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May 30, 2003

U.S. Embassy wants hot cars impounded

The Belize Government is under some serious pressure tonight from a familiar place over some familiar faces. According to Public Relations Officer for the United States Embassy in Belize, Edgar Embry, this morning a letter was sent to Comptroller of Customs Everard Lopez specifically identifying three luxury S.U.V.s that the U.S. government believes are stolen. Two of the trucks are Hummers; one released to Belize City businessman Jose Shoman and a second connected to Corozal businessman Rafael Chavez. The third vehicle, a Cadillac Escalade, is listed as belonging to Belize City businessman Luke Espat. An investigation conducted by Thad Osterhad, security officer for the U.S. Embassy, has revealed that the vehicle identification numbers or VINs on both Hummers are identical to those on Hummers currently in Pennsylvania and Florida. The Americans suspect that after the high priced rides were stolen, VIN numbers were copied from the other Hummers and placed on the jacked vehicles to make them look clean. As for the Escalade, officials from Cadillac have confirmed that the VIN on the truck has never been used on any vehicle manufactured by them. Because the VINs are not authentic, the U.S. officials say that alone is sufficient reason to indicate that the S.U.V.s are stolen and have thereby requested that all three vehicles be seized pending further investigation. News 5 understands that Osterhad and his team are also inspecting three other vehicles in Belize that are believed to be hot. Late this evening, Lopez informed News 5 that neither he nor or anyone else in his department has had any official communication with the U.S. Embassy. Lopez denies that he has received the letter Embry spoke of and says the only information he has gathered about the vehicles has been through press reports. As for the broader questions surrounding the allegations that the VINs aren’t real, Lopez says all his department did, in reference to the Jose Shoman Hummer in particular, was write down the pertinent information, including the vehicle identification number, and hand it over to the Joint Intelligence Coordination Committee headed by Assistant Superintendent of Police Miguel Segura. According to Lopez, it was Segura and his team’s responsibility to verify whether the information was legitimate or not. Lopez says when the JICC told him to go ahead and release the vehicle from customs, that’s exactly what he did.

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