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Oct 11, 2006

95 stolen passports recovered in Cayo

Story PictureOver the last several years virtually all of the news coming out of the Immigration Department has been bad: everything from the illegal bucket sale of passports to their outright theft from the office. Today, however, twenty-four hours after the announcement of the director’s dismissal, the tide finally turned. News Five’s Janelle Chanona reports from Belmopan.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Acting on an anonymous tip and armed with a search warrant, around nine on Tuesday night members of the Belmopan and San Ignacio Criminal Investigation Branches raided a rented room on the lower flat of a home at the corner of West and Second Street.

Senior Superintendent James Magdaleno, Head, National Criminal Investigation Branch
?Within the confines of the room, there was a valise that was in a corner and within that valise there was this blue bag. It was padlocked. We had to break the lock. It was searched and those passports that are displayed here in front of us today were inside that said bag.?

Those documents have since been verified to be ninety-five of the missing one hundred passports stolen from the Belmopan Immigration Office in September. This afternoon, investigators would only say that two men, one of them an employee of the immigration department, have been detained pending charges and that a third man is being sought for questioning.

Janelle Chanona
?Have you established how these persons got a hold of the link between them and the passport office??

A.C.P. Edward Wade, Head of Operations
?We are working on that at this time. Definitely that is very important for us, as to how it was that those passports came out of that office and who is actually responsible for taking them out. One of the detainees is an employee of the Immigration Department.?

Keith Swift, 7 News
?How did this employee get a key to the safe??

Edward Wade
?I do not know anything about keys.?

Marion Ali, Love FM
?What about the third person you are looking for??

Edward Wade
?The third person is a resident of San Ignacio. I understand that he is a relative of the person who is detained here now.?

The missing five passports carry the serial number P0043801 to 805. Belmopan says it has updated its international partners of the latest developments and remains confident that the documents will surface soon.

Janelle Chanona
?Are you at all concerned that sophisticated technology out there might actually be making these passports usable??

Edward Wade
?As far as I am concerned, I cannot say how those passports passed wherever they passed and how they were actually used. The fact of the matter is that these passports are machine readable passports. The ones that we are now talking about and I do not believe that they will be of any use to anybody without passing through the system by which they are supposed to be processed. It is important for any member of the public who has information, because it involves as you rightly said, our patrimony who have information concerning these five passports or any of the other passports that are still missing out there to pass that on to us. Our national integrity is at stake here and we want to maintain the integrity of our Belizean passports.?

James Magdaleno
?It?s a plus for us because there was speculation that the passports were not going to be recovered but we worked tirelessly. It was a team effort and we always tell the media it?s a team work and not a I thing. It?s not me, Magdaleno, it?s a team and we continue to work. As we disperse from here I am going back to San Ignacio, and we continue the investigation.?

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

The passports were reported missing on September twenty-eighth when Finance Officer Audrey Bennett returned from holiday. Following the incident, Director Carmen Zetina told us that because the safe was not tampered with, he strongly suspected the theft was the work of an employee or employees of the Immigration Department. Bennett and her second: Jacqueline Wagner, who was in charge during Bennett’s absence, were held for questioning and released. According to police, they remain subjects in the ongoing investigation.

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