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May 31, 2017

Alvarene Burgess Details Interactions with Castro on Visas

Alvarene Burgess

The Senate Select Inquiry on the Immigration Department resumed today in Belmopan. And after going toe-to-toe with former friend and Government Minister Edmond Castro in the courts and on this television station, whistleblower Alvarene Burgess appeared before the Senate Special Select Committee. This despite Senator Aldo Salazar’s position that there was no need for her testimony since her name never appeared in the Auditor General’s Report. Castro’s name does – as recommender for two European women and as intervener for four Indian and Nepalese nationals seeking visas to Belize. Castro denies that he made many more recommendations than reported, or that he took two thousand dollars for each recommended person to receive Belizean visas. Back in 2015, after two days of trial for defamation of character, Castro dropped his case against Burgess and this station and had to pay costs. Today before the Senate, Burgess detailed how she got involved in visa procurement – being the go-between for a senior police officer who is a relative of then-Minister of State for Immigration and Nationality Elvin Penner, and his colleague, Castro. She said it was to help her now deceased husband with various medications.

 

Aldo Salazar, Chair, Senate Special Select Committee

“I am concerned about the fact that someone who you just met would be telling you all of this and would be asking you to do something that is illegal.”

 

Alvarene Burgess, Whistleblower

“I never saw it as anything illegal and apart from that I came here to tell the truth.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“You may not have seen it as anything illegal but it was illegal, in my view.”

 

Alvarene Burgess

“I found out that it was illegal afterwards, when the Prime Minister said that he heard that there are other Ministers collecting after the problem with Minister Penner; then I realized that something was wrong and I decided to come forward.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“I read that you said that you didn’t think anything was illegal, right…”

 

Alvarene Burgess

“Yes.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“Because all the applications were in order?”

 

Alvarene Burgess

“All the requirements…”

 

Aldo Salazar

“…were met?”

 

Alvarene Burgess

“Were met.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“And you personally checked them?”

 

Alvarene Burgess

“Yes.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“So that the issuance of those visas would not have been illegal?”

 

Alvarene Burgess

“They weren’t illegal; the collecting was illegal. I went to the Minister’s office; paid him what he requested him to pay him first – he was the first one who collected. If I took six passports and the application forms with the necessary requirements, I had to take twelve thousand dollars to him; if I took four, I had to take eight thousand dollars to him for that recommendation letter. Which his secretary would – they have it in their computer system; they only had to change the name, because the recommendation letter was already posted in the computer – ‘I, Minister Castro is recommending…’ and the names go on that letter; and he would take everything, all the applications except the passports, the Chinese passports, give it to his secretary, who would then get it to the Immigration office. In a day or two, I would be called by the secretary to tell me that the applications were approved, and I had to get back to [Rochelle] Chan, and tell him they were approved; and he would get to me with the money, the two thousand dollars per approved visa, and I would take the books, be it four or six, with the money to the Immigration Department.”

 

Burgess herself got a thousand and five hundred dollars for each of her trips to Belmopan but says she spent most of it on the pricey medications.

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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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