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Former Deputy Prime Minister Called before Commission of Inquiry

The Commission of Inquiry reconvened today for its second session which went for about three hours. Eight witnesses were called before the Commission but only seven gave testimonies.

The Commission of Inquiry reconvened today for its second session which went for about three hours. Eight witnesses were called before the Commission but only seven gave testimonies. The first witness in the hot seat was the former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Hugo Patt. Patt was questioned on a possible link between distribution of lands to businessman Zhou Rong Kevin Li and the purchase of his government-assigned 2020 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. The former DPM was assigned the vehicle in February 2020 and just prior to the general elections on November 11, the brand-new vehicle had been sold to Patt’s friend, Juvencio Herrera.  In the first session, Manager of the government’s Assets and Utilities Management Unit, Ruperto Vicente, said the vehicle was labelled unserviceable and was reportedly sold for sixty-five thousand dollars.  In this morning’s session, Patt was questioned on how the vehicle was sold and how it transcended from a request from him to the Prime Minister to a third-party purchase.  Prior to the sale, Patt first approached the Financial Secretary and later the former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow, requesting to purchase the vehicle. Barrow never officially approved the sale but was in favor of it. Patt told Commissioner Chairman Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck that he handed over possession of the vehicle to the ministry in early November. This is after making a request to then have the vehicle sold to his friend, Juvencio Herrera.

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I indicated to Juvencio that I had made a request for this vehicle but that due to health emergencies I was not in a position to get the vehicle – to purchase the vehicle myself. And so that when I indicated this to Juvencio he did agree to purchase the vehicle on my behalf.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “So he purchased it for you ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Yes he did. That was a verbal agreement that I had with him.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “So when you say he purchased it for you you mean he would use his own monies to pay for it ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Yes sir.” 

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “So you put the car in Mr.Juvencio’s name ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “That is exactly the case.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “But what were the terms of repayment of the loan and how much was the loan for ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “It was for $65,000.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Do you know who paid for the vehicle?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “You never gave any instructions as to how payments was to be made for the vehicle ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “No Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “So you’re not aware that transfers were made by private individuals at the request of Mr.Kevin Li? “

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “No sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Mr. Zhou Rong Li do you know who that is ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “No Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Are you familiar with that name any ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “No sir.” 

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Would it surprise you to learn that over the period 23rd July 2020 to 3rd November 2020 just before the elections, the week before the elections, you had approved the transfer of some ten parcels of land to Mr. Zhou Rong Li ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I really can’t tell Mr. Chairman. As I indicated lands is a department that produces in volumes so that when you talk on a monthly basis or on an annual basis the volumes are pretty much high so getting a name or identifying a person within so many applications is pretty much impractical.” 

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Over the period July 2020 through November 2020 you transferred eight lots on San Pedro to Mr. Zhou Rong Li do you remember that ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not remember Mr. Chairman as I said individually it would be very difficult for me to actually identify who got approved a parcel of land and who did not.” 

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Are you surprised that the same Chinese gentleman with that name Mr. Zhou Rong Li was approved eight lots ?” 

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I have no idea of who got approved and who did not get approved.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “No I understand you have no idea of who got it but the approvals were done by you as Minister of Natural Resources were they not ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “When applications are received it takes a process so that there is a process that has to be followed and once that has gone through that vetting process as we speak then the applications are recommended and so once those are recommended all that we do is just sign off on those.” 

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “So you just sign off on them automatically once they come on your desk ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Once it’s recommended I do sir.”

Herrera did appear before the commission this morning, but via his attorney Andrew Bennett, he requested an extension as his services had only been retained this morning.  The questioning into the sale of the 2020 Tacoma went deeper and it was revealed that Herrera, Patt’s friend, had a connection with Li and it was Li who provided the funds for the purchase.  So now there is an inference, a plausible connection Patt’s deep desire to own the 2020 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck to the dozens of crown lands that Li purchased so easily and quickly. When confronted with the transactions, Patt told Marshalleck that he does not recall.

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Wouldn’t it be a cause for concern that this single individual can have such ready access to government lands ? 

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “As long as you’re a Belizean you’re entitled to land in this country.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Yes but what about twelve parcels ? Are you entitled to twelve parcels ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “In terms of processing Mr. Chairman I really don’t know. Whenever an application is received it is vetted and once the vetting is completed then it’s sent to me.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “At the end of the day the authority to dispose of national lands rests with the minister does it not ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Yes it does sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “So that the decision ultimately rests with you.”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “That is precisely so.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “And you decided that you would favor Mr.Li with all these parcels of lands over those months leading up to the election.”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall that I favored Mr.Li or I favored anybody Mr.Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “So you don’t consider this favored treatment ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “We process thousands of applications without due consideration if it x, if it was y, if it was a woman, if it was a man so long as you are a Belizean your are entitled to get a piece of land.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Alright, what about twelve pieces ? Do you recall that one 3rd November 2020 you approved 10.299 acres in Carmelita to Mr. Mr. Zhou Rong Li ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “27th October 2020 you transferred half acre in San Pedro to Mr. Zhou Rong Li ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I certainly do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Do you recall that on the 3rd November 2020 as well you also transferred 52.7 acres Ten Pound Caye registration section to Mr. Zhou Rong Li “

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Do you recall that on the 14th August 2020 you transferred 2.04 acres on San Pedro to Mr. Zhou Rong Li  ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Do you recall that on the same day 14th August 2020 you also transferred a lot comprising 486.277 square meters on Caye Caulker to Mr. Zhou Rong Li “

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Do you recall that on the 27th July 2020 you transferred a lot parcel 8483 San Pedro to Mr. Zhou Rong Li ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “What about on the 13th August 2020 another lot parcel 8673 on San Pedro to Mr. Zhou Rong Li  , do you remember that ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “And what about on the 23rd July 2020 you transferred two parcels, two lots on San Pedro to Mr. Zhou Rong Li  ; parcels 8564 and parcel 6807 do you recall that ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall sir.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “And the non the 27th July two days later you transferred another lot on San Pedro toMr. Zhou Rong Li , a parcel 6791 do you remember that ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not recall Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “I know you say you don’t recall them but doesn’t mean they didn’t take place did it ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Mr. Chairman as I said for me to actually identify and peruse an application one by one it would just be impractical so that as best as we try to do in order to improve the efficiency of the system, in order to improve the services of the department we try to expedite the process.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Yes and expedite you did. Would you be surprised to learn that all these transfers in favor of Mr. Zhou Rong Li happened in on day ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Mr. Chairman we expedited for thirteen thousand people, Belizeans, in 2019 and if I’m not mistaken it would be close to that figure in 2020.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “There were also a dozen transfers of government land to Mr.Li via third parties.”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I have no idea Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “You have parcel 2120 San Pedro goes to Isaias Franco and within the same day gets transferred to Mr.Li  ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I have no idea Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “You have parcel 8670 goes to a Wasani Castro and then immediately to Mr.Li within a matter of days. “

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I have no idea Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “And then you have a parcel 8657 goes to a Jafari Castro and then within a short period goes to Mr.Li ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I cannot recall Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Yes. Do you recognize those names? “

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not Mr. Chairman.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “The Castro name doesn’t ring a bell ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I don’t know anybody from that..”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Okay, what about parcel 6827 to a Ms.Roselle Usher and then to Mr.Li Same day again. Do you recognize the name Ms. Roselle Usher ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I don’t Mr. Chairman.”

Marshalleck confronted Patt, telling him that what was concerning was that Li was able to get his hands on government land so quickly.

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “What concerns me is how this single individual was able to get done so much so quickly.” 

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Mr. Chairman we had as I indicated thirteen thousand Belizeans who got their documents processed. In 2020 I’m sure that the figure would have been the same. I don’t see how I could favor one over another.” 

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Well certainly Mr.Li seems to have been favored.”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “All Belizeans are entitled to a piece of land.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “You don’t agree with me that Mr.Li was favored and he didn’t get a piece of land he got many pieces of lands all over the country.”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I cannot indicate sir with certainty if he got land or not.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “We’re talking eight lots in San Pedro, ten acres in Carmelita, fifty two acres Ten Pound Caye, a lot in Caye Caulker, a lot in Lords Bank among others Mr.Patt. You’re not saying that this gentlemen was not favored? Was treated just like every other Belizean in the processing of his applications and that’s just between July and November in the election year ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Mr. Chairman as long as an application is received, as long as the application is vetted and it’s recommended then we sign off on those applications.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Who would have vetted and recommended Mr.Li’s applications ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “When applications are received at reception it goes through a whole process.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Yes who would have received it , vetted it and made the recommendation to you on the basis of which you signed these transfers ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Applications are normally received at reception.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: “Yes and then who vets it ?”

Jugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: There are different sections within the department that has to go through before it reaches to our office.”

Andrew Marshalleck, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry: I would expect so and I’m trying to get a description from you as to exactly what those sections are and who are responsible for these very favorable recommendations in favor of Mr.Li? You’re trying to pass it off as business as usual. This Mr.Patt is not business as usual. This is favored treatment for Mr.Li and I want to understand why it is that Mr.Li was treated so favorably.”