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May 3, 2006

Former immigration officer testifies at Affif?s trial

The trial of Gabby Affif continues this week in the Belize City Supreme Court. In testimony on Tuesday, former immigration officer Ursula Hill told the jury that after leaving the department in 1999, she started working with the defendant and his wife at the Beirut Trading Centre on Queen Street. On examination from Director of Public Prosecutions Kirk Anderson, Hill claimed that in addition to secretarial duties she filled out nationality forms on a weekly basis for applicants from the Middle East, China and Saudi Arabia. Anderson asked, “These persons you were filling out these applications for, the applicants, did you ever meet them at any time?” Hill said, “No”. The D.P.P. asked, “Did the applicants ever sign [the forms]?” Hill testified, “No”. When the prosecutor asked, “Which portion would you have signed?” Hill admitted that she wrote the signature of the applicant. Further questioning revealed that Justice of the Peace Max Santos was the person used to recommend the applicants and attest to their residence in Belize. The D.P.P. asked, “How you mean [Santos] would full it out?” Hill said, “He would say “I know the person for x amount of years” and I used to help him fill it out because he was not filling it out properly.” As to exactly who was giving her the applications, Hill testified that in at least three instances, Gabby Affif had personally handed her the documents and that “sometimes, the nationality application was filled out the same time with the passport application.”

Around ten thirty this morning, Assistant Director of the Immigration Department Gareth Murillo took the stand. D.P.P. Anderson presented several application forms to Murillo who then told court, “I see my signature in the official use area of the form as Officer in Charge of the Passport Office”. The D.P.P. then asked, “In terms of obtaining nationality and obtaining a passport, was there any difference in time? A person could obtain nationality and passport on the same day?” Murillo answered that once a person had obtained a nationality certificate there was nothing to hinder the passport process but “typically there was a difference”. As to how long it took to obtain a passport between January fifteenth and July 2002, the investigation period, Murillo claims that the process generally took about two weeks but admitted that in the case of emergencies as determined by the director or himself, the time period could be lessened substantially.

Affif, who acts as a self styled immigration agent, is accused of numerous counts relating to forgery of public documents. It is alleged that for large sums of money, he falsified his clients’ applications for Belizean nationality. Applicants who never set foot in Belize gained Belize passports by having J.P.s falsely swearing that they had lived here for more than five years.

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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