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May 17, 2017

Elvin Penner Still Uncooperative with Senate Inquiry

For the second week running, former Minister of State for Immigration and Nationality Elvin Penner was the headline witness at the Senate Special Select Committee. After last week’s appearance, any thought that he would be more cooperative was dashed within seconds of his taking the oath this morning. He got into a quarrel with the Committee about how much testimony he was to give and spent the rest of his time in the chamber nimbly dodging the minefield laid for him by nemesis Senator Eamon Courtenay, making for high drama but few insights. Aaron Humes has a report from Belmopan.


Aaron Humes, Reporting

As he did last week, the former Minister of State spent much of the early part of his return session at the Special Senate Select Committee trying to outline what he would not respond to and his rights thereof. After being rebuffed from claiming his alleged right under the Constitution to stay silent to questions he believed would incriminate him or were not relevant to the hearing, he responded sardonically to a similar rebuff on the matter of keeping discussion of Cabinet matters out of the hearing per the Freedom of Information Act. In particular, he targeted Opposition Senator Eamon Courtenay.

 

Elvin Penner

Elvin Penner, Former Minister of State, Immigration and Nationality

“I can certainly understand perhaps why Senators (Mark) Lizarraga and (Elena) Smith would have still asked these questions, given the fact that law is not their daily means of sustenance; but the same I cannot say for Senator Courtenay, who from holding a degree in law, is a Senior Counsel and former member of a past Cabinet, I am of the view that he understands, or understood at the time, that Cabinet matters are confidential.”

 

Courtenay then asked Penner about the Prime Minister’s response on Friday to his revelation last week. Penner stuck to his story: the reports were ordered, completed and indeed sent to Cabinet.

 

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator

“But you confirmed that they were sent?”

 

Elvin Penner

“Well, the reports were sent to Cabinet.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“And, as you told us, they were sent through the substantive Minister, not through you; you recall?”

 

Elvin Penner

“That’s right.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“And you confirm that?”

 

Elvin Penner

“Yes.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“So it’s a matter of the Prime Minister’s lack of recalling – you are confirming that in fact those reports exist, and the Cabinet got them?”

 

Elvin Penner

“Yes.”

 

But Penner once again suffered a combination of poor memory and intransigence on the subject of Won Hong Kim – at one point, he could not even recall if he was the Minister in charge in September of 2013 when he admittedly brought a man passing himself off as Kim to the Department for picture and data taking – or did he? That was what Omar Phillips, the counter clerk at the time, told the Committee at his appearance.

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay

“Mr. Penner, do you know Omar Phillips?”

 

Elvin Penner

“I would only know him through the fact that his name was mentioned in the Report.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“You do not recall that he worked at the Immigration Department when you were Minister of State?”

 

Elvin Penner

“No, I do not recall.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Do you recall ever having contact with him at the Immigration Department, work-wise?”

 

Elvin Penner

“No, I do not recall.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Well, Mr. Phillips was an Immigration officer in September 2013, and he has testified before this committee that you came along with an Asian gentleman wearing a black suit in September of 2013. Is that testimony of Mr. Philips true or false?”

 

Elvin Penner

“That is his testimony, so I would not be able to say that it is true or false, because that is the testimony that he had made.”

 

Gordon Wade

How about Gordon Wade, a man far more senior than Phillips, who testified that he spoke with Penner about the Won Hong Kim file and was essentially overruled as to its completeness? Penner could not recall that either, and in fact says that as far as he can recall, he was never in possession of the Kim file until it was time to sign the nationality certificate. It follows that he never actually had anything to do with the granting of nationality to the South Korean.

 

Eamon Courtenay

“My question to you is…did you at all participate in facilitating the grant of nationality or a passport to that gentleman?”

 

Elvin Penner

“In terms of the passport, yes, I signed the recommendation form.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“And the nationality?”

 

Elvin Penner

“I signed the nationality certificate.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Prior to that, those two official documents, were you involved in any way in facilitating, processing, arranging for the application form to be processed; the picture or any data to be captured?”

 

Elvin Penner

“Not that I can recall.”

 

And there you have it. That’s Elvin Penner’s side of the story on Kim. Is it the truth? That remains to be seen. From the National Assembly in Belmopan, Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

We’ll have more from Penner testimony later on.

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