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Jun 29, 1998

Prime Minister testifies in libel suit

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Opening arguments were heard this morning in the Prime Minister’s libel suit against P.U.P. councilor in the San Ignacio Town Board, Marconi Matus. At a press conference in Belize City last February, Matus alleged that the P.M. knew of and supported attempts to bribe him to cross the floor. Matus also claims that he met with the Prime Minister at a local restaurant during his tour of the Cayo District in February, to discuss the attempted pay-off and that the two had a subsequent telephone conversation about the deal a couple of days later. When he took the witness stand this morning, however, Mr. Esquivel confidently told the court that there was no February fifth meeting in Cayo between himself and Matus, nor was there any telephone conversation on the night of February eighth.

Manuel Esquivel, Prime Minister

“The position we have set out is a position we have said from the beginning, that this is a fantastic fabrication which only inventive mind could have dreamt up. In fact on all of the tours, there were dozens of people in the entourage at all times including police officers and so that is what makes it so fantastic that in spite of the fact that this tour was so public, that such a ridiculous story could have been invented.”

Under cross examination, the Prime Minister said that he has never been to the restaurant where the alleged meeting is said to have taken place, nor had he met Mr. Matus, prior to his story and picture being published in the media.

While the Prime Minister has taken a stance on the matter and seems willing to stick by it come hell or high water, defense attorney Godfrey Smith says both sides of the story need to be told, in order to determine who will be left with egg on their face.

Godfrey Smith, Defense Attorney

“What we have is a situation where we have two sides of the story. This morning Michael Young opened his case for the Prime Minister, which basically involved him calling the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister giving his side of the story and calling witnesses to support that. We will no doubt begin our side of the case not this afternoon, but tomorrow, in which Mr. Matus will take the stand and give his side of the story. But basically what you’re going to find is one side sticking to his story and the other side doing the same.”

Q: “So you would conclude then that a key part of this case is putting Mr. Matus on the stand tomorrow?”

Godfrey Smith

“Definitely, it’s really his story against what the Prime Minister says and the judge has to examine what both of them say, how they behave on the witness stand. That is all the judge has to go on. He wasn’t there; the attorneys weren’t there. He basically has to go by what each witness is saying and decide where the truth lies.”

The Prime Minister’s libel suit against Marconi Matus is being heard in Supreme Court number one before Justice George Meerabux.

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