A big man’s game
Perhaps September is the month that will allow some people to recognize the value of nationality, of being Belizean. That value allows over 350,000 people to belong to a land, to have a kindred spirit to all the square miles that our borders allow. That value is inhaled in the air we breathe, felt in the fertility of the soil, consumed by the food on the land and it consumes us when we return to the earth. Belize belongs to us much as we belong to Belize. But intrinsic value is oft replaced by monetary value, and that is where we lose meaning, lose faith, lose belief and Belize.
The flag, this one is the first to be hoisted on September 20th, 1981. It’s encased for preservation for those who hold value on a spiritual level. But economic gain has tested the value in yen and in dollar. Our fisheries industry was in doubt when ships carrying the Belize flag, were continuously flagged . Belize was blacklisted by the European Union among eight countries that were considered non-cooperative in the fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The cost outweighed the monetary benefit of having those ships carry the Belize brand. But you must question and find the answers on your own Why do foreign ships prefer to carry a Belize flag? But a more valuable question would be Why are the owners of those ships unable to carry the flag of their homeland?
So while we hoisted our flag at midnight to usher in September 21st, 2013, we do so with honor and for love that never leaves. Ask weary travellers what they feel when they walk in a building and see that flag hanging in the lobby or when they sit at a table in a restaurant and see the local currency on display alongside other countries? They know their home is a heartbeat away. But local currency is for locals, others measure the value in the U.S. dollar, the yen and recently, the ‘won’. The Won is South Korea’s local currency.
And in South Korea, a big man’s game was being played out for over a few years, and no doubt the Chairman of the SK Group (third largest conglomerate in South Korea) felt it would have blown over like wah lee breeze. But the strength of that big man’s breeze has blown to Belmopan.
The big man is Chey Tae-won, the family name is Chey. Chey inherited SK Corporation from his father and in 2009 SK was ranked 72 in Fortune Global 500. His wife is the daughter of former President Roh Tae-woo. In January 2012, Chey was indicted of embezzling over forty million US dollars from SK companies to cover up trading losses. He denied any wrongdoing. However, on January 31, 2013, Chey was found guilty of embezzling and was sentenced to 4 years in prison by the Seoul District Court. Chey couldn’t have embezzled and reinvested the forty million plus US dollars without aid from others. It would have blown over like a lee breeze if Chey didn’t appeal his sentence, but he did.
The Seoul High Court intended to issue a verdict on September 13, but resumed oral arguments in the case. “The reason for reopening the oral proceedings is to request that the prosecution make a change in arraignment,” one of the court officials said. And this is where the big man’s breeze blew a strong wind Belize, specifically to an area representative.
Kim Won-hong, a former adviser to SK Shipping Co., was accused by Chey as being the main culprit behind the embezzlement scheme. During the appeal, Chey claimed that he failed to get back several hundreds of billions of won from Kim, after sending him the money for private investments. According to prosecutors, Kim Won-hong at least up to November 2011, was hiding in China. But at the time of the August 2013 appeal, Kim was arrested in Taiwan for violating immigration laws. The two countries’ authorities are said to be working closely together regarding Kim’s extradition to Korea. However, it is alleged that a diplomat from another country was involved with a Belize passport issued on September 9th, 2013 in Kim Won-hong’s name. So if Kim is in jail in August and gets a Belize passport issued on September 9th, then that means no due diligence was carried out to investigate Kim’s situation. Usually, a foreigner would have to apply for a visa and that would be vetted at a Belize Embassy and if they found out Kim was in jail, he would not qualify for a visitor’s visa. But while Kim would not have qualified for a vistor’s visa, the imprisoned man who has never been to Belize, was given a Belize passport instead. In the least it was incompetence, if there is more to it, the investigation will reveal it. Anyone who had a pen in the matter has to be disciplined.
Unfortunately for former Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration Elvin Penner, it was his pen that signed the South Korean’s passport picture and application which is required by law under the new passport regulations. A Justice of the Peace also signed documents that would indicate knowledge of this alleged Belizean citizen. That is why the Prime Minister of Belize forced Penner to resign from cabinet and said he “did not discharge his responsibilities with either the due judgment and balance, or the scrupulous regard for appearances….”
How’s this for appearances? The nationality document was signed by Elvin Penner allegedly on April 22, 2013. Penner also signed the passport application photo of Kim on September third. In the document Penner claims to know his friend, Kim Won-hong (now an international fugitive), for three years.
As the investigation continued on September 23, the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality sent a release stating:
there has been a serious breach of the regulations andrules governing the issuance of this passport and that officers did, whether throughnegligence or acquiescence, allow a fraud to be perpetrated on the system. The Ministry is preparing files to be handed over to the Public Service Commissionand has recommended the immediate suspension of three (3) officers pending thesubmission of the findings and the Commission’s decision…
Although the names have not been released, they have been identified as: Sharon Neal in charge passport section; Erwin Robinson, clerk and Omar Phillips, clerk.
There is the issue of the Nationality section of Immigration. The Nationality certificate, which is allegedly missing, had to be vetted by people in the Nationality section of the Department. That is the frontline to battle against fraud. Doesn’t the Special Branch of the police department also get copies of files to check on individuals seeking nationality? Are the right people being recommended for suspension?
A few years ago, I was investigating several immigration related issues ranging from Somalians with Nigerian passports, to Chinese carrying Japanese passports, Indians, Sri Lankans, and of course, the agent of Hezbollah, Rafic Labboun.
A network of mailed passports, changed identities and international flights were all currents in the tributaries to a cash flow river that threatens to erode the bedrock of our identity. Billions of dollars are spent every year across the planet on human trafficking. Selling of passports have occurred ever since Belize received independence. I know the internet trolls and ‘die hard’ fans of both political parties will attempt to point fingers at the other to say under whose administration it was worse, but that’s never a solution. But tighter controls in the Immigration Department seems to be the safe solution. It’s not a story of one passport that got to a South Korean in a Taiwanese jail. It’s a story of one Belizean identity that people all over the world want, but only belongs to the 350,000 plus Belizeans who know its true value and it can’t be measured in dollars, only sense.
- Belize Immigration Smuggling and Corruption (fiwebelize.com)