Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth Bill Debated in the Senate
Going hand in hand with the FIU Bill, is the Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth Bill. In this Bill, the government is looking to dig back as far as 2011 in cases where persons cannot satisfactorily justify their wealth or improved standard of living. Senator Peyrefitte also had issues with this, alluding that the government is only targeting those in government for the past 12 years. He also noted the circumstances on how the FIU can target citizens.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, UDP Senator: “I am of the belief Madam President that well while I am a very private person that if you don’t have anything to hide then you shouldn’t have to worry right ? But still private information is private information. The Civil Asset Recovery Bill now takes us into a new era and if the central authority, which is the Financial Intelligence Unit, believes that you have a level of wealth that you can’t explain then the authority can come and recover that wealth. They can freeze your accounts. They can put into a fund, get a receiver and all of that. If you have a certain amount of money and you’re driving and you have ten cars, and three houses and man if FIU can come for you now and take it away if it can prove that you got those as a result of committing crimes or you just can’t explain it how you a grade one public servant have two, three apartments that you rent each cost a million dollars how do you explain that ? How do you defend that ? Where did you get that moneyX from ? That’s a very good thing Madam President to be able to investigate people who have unexplained wealth or people who have items that clearly came from the proceeds of crime. I like the fact that the bill covers the concept of compensation. That if the authority were to come after me and it turns out that they have inconvenienced me for nothing I can apply to the court for compensation provided I can prove that the authority acted in bad faith.”
Senator for the private sector, Kevin Herrera, explained that when he reviewed the CARU Bill, there were some concerns and red flags that came up for him.
Hon. Kevin Herrera, Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry: “Going over the bill Madam President I struggled with certain things. I really struggled with the concept of whether or not we were dealing with a criminal matter or a civil matter. And then what preceded these actions. So from my review of the bill it almost seems like it’s a stand alone bill. Meaning that there’s nothing really triggers this. Now if an unlawful conduct has taken place who determines that ? I would have expected and when I looked at 9 (ii) i was wondering if that was what they were making reference to that there would have been a previous criminal proceeding that would have determined that it was an unlawful act but it doesn’t seem like it and that’s why I agree with Senator Peyrefitte that it seems like it’s a standalone bill that seems to violate three very important principles in law. One is that we’re innocent until proven guilty. That there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt and that the burden of proof rests with the accuser. It seems the way this bill is written it is almost as if though I would have to prove my innocence even though I’m accused of something. And so like I said I think we’re very supportive of what the bill is seeking to achieve but it’s just how it goes about doing that and I wouldn’t want to violate the fundamental rights and freedoms that are granted under the constitution and so I think that this aspect of it really has to be looked at very very closely.”
Senator Elena Smith echoed some of the concerns by her colleague, Senator Peyrefitte. She noted that while she appreciates the general sentiment behind the bill, she needs clarity.
After several submissions were made on the six Bills brought together as one package, a division was called for by Senator Peyrefitte, leading to nine votes in favor; three against and one absent. We will have more from the Senate in tomorrow’s newscast.