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Custom officials in hot water, again!

A Customs officer and one of his superiors were detained over the weekend after police intercepted a suspected illegal cargo vessel at the Punta Gorda Pier on Saturday night. The men were charged for conspiring with five other men for landing a vessel and unloading goods reportedly from Guatemala.

A Customs officer and one of his superiors were detained over the weekend after police intercepted a suspected illegal cargo vessel at the Punta Gorda Pier on Saturday night. The men were charged for conspiring with five other men for landing a vessel and unloading goods reportedly from Guatemala. Police arrived at the pier to find a small shipment of dry goods, along with trucks to transport them. All the men were detained and the goods were seized.  According to the Police Commissioner, this is because the pier is not open for cargo shipments, making it an unauthorized or contraband shipment.

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “We went through the investigation and we found out who is the importer of the cargo and the importer of the cargo have said to us that it was the officer in charge of the customs port in Punta Gorda that authorized him to bring the vessel to that port with a view to get the goods into Punta Gorda Town. So based on that I also directed that the port commander be detained and they should be charged today. I know yesterday the seven individuals were charged under the quarantine regulation for failure to wear face masks. The Customs Officer was not charged for that because did have on a mask. The Customs Officers, both Customs Officers the ones in charge and the one who was on the spot, will be charged for inciting the illegal entry of a vessel into the country and conspiracy to cause a vessel to enter the country illegally so they’ll be charged for those charges today and we’re hoping that maybe between today and tomorrow they’ll be taken before a court to answer those charges. I communicated again with the Controller of Customs and due to the fact that the regulation do not give the police the authority or the powers to arrest for uncustomed goods we have handed over that aspect of the investigation to Customs and Customs will be charging for the uncustomed goods. I would want to think that they’ll be charging the Customs Officers as well as the importer of the goods in respect to the uncustomed goods.”

Police Commissioner went on to explain that there are other agencies that should have been involved in order to accept the shipment.  In the absence of that element the commissioner says it warranted police intervention.

Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “In order for a boat to come into the country of such nature there are several things that must be done. They must get the preclearance from Port Authority, free clearance from Customs and Immigration and there’s a boarding team that normally goes on board which would be Customs and Immigration, Health , BAHA as the case may be and in this particular instance the only agent that was there was Customs the other agencies were absent which means that the activity that was taking place could not be lawful because immigration would have had to be there to land these people, BAHA if there was any plants or vegetables have to inspect, Public Health has to go on board and then Customs would deal with the issue of customs. So the other agencies were not there so again is a red flag that could have indicated that something was wrong.”

The Customs Department is also working on its own investigation as it pertains to the goods that were confiscated.  Love News understands that the situation is far more complex than the Police Commissioner has explained it.  We are following the administrative angle of this story and will tell you more in tomorrow’s newscast.  Meanwhile, we can tell you that it was a small load with a value of just under six thousand Belize dollars.  One source to our newsroom has indicated that the police acted hastily in its arrests and due diligence was not carried out.  Back in August, a junior Customs officer and an immigration officer appeared in court for abetment to exit Belize illegally in relation to the Tugboat incident at the Big Creek Port.  This incident had required the intervention of the Minister of National Security as the Police Commissioner had refused to bend to the Customs Department.