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Apr 25, 2008

Former Area Rep and his driver charged with Theft

Story PictureIt was a real estate deal that looked just too good to be true: one of the city’s most valuable pieces of land sold by government for less than twenty thousand dollars, perhaps one fiftieth of its market value. Today some financial aspects of that sale were prosecuted as criminal, and the man accused is a former minister of government. It’s a sordid tale that is likely to grow even uglier when and if it reaches trial in the Supreme Court. News Five’s Ann-Marie Williams followed the drama as it unfolded this morning at Queen Street police station and Magistrates’ Court.

Ann-Marie Williams
“In a highly publicized event around nine this morning, former P.U.P. minister and area representative for the Caribbean Shores, Jose Coye, along with his driver Kernel Flowers made good on police request for the both of them to appear at the Criminal Investigations Branch. There they were charged jointly with Theft and Obtaining Property by Deception. After being processed they were escorted to the patrol branch where a team later led them to the Magistrates’ Court where they were read their charges before Senior Magistrate Dorothy Flowers.”

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting
In a packed number two courtroom both Coye and Flowers sat between their legal team of Godfrey Smith and Simeon Sampson. Magistrate Flowers, after asking the accused their vital statistics, read the charges separately, stating “sometime in June 2007 it is alleged that Coye dishonestly misappropriated two hundred seventy-five thousand dollars, property of Alfred Schakron with intention of permanently depriving him of such property.” After reading the charge of Theft she asked Coye If he understood what the charge meant and he replied yes.

Because the matter is indictable, no plea was taken and will be sent to the Supreme Court via an inquiry. The second charge of Obtaining Property by Deception was then read to Flowers. Magistrate Flowers adjourned the case until July tenth, but not before Attorney Godfrey Smith asked that the matter be dealt with sooner than that. Magistrate Flowers was un-phased and ordered that bail be set at twenty thousand dollars each plus one surety. After bail signing, a calmer Coye emerged from the courtroom where he was bombarded by the media.

Jose Coye, Former P.U.P. Area Representative
“I’m innocent of the charges. The matter is now before the court and I intend to put my trust in the justice system.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“Did you get money from Mr. Schakron?”

According to Head of the Criminal Investigation Division, Senior Superintendent James Magdaleno, Schakron is asking for his money. Money he says was collected on behalf of Coye by Flowers, his driver.

Sr. Supt. James Magdaleno, Head of C.I.B.
“There’s a complaint that some time in the month of June last year. He was given certain sums of money for some plot of land in the King’s Park area in Belize City and for that money that was given to him he had not given any receipt. So basically that money is a total sum of two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars Belize currency.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“Is Mr. Coye claiming that he received the money?”

Sr. Supt. James Magdaleno
“I have not spoken to Mr. Coye because Mr. Coye has attained his attorney and he’s not saying nothing at this time.”

His attorney Godfrey Smith is talking, saying both his clients are innocent of the charges.

Godfrey Smith, Attorney for the Accused
“I will go further to say that it is the easiest thing for a state, a government that is bent on a political witch hunt to bring malicious and false charges as they have brought. It is quite another thing to prove those charges in court. We, of course, intend to vigorously battle and oppose those charges. We are very confident those charges won’t stick but then again the idea by the government is not to secure a conviction, it’s to smear the reputation of two innocent people; one, a former political opponent. That is the objective. The objective is not to secure a conviction and we’re very confident that the charges won’t hold.”

Ann-Marie Williams for News Five.

In his statement to police Schakron alleges that he was approached by Flowers and asked if he was interested in buying the land at the Barracks. Coye then called and asked him to send the plans for a craft centre he intended to build on the property. Coye also reportedly asked him to send him two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars and that he, Schakron, would later have to pay the stamp duty on the purchase. The businessman claims Flowers picked up the two hundred seventy-five thousand on Coye’s behalf but on several subsequent occasions returned to Schakron to collect more money, allegedly unknown to Coye. These additional payments totaled three hundred thousand dollars between June and December 2007. On December tenth Schakron went to the Lands Department to pay and discovered that the eighteen thousand, nine hundred and seventeen dollars he handed over was not for stamp duty, but the actual cost of the land being sold by government. When the controversy over the land became public and the new government threatened to reverse the transaction, Schakron says Flowers returned three hundred thousand dollars to him. But now the developer is accusing Coye of not giving back the two hundred seventy-five thousand dollar balance which is why, Schakron says, he presented his complaint to police last Friday.

Of course, while Schakron portrays himself as an unwitting victim of a high level scam, other interpretations may emerge that paint a less flattering picture of the transaction. But who is Alfred Schakron? We tried to find the forty-seven year old Lebanese born businessman today but when we stopped at his three-story mansion in Buttonwood Bay, we were told by one of his two maids that he wasn’t in. We also checked at his business, J.E.C. Pawnshop, and several apartment buildings he is said to own, but were informed that he was out. Again, it bears repeating that the defendants in this case are Coye and Flowers, not Schakron. But it is certainly worth noting why such an astute businessman like Alfred Schakron would pay five hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars without having so much as a hand written receipt to show for it.

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