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Leader of the Opposition asks Ombudsman to investigate Prime Minister, Minister of State for ‘corruption’ in Portico agreement

Posted: Friday, June 2, 2023. 9:43 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Following on from public statements made this week, Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow has written to Ombudsman Gilbert Swaso requesting an investigation and report into alleged corruption and wrongdoing by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Briceno and Minister of State Christopher Coye, concerning the Portico Enterprises Limited ‘Definitive Agreement’ signed by former Minister Erwin Contreras.

The letter is nearly word-for-word a copy of the Port of Belize Limited letter requesting an investigation into Contreras, written by Port CEO Ted Peralta and sent earlier this week. The Ombudsman has acknowledged receiving this letter and discussing the parameters of such an investigation.

Specifically, Barrow asks that the Ombudsman “investigate the circumstances that led to the Minister of Finance and Economic Development attempting to have the GOB Cabinet approve for legislation the invalid, illegal, unauthorized Definitive Agreement between a former Minister of Government and Portico Enterprises Ltd (aba) [sic] The Port of Magical Belize which was secretly signed by a former Government Minister after the dissolution of Parliament in October 2020 weeks before the General Elections falsely purporting to bind the government to obligations unprecedented in their extremity and simply illegal without approval of Parliament.”

Repeating the pronouncements of Peralta that various public personalities who were in Government at the time (albeit dissolved before the general elections) have loudly and publicly condemned the Agreement and insisted they had nothing to do with it, Barrow goes on to allege that the Prime Minister, knowing that what was in the agreement was “one-sided and unfair” and knowing that such an agreement could only have been illegal and improper, nonetheless allegedly planned to prepare to enable legislation for such an agreement in the House of Representatives once Cabinet approval had been obtained.

Barrow makes further specific allegations about “questions” as to why such an agreement would have been legislated, including that Ambassador of Trade and Investment Haisam Diab owns land to be or has been purchased for the investment; that the Minister of State’s law firm Courtenay Coye LLP was the long-time law firm for Portico or proprietor David Gegg; and that close relatives or affiliated companies of the Prime Minister have business interests in the project.

For the record, the Government has postponed anything to do with the Portico matter until after it has sought legal advice, and Portico has come out refuting Barrow’s allegations, stating that it has not bought land from Diab or is aware that Diab owns land in the area near the “1,000 acres” it says it has purchased; that it has done no business with Courtenay Coye LLP and has exclusively retained the former firm of Morales Peyrefitte LLP (latterly Morales and Company after Peyrefitte’s exit) which drafted the Definitive Agreement and worked on obtaining various permits and licenses and an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) for the project.

 

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