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Sep 19, 2005

Police investigate B.T.L. missing millions

Meanwhile the legally beleaguered Belize Telecommunications Limited will once again come under intense scrutiny as a police investigation into missing millions at the company has been initiated, with Senior Superintendent Mario Vernon appointed as lead investigator. In a press release issued today, police findings so far simply confirm facts widely reported in the local media: that is when the company needed foreign exchange, it procured the U.S. dollars from “alternate sources”. In December 2004 and May 2005, two such transactions occurred, the first in the amount of six point two million Belize dollars and the second involving one point four million Belize dollars. While the police do not name the individuals involved in either transaction, News Five has confirmed that in the first instance, the broker was local businessman Dion Zabaneh, while Hassan El Sayed was to have converted the money in the second. Neither Zabaneh nor El Sayed honoured their alleged commitment, leaving the company short some seven point six million dollars. When the B.T.L. board of directors was informed of the shortfall earlier this month, acting Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer Gaspar Aguilar was immediately fired from the company. While it is believed that Zabaneh, El Sayed, and Aguilar will play integral roles in the investigation, there has been no mention yet of any charges being brought against B.T.L. itself for approving the circumvention of foreign currency regulations. B.T.L., as well as dozens of other companies, routinely purchases foreign exchange for valid reasons on the parallel market, particularly when the local banks do not have such funds readily available. This money usually comes from the tourism and real estate sectors, both of which conduct legitimate business in U.S. dollars. What has raised eyebrows over the latest transactions is their sheer size, single sources, and suspicions that such large sums would by necessity be available only from sources that needed a thorough cleaning.

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