much. There was an intentional effort to thwart any attempt at prosecuting Penner.
And this is why tomorrow’s hearing, if Penner does show up to testify, is of significance – it will be the first Penner will be compelled to answer questions about his facilitation of the illegal nationalities and passports. So the major question is, will he show up? That is something we will have to wait and see.