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May 30, 2001

British will take jurisdiction in Zabaneh case

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With the joint investigation into the beating death of fourteen year old David Zabaneh growing bigger, but not necessarily any closer to resolution, British and Belizean officials today announced that the time had come to decide which country would take jurisdiction over the case. For many reasons, they explained, the cause of justice would be best served under the Union Jack. News 5′s Stewart Krohn reports.

Stewart Krohn, Reporting

The decision had been pending for weeks. And when it was announced by CEO in the Ministry of National Security, Alan Usher, it did not come as much of a surprise.

Alan Usher, CEO, Min. of National Security

“After consultations between Belizean and British authorities, both governments have agreed that British authorities will have legal jurisdiction in the investigating into the death of David Zabaneh Jr. which occurred during the early hours of Friday, eleventh May. This is in accordance with the memorandum of understanding signed between the two governments in Belmopan on May twenty-seventh, 1994 that outlines the status and rights of British military personnel serving in Belize.”

That memorandum allows the two governments to jointly decide which country’s system of justice will be used to prosecute a crime committed by a British soldier in Belize. In this case, the killing of David Zabaneh Jr. by a group of Gurkhas, was of such complexity that the decision to go British was an easy one.

Alan Usher

“What has transpired over the past few days, over the past two or three weeks, are technical difficulties surrounding the investigations. It has reached a point where additional technical support, that is only available, practically available in the United Kingdom, are necessary to further the investigation.”

The main difficulty, explained British Army spokesman David Falcke, remains the securing of high quality interpreters who can interrogate the Gurkhas in their own language.

David Falcke British Army Spokesman

“Because the primary people we’re investigating are Gurkhas, who are ethnic Nepali’s, they have to be interviewed by a very high standard of Nepali speaking interpreters, and each one of them is entitled also to legal representation. This entails bringing…there are only a small number of people suitably qualified in the United Kingdom to do this. And the administrative burden of bringing them out here, whether they would volunteer to come out here, we would have to hire them to come out here, to give sufficient weight so the defence could not criticise the initial investigations. Also, once they are questioned they are entitled to legal advice, and as they might be giving evidence against one another, that involves some thirty different firms of solicitors will have to be involved in their defence.”

What the various spokesmen did not say is that with only limited resources and a history of botched prosecutions by Belizean authorities, the chances of David Zabaneh’s killers being brought to justice are far greater in the hands of the British Army. Stewart Krohn for News 5.

Spokesmen also revealed that the thirty Gurkhas will be returning very soon to be their base at Colchester in England, where they will remain confined to camp, pending questioning. Other witnesses, including the three teenage boys who accompanied David Zabaneh, as well as the strippers performing on the night in question at Raul’s, will be flown to the U.K. in the event of a trial. Also traveling shortly to Britain will be Inspector Simeon Alvarez, who heads the Belize Police Department’s investigation and will continue to assist the British in what remains a joint effort. At the same time a team of British Army investigators will remain in Belize pursuing the case at this end. All expenses in the investigation, including travel and accommodation for witnesses, will be picked up by the U.K. government.

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