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Government & Politics

A look into how the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) works

Eamon on MLAT

When the Lev Derman and John Saldivar scandal began unfolding the People’s United Party had called on the Prime Minister to activate the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) that Belize shares with the United States.  Under this treaty, Belize has the ability to access the evidence from the court in Salt Lake City, Utah where Dermen is currently on trial for money laundering among other crimes against the US.

When the Lev Derman and John Saldivar scandal began unfolding the People’s United Party had called on the Prime Minister to activate the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) that Belize shares with the United States.  Under this treaty, Belize has the ability to access the evidence from the court in Salt Lake City, Utah where Dermen is currently on trial for money laundering among other crimes against the US.  For weeks no move in this regard was made by the Government.  It wasn’t until last week that the Police Commissioner, Chester Williams told the media that the police will be investigating the matter and they will be activating the MLAT.  In an appearance on The Business Perspective on Love Television, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay spoke on how the MLAT works.

SC Eamon Courtney, Attorney: “First of all I think it’s important for us to have a context because generally speaking you have criminal offences in a particular country and most countries your crime is territorial, if an offense takes place there you can be prosecuted there you can’t be prosecuted elsewhere. One extension of that is extradition where if you are accused of something or if you are convicted of something they can go for your elsewhere and bring you to that particular country to be prosecuted in that country. What the Mutual Legal Assistance Act and the treaty in criminal matters provides for is cooperation between states across borders to fight and suppress corruption and criminal activity in the respective countries who are parties to the treaties in this case Belize and the United States. So in essence what this treaty and the act provides for is cooperation between the United States and Belize in criminal matters, the collection of evidence, the taking of testimony, consultation, the finding of persons who should be moved from one country to the other, taking of evidence in one country to be sent to the other to be used in a criminal trial, investigating a forfeiture- so the entire spectrum from investigation to conviction to forfeiting the proceeds of criminal activity. There is a regime set out in the legislation that provides for very deep and strong cooperation measures and of course it has come to the fore now in light of what has happened in the last month or two.”

There are several aspects of the acts carried out by John Saldivar when he received monies from Dermen.  According to Senior Counsel Courtenay, there are several laws that Saldivar may have broken in Belize and these all need to be looked into.

SC Eamon Courtenay, Attorney: “I would think first of all there is the Prevention of Corruption act which may provide that there has been some offence committed. There is of course the money laundering, the Prevention of Terrorism Act which may provide that there are some offense there. There is indeed the Criminal Code itself that there may be some offences there that have been committed but I think what is important is not to get ahead of ourselves first of all and secondly to understand that there is a process. You can’t start at the back and say which offense is possibly committed.”

Host: You need the evidence.

SC Eamon Courtenay, Attorney: “Precisely. The thing is for investigation where something has happened and in fact the law talks about reasonable suspicion right ? So we have more that reasonable suspicion right now in this particular case,  yes?”

Host: Yes I agree.

SC Eamon Courtney, Attorney: “So the point I’m making is if we start by saying ‘Well which piece of law can we find.’ ‘Which offence we can’t find?’ ‘We can’t find none of that so forget it.’ without going and asking the right questions, investigating the matter, collecting what evidence there is available- there may be none, there may be some, and maybe insufficient for there to be an offense but I think that what the Belizean people are demanding, what the Chamber has demanded, what the People’s United Party has demanded and what so far appears not to have been done is the launch of an investigation and it need not be by the Attorney General and it should not be by the Attorney General it should be by the Commissioner of Police the police department, it can be by the Integrity Commission which has the power to launch it’s own investigation, it can be the Financial Intelligence Unit which can also do the investigation. The fact of the matter is as Ashanti and I were discussing before we came in here the Belizean public has just about lost trust in politicians of the two major political parties particularly on the question of corruption. The abuse of office, we have seen many instances and I don’t need to list them and people see impunity, elected officials, un-elected official, friends and families just getting away with things and at this stage unless there is some proper investigation, there is some accountability by those in power the Belizean people I think will just continue to withdraw from active participation in public life, from speaking their views, from having confidence, from believing in politicians and in hoping for a better Belize.”

While the Attorney General says the investigation against Saldivar has begun, the Police Commissioner says that the investigation cannot be done until the trial concludes in the United States.

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