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Feb 20, 2017

What Patrick Tillett Told Public Service Commission About Visa Foils

Patrick Tillett, Financial Controller for the Belize City Council, and Eric Chang, former councillor and Deputy Mayor of Belize City, may be summoned by the Senate Special Select Committee.  The pair will likely answer in testimony with regard to questions surrounding eight missing visa foils reported stolen from the border office in Cayo District that wound up in their hands. They had each refused to accept invitations from the Committee to appear for testimony, quote, under consideration, end quote. Whether it goes any further remains to be seen, but Tillett, at least, has not been silent about his role in the matter. News Five has obtained a letter he wrote on January twenty-third, 2016, to the Public Service Commission in apparent response to disciplinary hearings for Mark Tench, the officer accused of removing the foils and passing them on to a second officer who passed them on to an Immigration agent, one Middleton, for sale.

Patrick Tillett & Eric Chang

Middleton sold the visa foils on to Chang and Tillett, who sought confirmation of the validity of the visas from the Immigration Department. Specifically, Tillett approached the then-Port Commander, Immigration Services Belmopan, George Reynolds. News Five’s Aaron Humes connects the dots between Reynolds’ testimony at the Senate and Tillett’s side of the story.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

According to Patrick Tillett, there was no attempt at criminal activity in the acquiring of the seven – not eight, as has been reported – missing visas from the Immigration Department’s Western Border Office. “We were seeking to acquire the said visas lawfully,” he told the Public Service Commission in a letter of January, 2016, and in service of that an Immigration agent claimed that he could – for a price. That price was partially paid, and the visas presented, but upon inspection, Tillett writes, “it appeared that the visas were not issued in the right way.” And that is when, according to Tillett, he showed the visas to an Immigration officer within the Department in Belmopan – George Reynolds, the then-Port Commander for Immigration Services. Reynolds was quoted as saying that the visas were legitimate, but illegally issued. But he told the Senate Special Select Committee on February fifteenth that two of those foils were in fact in passports already – and that he was not aware of their provenance.

 

George Reynolds

George Reynolds, Former Port Commander, Immigration Services Belmopan [File: February 15th, 2017]

“I recall that they were not issued completed, because they were missing something, so I did not say illegally; because they were missing, I think, the stamp, and that was something that happened often with the new use of visa foils because people come back even to Belmopan that the officer at the desk forgot to the actual stamp on the visa. He asked me if I could fix this for him, because he thought the officer did not do it properly, and he assumed that it was issued in my office; which in return I told him, yes, these were legitimate foils, because I saw the security features and thing on it, and I told him these were not issued here, so you need to take it back to the office where you got it issued. Being that I don’t expect that he was stealing anything; we did for more than one people came with different issues and we asked them to go back to the office where it was issued to get it completed. And that was it; it was just two minutes the most, because I was coming out of my office when he met me, and it was right in there I spoke to him briefly, and he left.”

 

Patrick Tillett

Tillett’s letter does not go into as much detail, saying only that Reynolds “confirmed our views.” The agent was asked to “fix” the problems and on the second try, Tillett says the visa was stamped with an Immigration cashier stamp, and it was then, Tillett said he realized, that “everything led us to conclude that a scam was being perpetrated and we subsequently discarded the visas.” Tillett and Chang later spoke to a cadre of Immigration officers, including Tench, about the matter, statements which were referred to in the Auditor General’s Report. Reynolds, for his part, maintains that he was never asked to “legitimize” anything, and that had he known the foils were stolen, he would have acted much differently.

 

George Reynolds, Former Port Commander, Immigration Services Belmopan [File: February 16th, 2017]

“There was nothing irregular, sir. Just the omission of the stamp: sometimes that happens; it was something that happened more than once, so I didn’t see it as irregular. And we usually give them the benefit of the doubt to go get it fixed.”

 

Ashley Rocke, Senator for Churches [File: February 16th, 2017]

“How would it not be seen as irregular when this person is asking you to legitimize this document?”

 

George Reynolds

“You are using that word legitimize when I stated he did not use that word; he asked me to fix something. He didn’t ask me to legitimize anything.”

 

Ashley Rocke

“So you don’t think that’s what you did, or you were asked to do? Because you say…”

 

George Reynolds

“I don’t really understand your question.”

 

Ashley Rocke

“Listen to what you said: you said that he asked you to fix; clearly if he wanted to fix something, it means something was wrong with the document. Is that the normal process that happens at your office.”

 

George Reynolds

“Fixed can be wrong or fixed can be something omitted, but when you said something wrong, it could be that something needed to be changed. But if something is omitted that still needs to be fixed but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means something is omitted.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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