Three years and ten months later and charges are yet to be filed against anyone in the Immigration Department following the Auditor General’s Report into the Immigration and Nationality sections for the period 2011 to 2013. Back in 2016, former Senator Lisa Shoman had moved for a motion to have the AG’s Report be investigated by the Senate. A Special Select Senate Inquiry was formed and a slew of testimonies were heard from public officers and the substantive Minister of Immigration, Godwin Hulse. The inquiry concluded in December 2017 and the final report from the Senate committee was not tabled in the House until July 15, 2020. It has been almost 47 days since the final report from the Special Select Senate Committee was tabled in the National Assembly. The 160-page report is now in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Cheryl Lyn-Vidal who is expected to hand down instructions on whether arrests will be made and what charges will be levied. Love News spoke with Vidal who explained that since the activities investigated occurred almost ten years ago it may be too late to press charges.
Cheryl Lynn Vidal, Director of Public Prosecutions: “I think that I have to first clear up a very common misconception. My function is to prosecute, my powers in the constitution all revolve around prosecution. I have no powers of investigation. The powers of investigation reside with the Belize Police Department. I cannot simply commence a prosecution based on a report or a transcript of testimony that is sent to my office. I need to have witnesses who are going to testify, I will need to disclose the statements of those witnesses to the other side if someone is arrested and charged for an offence so I actually have to have statements from persons who are willing to go to court and say what it is they said in those statements. So it requires an investigation, it requires the compilation of a file, it requires a decision as to whether or not any offences are disclosed, if it is still a viable case and then only then with the authority that is responsible for laying charges – which is not the Director of Public Prosecutions – will then lay charges and a prosecution is then commenced. So it is not as though a document could have gone to my office and I could then walk into the court and commence a prosecution against someone and this is important to clarify because in the past there have been other inquires and documents have been sent to the DPP’s office and it was the common thinking of the DPP should just act on that and start a case against someone, that is not how it works at all. I have looked at the report of the Senate Special Select Committee and I have spoken with the Commissioner of Police on more than one occasion in relation to the matter and we have decided that there will be an investigative team that will be put together and a prosecutor will be assigned to that team to assist, to guide the team as that team moves forward. As I said a short while ago I can’t prosecute based on a report from the Senate. I cannot. I cannot look at the findings of the Senate, the conclusions drawn by the committee I can’t even look at the Auditor General’s report and decide that a prosecution is going to be commenced. In a sense the police have to start from scratch using the information provided by the Auditor General’s report and by the Senate’s report and then commence an investigation, see what evidence is available to us, after we have compiled that evidence then we make a determination as to whether there are charges that can be laid and we have to bear in mind that the subject matter of these reports arose between 2011 and 2013 we’re now in 2020 there may be oath offences that may have been committed that are now statute bar so this requires us to have a very broad understanding of what is available to us, what offences may have been committed and whether those offences can still be the basis of viable charges and prosecutions.”
As indicated by DPP Vidal an investigative team is now being formed to look at the charges that could possibly be laid against some individuals but one of the most important factor to look at what charges are allowed by law to be filed.
Cheryl Lynn Vidal, Director of Public Prosecutions: “It’s still in the process. The Commissioner has already thrown out some names – which I’m not going to share with you – but the Commissioner has already thrown out some names that he’s giving more thought to exactly who is going to comprise the team.”
Reporter: And you’re going to have, like you said, representation on the team to guide the prosecution?
Cheryl Lynn Vidal, Director of Public Prosecutions: “Guide, to advise and to report back to me in relation to how things are proceeding because as I said we’re in 2020 these are old matters so they have to be dealt with with dispatch.”
Reporter: Do you have a timeline set, you and the Commissioner, in terms of okay you’ll have the investigation team establish by such a time and then a timeline in terms of how long or what period of time you give it –
Cheryl Lynn Vidal, Director of Public Prosecutions: “We did not set a specific timeline but we are both acutely aware of the fact that a lot of time has past and that we need to get on it immediately. So I can’t tell you that we have said within a week this is going to happen or within two weeks but we have discussed the fact that there are charges that may be statute barred and that we need to get on top of what is happening. The document is a bulky document as was the report before it and it did take a bit of time to go through everything and to ensure that everything was properly understood and to be able to discuss intelligently the way forward.”
Reporter: What kind of charges are you looking at in general when you read the testimonies, when you read what exactly transpired within this period of the Auditor General’s report ?
Cheryl Lynn Vidal, Director of Public Prosecutions: “I knew you would ask that question and I resolved not to respond to it for the reason that I don’t want it to be referred to later on and it be said “well after the DPP read the report she said that it might be possible to charge with this, or charge with this or charge with this.” and then there’s a misunderstanding that what I read here has to be backed up with actual evidence. So I may have thoughts as to where this could possibly go but unless I seek the actual evidence I would not know if a charge is going to viable or not so I prefer not to respond to that question.”