Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2022. 7:53 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Former Minister of Government John Saldivar has continued to downplay and deny the alleged corrupt activity while in office that prompted his designation by the U.S. State Department for “significant corruption” as he plots a political comeback – specifically, alleged bribery and improper use of state assets.
Nonetheless, a new criminal investigation has been launched by Belize police regarding the visit to Hunting Caye on a Boston Whaler gifted to Belize by the U.S. Coast Guard, with which the Belize Coast Guard is cooperating, and a Special Committee of the United Democratic Party (UDP) has denied his bid to stand for standard bearer in Belmopan, also insisting he step down as interim caretaker and Western Regional leader.
Saldivar wants the Party’s National Party Council to reconsider the decision, but it will require an emergency meeting on the strength of a petition with 200 signatures.
For his part, Saldivar strenuously denies he was corrupt, calling the U.S. government’s actions “egregious” and “unjust.” “I have no difficulty facing a trial here in Belize or abroad,” he told reporters defiantly. “I have guarded my reputation. Incidences like the one with Lev Dermen where I was not involved in any corruption have cast aspersions on my reputation.”
While he maintains that nothing he did in the matter of Lev Aslan Dermen rises to the level of corruption, Los Angeles Magazine reports that Saldivar’s alleged involvement in favours he received was further reaching than many remember from the Salt Lake City trial in 2020.
Kingston testified and pleaded guilty to, and Dermen was convicted of, bilking the U.S. Treasury of US$511 million in green energy tax credits – monies which the federal authorities say Dermen allegedly attempted to launder overseas in Turkey and Belize – and that their befriending Saldivar was part of that scheme, in which he allegedly “pocketed bribes paid with stolen taxpayer cash,” as they put it.
Also at that trial, the magazine says U.S. prosecutors alleged that Dermen is the reputed boss of the Los Angeles Armenian mafia.
Though Saldivar denies it, the 2020 testimony said he facilitated the purchase of a parcel of land and Belizean citizenship for Kingston and Dermen. He has confirmed receiving a US$50,000 cash donation for political campaign contributions and other undescribed monthly payments. Saldivar said at a recent press conference that these monies were used to buy sports equipment for his various teams and to perform community activities in the Belmopan constituency, which he represented from 2003 to 2020.
The magazine details that Kingston and Dermen were visitors to Belize at least five times and were treated “like royalty” – including the infamous visit to Hunting Caye on a Boston Whaler gifted to Belize by the U.S. Coast Guard. It was there that the men secured Saldivar’s friendship and support in exchange for funds. As Kingston testified, “He told us that he had three or four individuals as part of his party, and their intent to be reelected and the conversation led to cash or to money that was needed for a reelection campaign,” following which Kingston said Saldivar messaged him asking for cash and he sent the $50,000 with an employee of his company Washakie Renewable Energy – payments which continued, according to his testimony.
Meanwhile, Dermen and Kingston remain in state custody in Utah awaiting sentencing in connection to the hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from U.S. citizens, and several U.S. and local officials in California have faced charges and jail time in connection with the scandal, according to the magazine.
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