Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno says he is clean of corruption and bribery. Briceno made the statement in an exclusive interview with Love News as he responded to several allegations against him. It is 2020, an election year and the main two political parties are already accusing each other of corruption and mismanagement of power. The accusations and allegations are expected to amp up as the year progresses as both parties seek favor with the voters. One such allegation occurred at the last House Meeting in Belmopan on Friday, January 17. Prime Minister Dean Barrow brought up a report that was leaked and later declassified by the US State Department, accusing Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno, of being engaged in acts of corruption when he was the Minister of Natural Resources. According to the document which was filed by a former US Ambassador, a US company dubbed Lagoon Resources lodged a complaint that an oil production contract was issued to a local business despite not having any oil exploration experience. In exchange for that contract, a, quote, ‘sizeable bribe’ was given to Briceno and was reportedly funneled through the purchase of a cable television company. Briceno responded to the complaint, albeit a 6-year-old case.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “Well if you noticed the Prime Minister did not mention the number, that there was an allegation where a disgruntled American that when he applied or his company applied for an oil concession did not get it because a group of Belizeans got it. But first of all I would like to point out, and the Prime Minister knows this, that there’s a process that we go through when they make their proposals and those proposals go to the Cabinet and so I think there were about three companies that made a proposal for that block of where they wanted to do an investigation and the Belizean group is the group that put the best proposal and so the Cabinet decided, not me as the Minister, the Cabinet decided that they were going to give it to this Belizean group. Now this person without no proof made an allegation supposedly that I was given a large sum of money and when the Prime Minister said that the last time then what I did I showed him a copy – because there was an allegation over a cable company that we bought in Corozal. I then showed him a copy of the loan document that my brother and I did, we borrowed over four million dollars and I can show you a copy if you wish, that we borrowed money to be able to buy that company that company was not given to us. So the Prime Minister was very cagey you know when he said ‘oh they made the allegations.’ but he did not mention about the amount of money because he knew already because I had given him a copy of that loan document.”
There is another allegation brought against John Briceno regarding his actions when he served as the Minister of Natural Resources. The allegation is that Briceno, as a Government Minister had engaged in the distribution of huge parcels of land to several family members including his brothers and cousins in Orange Walk. Briceno also addressed this allegation, saying that many of the land owned by his family was through private transactions.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “First of all there is no such truth but what is important to explain is that when I was in government, one of the things I realized is that Belize has four land title systems and it creates a lot of opportunity to steal from people, to embezzle in land and we have what we call the Land Registry System. Under the Land Registry System the government guarantees the sanctity of that title so once you get that title from under the Land Registry the government is saying ‘I am guaranteeing you that this is a true title and that nobody is going to come afterwards and say ‘oh well that land belongs to me.’ But to do that then we had to do a complete, we had to resurvey all the lands in Corozal, Orange Walk and Belize District, we did most of that during my tenure and so when they resurveyed your parcel you had to bring back your old title so we give you a new title. Now my family, my uncles and my father they bought a lot of land of cane fields from BSI when BSI sold their cane fields to Belizeans. So what they’re saying about that they were issued new titles there is some truth to it that some titles- because everybody, everybody including Elodio Aragon and Gapar Vega and all of them got new titles to the land that they owned previously, so they need to be truthful as to what they’re saying. So there’s absolutely no truth that I was giving them government land to my family and moreover I didn’t even sign those titles that was done through the Land Registry when they produced new titles for the old titles that they had.”
While Briceno has provided explanations for the allegations of bribery and land greed, the Leader of the Opposition went even further to state that he has never been involved in any corruption during his tenure as Minister of Natural Resources.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “During my tenure I’m proud to say that whilst I was the Minister of Natural Resources I issued over sixty five thousand titles and leases for Belizeans all across this country. I did it to the best of my ability, when they bring me files I try to look at the files to ensure that everything has been done right. If there were any allegations that I did anything wrong the UDP has been in control for the past twelve years, Gaspar Vega who I’m sure he is no fan of mine I mean he did a thorough investigation to try to find if there was any wrongdoing on my part and they came up with nothing. As I said and I used to always tell my colleagues in Cabinet, because sometimes when somebody gets a piece of land the media would find out I said ‘listen. Once you have given out a piece of land and you give you a title it becomes a public document. All you need to do is go to the Land Registry and to do your research and you could see who owns the land.”
There is much more to share with you from our interview with the Opposition Leader. We’ll bring you those stories later in tonight’s newscast.