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Feb 20, 2002

Customs: No prosecution of Zabaneh for hot cars

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A part of the crime problem articulated by a number of speakers at this morning’s rally, was that there seems to be two standards of justice in Belize: one if you’re poor and quite another if you’re not. That thesis was strongly supported today by statements from the Customs Department. A release yesterday from the government press office reported that ten late model vehicles seized from a Stann Creek farm owned by businessman John Zabaneh had been forfeited to government since Zabaneh failed to submit evidence that they entered the country legally. What the press release did not say was what would be done to the man who illegally imported them. Today, we received the answer: nothing. According to Comptroller of Customs Omar Sabido, his department has been advised by its ministry’s legal counsel that the case against Zabaneh is too weak to bring to court. Sabido told News 5 that it would be difficult to prove that Zabaneh was the actual importer of the cars, which are believed to have originated in Guatemala, and that the best he could do under existing law was to seize the vehicles and transfer ownership to government. This is despite the fact that the ten SUVs and pickups were found stored in Zabaneh’s warehouse, under the care of Zabaneh’s employees and had all traces of their vehicle identification numbers removed, indicating that they were as hot as Marie Sharp’s pepper. As to the question of who imported the mystery vehicles, John Zabaneh, in an interview with News 5′s Janelle Chanona on November twenty-third, clearly admitted that he was the man in the driver’s seat.

Janelle Chanona

“The police are claiming these vehicles are uncustomed, is that true?”

John Zabaneh

“That is not exactly, they are misrepresenting the whole thing. That is not exactly right. These vehicles were removed from the port because of the hurricane. They were removed because of the hurricane water and different damages that they received. The vehicles are proof of that, and most of them are still waiting for parts and stuff to get them back in condition. They were there in full knowledge of the customs. One of them that they took was already cleared from customs already weeks ago, but it still has damage. Sheet of roofing hit the back glass and broke it and it’s still there, the proof is there.”

Janelle Chanona

“So what’s your next move now?”

John Zabaneh

“It’s a total lack of communication between…the ministries or departments. It will eventually be cleared up I’m certain, but that was done strictly I’d say out of misconception or whatever.”

Apparently, the misconception or miscommunication described by Zabaneh has now evolved into a miscarriage…of justice that is. Questions to the Police Department as to why they have not prosecuted the case have been met by official silence. Meanwhile, less well connected teenagers convicted of possession of a crack pipe or spliff of weed remain incarcerated at Hattieville.


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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