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Jul 22, 2009

Woman charged in relation to missing Treasury money

Story PictureThe long-anticipated arrest in connection with the allegations of missing funds from the Treasury Department finally took place today. But the person who police brought to court was not the same woman, Monica Escarpeta, whose name has made the headlines since the story broke.

Instead, they charged twenty-eight year old Rhea Pennil, a domestic of Rivero Street in Belize City. She is facing charges of Handling Stolen Goods of the sum of a hundred and fifty-one thousand, nine hundred and sixty seven dollars and thirty three cents. Police allege Pennil had been handling monies stolen from the Treasury Department from April twenty-fourth of 2008 to May twenty-fourth of this year. The charge sheet states that Pennil received the monies, knowing that it was stolen from the Government of Belize. The prosecutor objected to bail on grounds that Pennil might interfere with the evidence and witnesses in the ongoing investigation and that she poses a flight risk. But up to that moment, Pennil had no legal representation and Chief Magistrate Margaret Gabb McKenzie asked Pennil what she had to say for herself in response to the Prosecution’s objection. Pennil rose and said “I jus think I should get bail your Honour because one is innocent until proven guilty”. Chief Magistrate Gabb McKenzie said she was not satisfied with the prosecution’s objection to bail. She stated that the prosecution has brought forth no substantial evidence to show that Pennil has ever tampered with any evidence or interfered with any witness since the news broke. When it came to the prosecution’s argument of Pennil being a flight risk, Chief Magistrate Gabb McKenzie said “This lady is a Belizean. Is there anything to show that she has gone for a visa? – a passport from the time this thing happened? There must be substantial grounds for objection to bail”. She did, however, grant bail of forty thousand dollars on two conditions – one, that Pennil report to the Clerk of Courts every Monday morning and two, that she hand over all her travel documents before her bail is processed. Up to late this evening, Pennil did not meet bail. Chief Magistrate Gabb McKenzie adjourned the matter until September twenty-third to give the prosecution sufficient time to gather their evidence. As for Monica Escarpeta, who police suspect was behind the theft of the funds, she is said to now be in custody and is expected to be charged by Thursday morning. We spoke with Attorney Michael Peyrefitte, who is representing Escarpeta.

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney for Monica Escarpeta
“The only understanding I got was that the police wanted her and yesterday at about quarter to twelve I turned her in to the police. She along with myself, we turned her in to Mr. Martinez at the Police Department.”

Marion Ali
“We’ve been getting reports that she’s been hiding out, one spell she was in LA, she even—one attorney spoke with me last week, Mr. Bradley and he said he got the understanding he was representing her and he couldn’t convince her to come in. What changed between last week and yesterday?”

Michael Peyrefitte
“I don’t know what changed. I was approached by her family and we contacted her and I told her to come in and she came in and she turned herself in. As to where she was before that, I don’t know. At this stage the onus is with the police. They are the ones who bring the charge. My position is always, well we have to see what the police have to say. I mean if they have something to say we will see it when they charge her.”

Jacqueline Godwin, Channel Seven
“Today the Lead Case Investigator, Sinquest Martinez, is saying that today they expect fireworks and so far your client remains M.I.A.”

Michael Peyrefitte
“Well, she’s not M.I.A., she’s at the police station. In terms of fireworks, I don’t know about those rumours but I never see fireworks in court really. It’s a boring process.”

Marion Ali
“Does it strike you as a surprise that you took her in yesterday, they won’t bring her in today until tomorrow, yet they are charging somebody they say is linked to her?”

Michael Peyrefitte
“Well, I don’t know if they’re saying they’re linked because I haven’t seen the charges yet but it’s not surprising. The police have forty-eight hours before they can lay a charge and it is within their right to hold her for forty-eight hours and I don’t have any thing to say to the police until tomorrow eleven-thirty.”

Marion Ali
“Has she told you whether the police is using intimidation against her? Last week the claim was that they were threatening to hold her mother.”

Michael Peyrefitte
“Well, I don’t know about that. Other than the mosquitoes in the cell block last night, she didn’t complain to me about anything.”

Meanwhile, late in the court proceedings today Lawyer Lionel Welch entered and informed that he had been retained as Rhea Pennil’s defense attorney.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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