The leadership convention for the United Democratic Party is quickly approaching. In this convention slated for February 9, five positions will be filled including that of Party Leader. Recent events, however, have seen several candidates’ reputation brought into question. The Armenian man, Lev Dermen has gained notoriety in the last week after it has been alleged that he was paying off a Government Minister and a Government official as much as fifty thousand Belize dollars per month. While no names have been mentioned just yet, the allegations of corruption come at a time when the UDP is looking to elect a new leader and executive. The seat of leader is a major seat and with recent events, it does beg the question as to whether the ruling party should hold off on their convention. We asked Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte, who is set to become the new Chairman of the United Democratic Party to give his views on it.
Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General of Belize: “I don’t see why we should postpone it, the general elections are due at the latest November 2020. Pushing back our internal leadership contest I don’t think would make much sense at this point. I think we press forward. We cannot assume that any name will be called or any Minister’s name will be called, we don’t know that yet. We have to wait for that trial to play out. I met him casually once through my very good friend the Honorable Ralph Fonseca, he introduced me to Mr.Dermen as a person who was interested in doing business in Belize. I met him, I shook his hand but I’ve never done business with him. Never had any interaction with him other than just “Hi. This is Mr.Dermen he’s in Belize, he’s interested in doing business with Belize.” and that was it. I certainly did not receive any $25,000 a month from him. The law would say that if somebody is making an assertion then they must be the one to prove it. I know the Prime Minister maybe according to you has been taking some criticism but what else could he do? There is a report that some unnamed minister, some unnamed public official was receiving monies from this person or through this person, we don’t know, and no names being called; the best the Prime Minister can do is in a Cabinet meeting ask all his ministers, especially those who were ministers then “Have you all received this money from this person.” and everybody said no they did not receive this money as alleged in that precursor that case that’s going on in the states. But beyond that what can you do? The Prime Minister has taken the very stringent step of saying ‘Listen, it’s one thing for you to have received that money because then there are no campaign financing laws, there is another thing for you to have then received it for some favor, there is no evidence of that not even in what they’re saying in the papers. But most importantly I am asking you if you received it any at all and if you lie to Cabinet and lie to the Prime Minister and it turns out that you did receive that then you should be fired from Cabinet.”
At last week’s press conference hosted by the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, he explained to the press that he cannot take any action against any of the Ministers since no one has been fingered in the court documents that have surfaced. Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno disagrees with the Prime Minister when he appeared on The Morning Show today.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “At the very least the Prime Minister should have done or still could do is to tell John Saldivar “You know what, I’m not firing you but I’m suspending you from the Cabinet until this thing is cleared up because obviously you were with him. I mean Jules Vasquez said it ‘I know what I saw and I saw this man lavishing gifts and all kinds of stuff to John Saldivar and his team.” Jules Vasqueze even said that he heard that Lev Dermen used to send a private jet for the Minister and his group to fly all over the place. So the Prime Minister is fully aware of this so the very least the Prime Minister could have done at the very least is to tell him “I’m suspending him from Cabinet until we clear this up.” but he does nothing.”
Troy Gabb, Morning Show Host: “Would that be something that you would have done ?”
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “Of course, we have to and what I’m telling my colleagues as it is, you see what they’re going through we also have to be careful and now people are going to hold us to an even higher standard and when issues like that happens then I will be expected to act and I will act because we cannot continue to go down this road.”t
With the recent scandals taking place, there are speculations that an early election may be called. Briceno responded confidently saying that his party will see a victory at the polls as they have been doing substantial groundwork. He added that the pressures for an early election weighs on who will succeed Barrow as the Party Leader for the UDP.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “Again it depends who is going to be the leader because if supposedly, he has not told me personally but there is a general feeling that he’s supporting John Saldivar, I’m told that if John Saldivar should not win there is the possibility he may decide to just call elections just not to pass it on to the other person. But John Saldivar has a lot of problems, lot of legal problems, lot of issues. So they’re in a problem they have a massive problem so who is it that is going to be the leader and that is why I could understand when the Prime Minister is saying that it seems that he has to stay until when he calls the elections. Belizeans have made up their minds about this government they’re just waiting for the day to get rid of them and they have been looking at what we’re doing and what we stand for. So because the elite noh want jump out there them people on the street they’re ready for us and they are dealing with us and they’re working with us. The UDP neva sit down with the Chamber and say “I will have your back and I will do this”unu neva wait for the UDP but right now you’re not prepared to do that why? Because you know you know you have a government that’s vindictive. When you’re afraid of Dean Barrow, that what he will do to unu, unu afraid that he will name unu and shame unu and that is the truth. That is the truth.”
Lev Dermen’s trial is set to begin on January 27, where more information is expected to be revealed.