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Nov 1, 2016

Land for Peanuts in Pine Ridge and Turneffe

Two former United Democratic Party politicians from the Cayo District are among the latest to be fingered in the burgeoning land transaction scandal in the Ministry of Natural Resources. Copies of land rent statements forwarded to News Five suggest that former Cayo Northeast area representative Elvin Penner was still collecting favors from a party that had distanced itself publicly from him in the wake of the Citizen Kim passport scandal, for which he was removed from Cabinet. By the time Penner was fired in September of 2013, he had been leading for about a year and three months, since June of 2012, thirty-six point one-seven acres of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge area. The lease was to have expired in June of 2019, but the document shows zero balance for annual land rent in March of 2013 and June of 2014, leading to questions about whether the rent was being paid. But in June of 2015, a purchase price was set for the property at nine thousand four hundred dollars, or two hundred and fifty nine dollars per acre of prime property. Meanwhile, Penner’s parents also seemed to cash in. His father, Edward Penner, got nearly eleven acres of land in the Turneffe Islands at a purchase price of sixty-five thousand dollars, nine months after rent was shown to be a thousand dollars in January of 2014. In October of 2015, that price was reduced to twenty-six thousand dollars. His mother, Lena Penner, received lease for another thirty-seven point six acres of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge for annual rent of just one hundred and thirteen dollars, paid up to 2014 and cleared in 2015. In June of 2015, she purchased the property for nine thousand, seven hundred and seventy-six dollars, or two hundred and sixty dollars per acre. In the case of surveyor Dean Williams, a former U.D.P. candidate for Cayo North, he managed to flip land he obtained for ten thousand dollars to a foreigner for four hundred thousand dollars, a cool three hundred and ninety thousand dollar profit. The agreement was signed just four days before Williams got title for land he had been leasing only in 2009. An interesting document attached to the transaction papers shows that Williams authorized Eduardo Vega, brother of former Minister of Lands Gaspar Vega, to collect the first payment of a hundred and forty-four thousand dollars. Previously, there were reports that names of individuals used in these types of transactions are called where they are not the actual beneficiaries. These are all part of a multi-million dollar land deals at the Ministry of Natural Resources, which resulted in more than seventy-million dollars in compensation was paid out over the last eight years, more than sixty million of that in the last five years alone. These cases are in addition to the million dollar compensation paid by G.O.B. for land in Placencia that was originally sold for over six thousand dollars. Our calls to the Ministry of Natural Resources’ office in Belmopan went unanswered.

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