$1.3M Seized from Caribbean International Brewing Company in Police Raid
Last week we reported that a police raid was conducted at Caribbean International Brewing Company which is headquartered in Carmelita Village, Orange Walk District. A team compromised police officers, labor officials, anti-trafficking in-persons personnel and immigration officers. The raid yielded more than three million dollars and resulted in the detention of several persons. Police Commissioner Chester Williams provided an update.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “We had received some information and respect to activities that may be occurring at that particular beer factory. Based on that we put together a multi-agency task force headed by police and comprised of Immigration, Labor, FIU, Income Tax as well as personnel from the ATIPS unit. They went in on the strength of a search warrant to conduct searches looking for anything that may indicate the presence of human trafficking or money laundering within the particular establishment. Searches were conducted in a search led to the discovery of over $3.1 million, Belize dollars and that also comprised of US currency. Also found were a number of Asian nationals who had immigration violations in respect to their stay in Belize and that included the owner of the factory. Those persons who were found to have violated immigration laws were charged by the immigration department and were arraigned at the Orange Walk Town Magistrate Court last Friday. In respect to the monies found the FIU department is currently in possession of those monies and I think sometime this week they will apply to the court for permission to seize the money pending the outcome of money laundering investigation. Again that’s a process that that would be required to go through the courts and once the court gives the go ahead for the money to be seized while the investigation is ongoing then they will look more in depth in terms of whether or not the company was in compliance with the financial laws ie.filing taxes and paying their fair share of taxes as the case may be. Also important to note was that it was also learned that the employer may have been withholding the passports of at least eight employees and again that is an element of human trafficking but so far we have been trying to get those employees to cooperate with investigators and that effort has been futile so far. Nonetheless we will continue to see what can be done in the event that any of them may wish to cooperate with the investigators and we can look more intensely at the human trafficking aspect of that investigation. There were also some labor laws infractions as I was told and I think the Labor Department is also looking into that aspect of the investigation so there is where we are at this time in respect to the operations at the Caribbean Brewery in orange walk.”
The company is claiming that law enforcement officers did not have a warrant to seize the money. Here is how the Commissioner responded.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “We don’t live in the US. In the US when the police have a warrant to go and search for let’s say hypothetically drugs and if during the search they were to come across illegal firearms their law requires that they must go and get a warrant to retrieve the illegal firearms because the warrant that they have would be for drugs. In Belize in the law we refer to it, the fruit of the poison tree is applicable in Belize. The fruit of the poisoned tree is not applicable in the US and what that simply means is that if the police have a warrant to go and search for drugs and the police were to come across illegal firearms the law does require the police to confiscate the firearms and can still take action and respect thereof. We don’t have to go and get a warrant for the firearms, on the strength of the same warrant that we have we can confiscate the firearms and so the fruit of the poisoned tree is admissible in our courts in Belize and it is not admissible in the US. So if it were that they were to be living in the USA then they certainly would have a good case to argue but we are living in Belize so that argument is certainly dead on arrival at the courts. In the issue in respect to the money and then having receipts it’s an ongoing investigation. I am sure if it is that they can produce receipts indicating the collection of that sum and to show that they have paid their fair share taxes then the income tax and the FIU department are going to release the funds back to them but they have an investigation to conduct, to make sure that the collection of the money is legal and two, that taxes were paid. I am not a drinker. If it were up to me I would not allow the sale of alcohol any at all but that is not my call. Certainly there is no monopoly where the sale of beer or any alcohol in the country is concerned. The fact that they came in and were issued a license to operate such business clearly shows that there was support from the government for that do so. For them to make such an assertion without proof I think they are being malicious and they are trying to tarnish the good name of the Police Department as you pointed out. If it were that there was nothing then I could understand but certainly the information proved success because one there were immigration violations and two a large sum of money was there which they will now have to prove how it came into their custody and if they had paid taxes on it. So to say that it was malicious I think that assertion is certainly far-fetched and we completely deny that assertion.”