The men accused of stealing from the Belize Bank’s automated teller machine were told today that they will spend twelve months in jail. Senior Magistrate Sharon Fraser imposed a custodial sentence on 28 year old Jeorji Petrov, and 25 year old Halid Yuksel Aptula, accused of stealing money through fraudulent transactions at the Belize Bank ATM in May and who pleaded guilty to 18 counts each of theft. The fact that they avoided trial by pleading guilty spoke well for them, but she believed that were it not for a vigilant bank employee, their “deliberate actions” would have continued. The time to be served is four terms of three months; 3 months for each of the first four counts to be served consecutively, hence 12 months, and for the remaining 14 counts, 3 months each concurrently and concurrent with the other sentences, keeping it at a total of 12 months. Attorney Christelle Wilson explains why they took the plea and the efforts to stop forfeiting of the men’s property:
Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Jeorgi Petrov: As attorneys we have to be practical when advising or clients. We know that certain information was put before the courts and we thought that it was in their better interest to plead guilty which satisfies the overriding of the court to offer a lesser sentence, a more lenient sentence which we have come to the realization is what our clients got. When we look at the law, the maximum sentence could have been anywhere to 3 or more years or a fine exceeding what we had thought would have come out of this. For them to get 3 months to run concurrently and 3 months consecutively which amounts to 1 year – we find that to be very lenient and we are very thankful to the court for giving us that sentence today. What you also saw in court today was the application for a confiscation order being made by the prosecution which was what we were trying to knock down on the grounds that they were found guilty of $8,000 and $6,000 respectively. So it doesn’t satisfy the threshold of the prosecution to bring an application under the money laundering and prevention of terrorism act for a serious offence for them to confiscate the monies that were found at the premises of the two individuals.
Senior Magistrate Frazer is to rule on this matter on June 21, 2016. The application must be made if no appeal of the decision is lodged within 21 days of the ruling. Defense attorneys Oscar Selgado and Christelle Wilson tried to persuade the court to return the items on the basis of the conclusion of the case and not meeting the threshold under the Act of 10 thousand dollars in value but the Senior Magistrate ordered the items held as exhibit until the application is made. We have been reliably informed since Wednesday that the police department had brought as many as 79 counts of theft to be levy against the alleged mastermind, Aptula. His attorney Selgado would not speak on the record but did confirm that no new charges were read today for his client; however, we could not find out why. Wilson however batted down those suggestions as inviting “double jeopardy”:
Christelle Wilson, Attorney for Jeorgi Petrov: Those charges would have had to been brought at the initial time the first were brought. Remember when those charges were read, our clients plead guilty. So they have already been convicted of those charges that came on the 7th and 8th in May. What the rule of law is that in accordance with autrefois convict, they cannot be tried again for the same crime for the same similar facts of theft. So I don’t know where you heard that they were bringing additional charges, but they can’t bring additional charges based on these same similar facts, because that would be putting our clients in a double jeopardy situation which would be going against their constitutional rights. So I don’t that think that’s going to happen. I don’t see how they would try to do that and if they try to do that, then you’d be having to make some very serious constitutional arguments against that
Wilson says this is the first she has heard of any new charges; however, she did concede that the sentences were fairly light for his clients, as much as they could have hoped for.