Friday, September 26, 2014. AARON HUMES Reporting: Exactly 372 days ago, it was announced that Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality Elvin Penner had been pressured to resign by Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his boss Senator Godwin Hulse.
This was after it was revealed that Penner had assisted in facilitating the sale of a Belizean passport and nationality status to imprisoned South Korean businessman Won Hong-Kim who was seeking to avoid extradition to his native country on various charges.
He lost his portfolios, perks and reputation, not to mention his political career, but has so far managed to avoid jail time.
One year later, no one accused of involvement in the affair has faced any sort of criminal charge – even the three accused immigration officers were given their jobs back by the Public Service Commission.
Minister Hulse says any continued investigation is now in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), whose office has received the Kim passport and continues to contemplate its own prosecution as well as whether to assist COLA in its private prosecution which is now under appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Minister repeated that the Executive moved as swiftly as it could to discipline Penner, but it would not jump in to move along the judicial investigation.
The Minister was asked if his staff cooperated with the Audit Department in its report into the affair and says that for their sake, he hopes they did.
The Minister pointed to the strengthened regulations that impose greater penalties on offenders, as well as the Visa Vetting and Nationality Committees which feature social partner organizations, as examples of things the Government has learned from the Penner scandal.
Names of potential applicants will be published twice, at the start and end of the process, to allow for objections.
The point is to make the process more transparent and bring all Belizeans into the discussion of citizenship and nationality.
And the net has tightened on who can call themselves Belizeans.
Notably, the Immigration Ministry has denied that privilege to original Guatemalan citizens unless they formally renounce their allegiance to that age-old enemy.
But he had a special warning for native Belizeans that naively assist prospective citizens who may not have the best thoughts for Belize in mind.
Minister Godwin Hulse claims to have seen many files where ordinary Belizeans are signing on behalf of would-be new citizens claiming to know them for unusual lengths at time.
That practice draws a stiff penalty if the person is found to be lying.
In a similar vein, Senator Hulse warns against misusing the practice of Belizean women marrying foreigners in order to help them become Belizeans as well.
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