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Mar 30, 2017

Barton Middleton – Conman or Conned?

Did Barton Middleton act as an agent in the very lucrative visa services industry between 2011 and 2013?  He has been accused of such by no less than Patrick Tillett, a U.D.P. insider, who told the Senate Special Select Committee that he paid Middleton some three thousand dollars per visa to take the applications into the Immigration Department in Belmopan and do any necessary follow-up on them.  While hints of his name first appeared in the Auditor General’s Report a few years ago, the complete picture of the man was built over these past successive weeks inside the National Assembly in Belmopan with testimony from those who knew him well. But Middleton himself told the Senate panel on Wednesday that they’ve got the wrong man. So which is it – “fixer” and influencer, or clueless rube being set up for a fall? The answer to this question among others will dominate discourse for the time the Committee is on a break. Tonight, Aaron Humes details Middleton’s repudiation of involvement, and what it means for the Committee and their investigation going forward.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

 

The Senate Special Select Committee on Immigration may be on a holiday break, but Wednesday’s hearing left what television aficionados might call a “cliff-hanger.” Is Barton Middleton who he says he is – a humble businessman who is being framed by people trying to save their own skin? Or might he hold the key to unravelling it all? These are the facts as stated by Patrick Tillett, who said he approached Middleton over the visa matter, and Mark Tench, whose investigative trail led him to Middleton.

 

Patrick Tillett

Patrick Tillett, Former Financial Controller, Belize City Council [File: March 8th, 2017]

“I gave Mr. Middleton six visa applications for him to handle the filing and the processing at the Department of Immigration; as far as I know, Immigration does not sell visas – you don’t walk in with two thousand dollars and say I want a visa. As far as I know, you make an application, your application is analyzed and determined, and when you have said yes to that application, you pay your two thousand dollars and get a visa application. That was what I paid for on behalf of my clients.”

 

Mark Tench

Mark Tench, Former Supervisor of Immigration, Western Border [File: March 1st, 2017]

“During our investigation with Mister Middleton, Mister Middleton told us that he did sell the visas, but that he had gotten them from another person who lived in Corozal. I don’t know the person’s real name; I know what we called him, we called him Khadaffi, and I used to work in Corozal, so I knew the individual.  And he took me aside and said Mister Tench – he only assisted, he said, he only assisted Mister Middleton with selling the visas, but Mister Middleton was the brains behind this operation. And that’s when I confronted him about it with the other officers. And he decided he would tell us the officer – that he didn’t know if that officer had taken them, but he knew the officer he had gotten them from.”

 

But under oath in the Senate on Wednesday, Middleton said no such things happened.

 

Aldo Salazar

Aldo Salazar, Chair, Senate Special Select Committee

“Mr. Patrick Tillett said that he paid you three thousand dollars to take visa applications – 8 visa applications into the immigration and nationality department in relation to eight Chinese nationals and that he paid you three thousand dollars each. Is that correct?”

 

Barton Middleton, Businessman

“No.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“Do you know any reason why Mr. Tillett would lie about you?”

 

Barton Middleton

“No.”

 

Barton Middleton

Aldo Salazar

“So he made up a fantasy?”

 

Barton Middleton

“I don’t know.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“Do you know a Mr. Khadaffi?”

 

Barton Middleton

“No.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“Okay; Mr. Tench also said that he went to Corozal Town, spoke to Mr. Khadaffi. Khadaffi pointed the finger back at you to say that you were really the mastermind behind getting these stolen visas. (Middleton laughs) You find that funny? You recollect that part?”

 

Barton Middleton

“No sir.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“Was there something you found humorous?”

 

Barton Middleton

I just find it humorous, that’s all.”

 

Apart from his own passport, Middleton initially said he never signed for the delivery of any documents at Immigration in Belmopan. Later, he would say that he could not recall doing so. Which is the truth?

 

Mark Lizarraga

Mark Lizarraga, Senator, Business Community

“But you said you’ve never signed for the delivery or recovery of any documents at the passport. Is that correct?”

 

Barton Middleton

“I can’t recall, I can’t recall whether or not I did.”

 

Mark Lizarraga

“But this morning you said you never signed, were you lying?”

 

Barton Middleton

“I can’t recall.”

 

Mark Lizarraga

“Oh. You can’t recall what you just told us a while ago?”

 

Aldo Salazar

“He said he never – he said he never signed.”

 

Mark Lizarraga

“No, but he’s saying he can’t recall what – that’s what I’m saying, I’m referring to it. He said he never signed for recovery and delivery of any…”

 

Barton Middleton

“I signed for my passport; I can remember that, but I can’t recall signing for anything else. That’s what I’m saying, I don’t recall signing for anything else.”

 

Mark Lizarraga

“But you recall now signing for your passport?”

 

Barton Middleton

“Of course.”

 

Mark Lizarraga

“You remember that quite clearly, you sure? You’re sure you signed for your passports?”

 

Barton Middleton

“Of course I did.”

 

Mark Lizarraga

“You remember that; eight years ago, you remember that. You have selective memory, Mr. Middleton; that’s what you have.”

 

About the only things Middleton was sure of was that he had nothing to do with any visas, missing, stolen or otherwise, and that association with this scandal has put him in fear of his life. Stay tuned – the next instalment is on April twenty-sixth. 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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