Has Eric Chang Cleared His Name?
Another layer of intrigue has been added to the ongoing investigations of the Senate Special Select Committee. On Wednesday, former Deputy Mayor Eric Chang; accountant and Financial Controller with the Belize City Council Patrick Tillett; and former Immigration Officer at the Western Border Station, Lindsay Wade, all appeared, telling widely different stories and leaving an even more confused picture of the Immigration Department and their own roles in two major scandals – the visa foils affair and the Won Hong Kim debacle. Tonight, Aaron Humes examines aspects of Chang’s testimony to see whether he fulfilled his stated goal of clearing his name.
Former Deputy Mayor of Belize City, Eric Chang, attended Wednesday’s session of public hearings with one stated intention: to clear his name. But whether he did is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, he tried to suggest that his introduction of his needy Chinese friend to Patrick Tillett at his house, despite his stated distaste for Immigration matters, was coincidental at best. As Chang later noted, his helping anyone in Immigration matters was limited to simple introduction and in one case, picking up someone’s passport. But what about his role with the eight missing visas in December 2012? Chang, who readily admits he was not paying particular attention, was able to pluck up enough of his memory to say he was surprised to hear accusations that money changed hands – and if it did, he says, he was not part of it.
Eric Chang, Former Deputy Mayor, Belize City
“No, I didn’t hear any money was mentioned that day.”
Dr. Carla Barnett, U.D.P. Senator
“No money was mentioned that day at all?”
“I didn’t hear any money was mentioned that day at all. I was surprised to hear Mr. Tench mentioned that last week; I was surprised. There was no money mentioned that day – as far as I am concerned, as far as I can remember, I didn’t remember any money was mentioned that day. Senator, I was no part of the acquiring visas nor the money transaction; how could I possibly ask the Immigration officer to recover money? I was not part of any money; how can I ask something that I [was] not a part of it?”
Chang seemed to get amnesiac again when asked to recall what he confirmed earlier that Tillett told him after the meeting, offering a sheepish explanation.
“I really don’t remember, I really don’t remember – like I said, Senator, with all due respect, I don’t even remember how me and Patrick ended up together that day – and how I ended up in that meeting? I don’t even remember; how can I possibly tell you exactly what conversation I had with Mr. Tillett? I can’t, I just can’t.”
Turning to the matter of Won Hong Kim, Chang admitted that protocol had not been followed but that he felt the matter had not reach the point of such seriousness as to involve the Embassy.
Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator
“When you called the ambassador, why didn’t you tell the ambassador to go and look after the Belizean?”
“Maybe it was my neglect; I think that was something small that I don’t have to tell the ambassador right away, maybe I go and visit the person first and find out what is the matter then I call.”
“Mr. Chang, all of this is incredible, okay. Now I want to suggest to you that you’re not speaking the truth. Any Honduran diplomat would know that if there is a Belizean in prison, that they would call the Belizean embassy and inform the Belizean embassy, not a deputy mayor at a summit who has no accreditation in Taiwan.”
“I don’t how to convince you.”
“No, don’t try to.”
“But I’m speaking the truth; Mr. Young did call me and asked me to see if I could assist this gentleman anywhere, okay? I’m not trying to say that this was probably the right practice in terms of protocol, but as far as I’m concerned, at the time, I thought he think because me and him da friend, that’s why he called me but unfortunately I was wrong.”
Chang went on to deny any involvement in the Kim affair beyond his aborted attempt to see him in the Taipei detention center, but though he swears he is telling the truth, will anybody believe him?
Mark Lizarraga, Senator, Business Community
“Did you know of a nationality certificate and a passport for Mr. Kim, did you know anything of that nationality certificate and passport for Mr. Kim?”
“Were you involved in any way shape or form in assisting Mr. Kim in getting his nationality documents or his passport?”
“No. Not at all.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
For those wondering whether proceedings can take place in relation to a finding of perjury against any witness in the inquiry, a legal expert tells News Five that the Committee’s inquiry is treated as similar to a trial in a court of law. The evidence holds the same weight because it is taken under oath and the Committee may choose to believe that there is an attempt to pervert or obstruct the course of justice in the inquiry. Actions are governed by the Legislative (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance of 1962 as well as by the Criminal Code under perjury. This ascribes a prison sentence of ten years to anyone who, “in any written or oral statement made or verified by him upon oath before any court or public officer, he states anything which he knows to be false, or which he has no reason to believe to be true, with intent to defeat, pervert or obstruct the course of justice or the execution of the law, or with intent to defraud or injure any person.”