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Oct 25, 2007

Pressure mounts for perjury charges against 4 cops

Story PictureOver the last few years we have dutifully reported as members of the Belize Police Force increasingly engage in acts of criminal behaviour including homicide, rape, theft, extortion, smuggling and assorted brutalities far too numerous to mention. But on Wednesday when four police officers swore under oath that they could not identify Ben Bou-Nahra, the man they processed for the fatal shooting of Shawn Copius, it somehow seemed that a line had been crossed. Not only did the cops fail to do their duty, but their failure totally subverted the very foundation of our judicial system. That view, of course, is merely an opinion, but it is an opinion based on very real evidence. The four officers in question—Corporal Wilfred Warrior, Inspector Clement Cacho, Constable Darius Ramos and Sergeant Anthony Polonio—all dealt with Bou-Nahra on the morning of September seventeenth, 2005, either at the crime scene of Bou-Nahra’s home, or at the police station. On Tuesday—the day before their scheduled testimony—they all told the Director of Public Prosecutions and two prosecutors that, yes, they could and would identify Bou-Nahra as the man they dealt with. Yet twenty-four hours later they all developed amnesia. What happened between the interview and trial? Given the history of the case—which includes an initial failure to prosecute, the reduction of murder charges to manslaughter, the disappearance of Bou-Nahra’s caution statement and a mysterious illness that kept him in Miami—the lapse of memory should come as no shock.

Today we spoke to a still seething D.P.P. Lutchman Sooknandan who vowed that “this office will not take the blame” but when asked when perjury charges would be filed he said that he and his staff were still discussing it, as perjury can be difficult to prove. Under the criminal code of Belize, section two hundred and seventy-seven “A person is guilty of perjury if in any written or oral statement made or verified by him upon oath before any court or public officer, he states anything which he knows to be false, or which he has no reason to believe to be true, with intent to defeat, pervert or obstruct the course of justice.” The crime is punishable by a maximum of ten years in prison.

Today the Public Service Union demanded an official investigation and the United Democratic Party called for perjury charges to be laid immediately and the Belize Independent Media Association issued a strong statement in which it “expressed the greatest condemnation of the acquittal of Chayben “Ben” Bou-Nahra on manslaughter charges. Although as journalists we are aware of the many disturbing irregularities in the handling of the case from its inception in September 2005, Wednesday’s perjured testimony by four police officers marks a dangerous tipping point in what has been a steady erosion of the institutional integrity of the nation’s judicial system and the rule of law. BIMA is therefore calling for: one-the Prime Minister to immediately order an independent investigation into the handling of the entire proceedings following the shooting death of Shawn Copius. Two-the four officers be immediately suspended from duty pending the initiation of perjury charges by the Director of Public Prosecutions and disciplinary action by the commissioner of Police.

As for police Commissioner Gerald Westby, a press release issued this morning states that on Wednesday, immediately following news of the acquittal, he directed Assistant Commissioner Allen Whylie to have Internal Affairs conduct an investigation. If wrongdoing is discovered, said Westby, disciplinary action will be taken. It should be noted that one of the four forgetful officers, Clement Cacho, is currently acting as the head of Eastern Division’s Criminal Investigation Branch.

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