John Saldivar – he is perhaps the most popular Government Minister under the Barrow administration as he has been at the center of many discussions and debates over the years. And tonight, the discussions continue as Saldivar’s name has once again surfaced, this time in recent US court documents involving Lev Dermen. If you have been following the Dermen saga, you will know that Dermen is incarcerated in Utah awaiting trial for fraud in an oil scheme he allegedly carried out with a former business partner, Jacob Kingston. Kingston, who has cut a deal with federal prosecutors, has agreed to testify in court to multiple acts of bribery and corruption he aided Dermen in committing. One of those acts reportedly involves a Government Minister from Belize. Today, a new set of court documents shows that Kingston will testify to communication between him and Saldivar and will use a record of those messages as evidence. We can’t say what are in those text messages; at least not until the trial starts on January 27, 2020. The fact that Saldivar’s name has appeared on the US Court documents may, in some corners, render him guilty already; just not in the eyes of the Prime Minister (which we will explain later on). Interestingly, in a press conference aired last week with the Prime Minister, he stated that there will be hell to pay if evidence surfaces that monies were received NOT IF any names were called. For context, we bring back that statement.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Ladies and gentlemen that is where for the moment the matter must rest, but truth will out you know ? And clearly the evidence in this trial will be forthcoming. I don’t think I can make my position any clearer, once there is evidence of monies having been received by any UDP cabinet member from this gentleman, game over. My reaction is going to be axiomatic and I promise the Belizean people that as I have always done I will move swiftly in the face of what I would know to be actionable wrongdoing.”
The allegations that Kingston is making involve a Government Minister receiving as much as fifty thousand Belize dollars per month as a form of a bribe for special favors. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the UDP administration has been clouded with a scandal involving international partners. There has been the Passport scandal with former Minister Elvin Penner; the land scandal involving the son of former Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega; the Danny Mason scandal that named multiple ministers as having business dealings with him and now the Lev Dermen saga. On the occasions of these major scandals, there is one statement made by the Prime Minister that planted hope in the Belizean people and that they have held on to up to this day. It is a statement on anti-corruption and how adamant he was to not tolerate it under his leadership. Here is a portion of that speech delivered back in November 2004.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “I tell you this, any United Democratic Party government that I lead will never be engaged in corruption. As soon as it rears its ugly head I personally will cut it off and I will tell you I want unu sharpen wah special machete fi mi pan two sides because every time it spring up right so I wah chop it off. And if it means that the government has to fall so be it. Let the consequences be damned, the people of this country deserve better, I am determined to give them better.”
With all this happening, the opposition party (PUP) didn’t miss a beat in calling a press conference this morning at the Charter House in Belize City. Opposition Leader, John Briceno, wants to see Saldivar gone. He says the Prime Minister is pretty much in denial and refuses to probe into the allegations against Saldivar.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “Well I guess right now I mean probably it’s only the Prime Minister is trying to behave as is John Saldivar is some way or the other is not involved with this case. Once again John Saldivar is disgracing this country, that has happened several times by being associated with the wrong kind of persons. You know we already know the unfortunate issue of Pastor Lue and now here comes again now with a massive fraudster that is locked up in the United States. I think that the proverbial noose is tightening around John Saldivar and also around the neck of the Prime Minister who continues to try to defend John Saldivar who and of course the Prime Minister’s mini me the Attorney General who tried to say ‘well still what’s going on.’ And if the Prime Minister is trying to downplay this issue about the text messages then we need to ask ourselves why is it that the Justice Department is fighting so hard to keep these text messages as part of the evidence that they are presenting in the US court in Utah? Last week Friday Honorable Kareem Musa made an interesting point and he said that if the Prime Minister really wants to get the information all he needs to do is call the Charge in the US Embassy.”
As you noted, Briceno is challenging the Prime Minister to speak with the US Chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy if he really wants information. We know that Prime Minister, Dean Barrow was at the US Embassy yesterday but the agenda on that meeting is anybody’s guess. We at Love News can tell you, however, that we did reach out to the US Chargé, Keith Gilges for comment on the Dermen court case.
Keith Gilges, Charge d’ affaires, US Embassy: “I can’t comment on an ongoing case. You know there are differences between what I do as a representative of the State Department and the government here and what happens in the Judicial System back in the United States so nobody’s consulting with me on these issues. If sometimes a case might touch on something in Belize, I’m following it as much as anybody else is but I don’t have any particular information and I have to be very careful about commenting on any ongoing case or investigation.”
Reporter: So it’s not a situation that when something happens in the US, you’re not automatically privy to the information.”
Keith Gilges, Charge d’ affaires, US Embassy: “That’s correct. We’ve got a big government, there a lot of different branches and there are separations between what we do. So I represent the State Department, I represent the president here in country and the policies. What happens in the Judicial system and a case happening in the Federal district in Utah isn’t something that I’m privy to or they’re going to consult with me about.”
Briceno went on in his press conference speaking of other ways that the Prime Minister could investigate the matter. He says if he could, he would but he does not have the powers to question foreign agencies. According to Briceno, the bottom line is that the Prime Minister refuses to act against Saldivar.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “The contents of those text messages are going to be revealed more sooner than later, one. But two, if he wants to get to the bottom if it as I said all he needs to do is to call John H Huber from the Justice Department in Utah and say “we want to take a look at those documents.” It may not be presented in the US court but it can be brought to Belize where he can look at the text messages, he can look at the wire transfers, he can find out exactly which minister got $25,000 US dollars a month for political favors. So if the Prime Minister is serious he can do something about it, and even with the Pastor Lue case with Danny Mason it was very clear that after he brought John Saldivar back to the Cabinet that remember when we released a document showing that this man Danny Mason was a business partner in the Bandits Football team along with John Saldivar and then the Prime Minister refused to act- typical Prime Minister. This Prime Minister, the Honorable Dean Barrow continues to spin and spin and spin but the noose is getting tightened around his neck and they will not be able to get away from this one.”
Since the 24-page US court documents naming Saldivar surfaced this morning, social media has been blowing up with many corners calling for Saldivar to demit office or to have the Prime Minister Dean Barrow terminate his services. It’s not an open and shut case, however, as the determination of legal and factual guilty is still in full effect. Prime Minister Barrow issued a statement earlier today saying his stance remains the same and Saldivar will remain where he is until there is proof of corruption. His release reads, quote, “The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has been made aware of a new item publicly extracted in Belize from the Lev Dermen trial documents in the U.S. Various media houses have asked the Prime Minister whether the new extract, which alleges the existence of text messages between Minister John Saldivar and Lev Dermen’s convicted co-conspirator Jacob Kingston, provides a sufficient basis for the Prime Minister to act now. The short answer is that it does not. The extract speaks only to the alleged existence of the text messages. It does not disclose the contents of those messages or even the subject matter of the texts. It absolutely does not constitute so much as an allegation – much less provable material – that Minister John Saldivar received money from Kingston or Dermen. The Prime Minister can only act if there is evidence of the receipt of money by Minister Saldivar or some other improper or incriminating act. If the Prime Minister were to move against Minister Saldivar in the current circumstances and before any evidence of wrongdoing is forthcoming, that would be a gross violation of the rules of fair play and the Minister’s Constitutional rights. The OPM refers to the assertion made by the Opposition that the Prime Minister can get from the U.S. Embassy revelatory material pertaining to the Dermen trial even before such material is placed on the public record. The Prime Minister spoke with the U.S. Charge d’Affaires, who has now publicly made clear that the U.S. Embassy can do no such thing. The Prime Minister also spoke to the Belize Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in connection with the Dermen matter and the possible involvement of Ministers in wrongdoing. In this regard, the FIU Director has confirmed that an FIU inquiry turned up nothing whatsoever on Mr. Dermen or any Minister of Government. The OPM reiterates the Prime Minister’s solemn promise to act immediately on the basis of any forthcoming evidence against any Minister.” End of quote.
Minister John Saldivar also issued a statement on his Facebook page, maintaining innocence. He noted, quote, “Nothing has changed from the position outlined in my statement of January 15, 2019. The information being circulated regarding expected testimony in US proceedings contains no allegation against me of any wrongdoing.” End of quote. Love News spoke with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Wilfred Elrington, who agreed with the Prime Minister, saying there is not much that can be done to Minister Saldivar at this time.
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Foreign Minister of Belize: “I don’t know him at all, I don’t know what he looks like but I will explain to you the process. In this particular case,, I think there was one Tuesday at the Cabinet when I was approached by Minister Finnegan who said that they had this candidate who they thought would be a good person for Honorary Consul status for Belize. So I said the practice is you cause the person to make his or her application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where it is dealt with by the Chief of Protocol. I think I might have made a note to the Chief of Protocol saying that Minister Finnegan was asking about the possibility of having him made an Honorary Consul. Once it goes to the Chief of Protocol they then do two things; I think they send his name to our own police station to find out whether there is anything against him and I think they send it to INTERPOL to find out whether they had anything against him. When that comes back depending on what it says then the request is sent to the United States for them to determine whether or not they’re going to accept him. I do know for a fact that after we got a negative from the United States I was then approached by Minister Saldivar who asked whether we could do anything more for him and again I referred him to the protocol section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who took it from there. The Prime Minister is not only the Prime Minister but he is a very seasoned attorney and I would, with trepidation, go against his opinion, I tend to agree with him. Actually what we are having at this stage are allegations and because we have such a good democratic system where you have what is called due process of law a number of things have to happen before one is deemed to be guilty of any offence. You know you’re deemed to be innocent until proven guilty so if there is an offense involved that has got to be disclosed.”
The Lev Dermen trial begins on Monday, January 27 in Utah. We are following its developments and will update you accordingly.