Police are said to have detained at least one person after missiles were thrown at Cayo North East area representative Elvin Penner, as he was hounded by a group of protestors while he was leaving court Friday morning just after 10:30. The former Minister of State for Immigration and Nationality was at the Supreme Court for a hearing on the inferior court appeal relating to his private prosecution for immigration-related offenses in the saga of South Korean businessman Won Hong Kim, which was started by Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action, COLA president Geovannie Brackett and Nedal McLaren exactly one year ago.
Elvin Penner was charged for falsely vouching for the fitness of Kim to be granted a passport and making a false statement in a material particular that he knew Kim personally at the time he made out his nationality certificate.
But in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court last July the charges were thrown out for lack of evidence, after Magistrate Aretha Ford did not exercise her discretion to summon Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie to court to disclose material evidence said to be in his possession – or chose not to exercise such discretion, as the other side puts it.
We will tell you shortly of how COLA’s attorney sees it, but first to the first public comment by Elvin Penner himself since the beginning of the scandal in September of 2013. It was very limited and very direct – that he is satisfied with the progress of the case, and that the media should find something else to do with their time.
“I cannot comment during the time when the trial is in process and I am not going to say if I will even comment afterwards. All I can say is that still the procedures is in at the magistrate and I cannot comment. I am satisfied with how the case is going so far.
What I will advise to the media is try to go and chase something out there that is not a ghost. We have a person in Orange Walk, that has been charged for an offence that is my view by far greater than anything that has been alleged against me. Why don’t you chase that matter the way you chase this matter here?
It’s a prioritization. I cannot make a comment, it’s in the courts. I am satisfied with how the courts’ proceedings is going so far. I cannot comment anything on the case itself.”
At the conclusion of that interview, Elvin Penner strode unabashedly into a group of angry protestors, mostly wearing t-shirts that identified them as supporters of the People’s United Party (PUP), which had announced a protest at Battlefield Park near the court beginning earlier in the morning, as he headed for his vehicle.
The protestors let him have it with both barrels, demanding his jailing and getting physical with the area representative and former Minister of State. At the end of it all he had faced down several missiles targeted at him, including eggs, some of which landed on media personnel chasing him down.
Police then carried a young man thought to have thrown one of the eggs into the bowels of the courtroom.
Upstairs we asked Kareem Musa, attorney for Brackett and McLaren, in light of the charges laid by Tricia Pitts-Anderson, Penner’s attorney that he had not laid foundation for the exercise of discretion by the Magistrate through the testimony and exhibits offered by Geovannie Brackett. Mr Musa told us that the foundation was properly laid and it was for the court to consider the importance of granting the request.
“The magistrate ordered that she did not have the jurisdiction, I believe is what she said, it is our submission that she does have that jurisdiction under section 30 and that is what we argued today, that she does have that jurisdiction to summon him because he has material evidence in his possession.
I don’t find that is what the judge found. That particular case that Ms. Pitts Anderson relied on, spoke of discovery as between the defendant and the prosecution. This is not that case. This is an instance where the prosecution is asking the Commissioner of Police, who is not a party to these proceedings, so it’s entirely different. It’s not discovery, it’s rather for him to deliver material evidence over to the prosecution.
There are different sections of the law that allow for different procedural applications. This is one of them, where you have a stubborn commissioner of police, who does not want to cooperate even though he has been ordered to do so by the supreme court, then you have applications and that was what was make at the magistrate court’s level, an application for him to deliver over those files – that’s the application, because we know that he is in possession of material evidence.
We feel very confident with the applications and the submissions that we have made. We feel that it is our right under section 30, that the magistrate ought to have exercise that discretion, so really and truly, the Chief Justice will be considering whether or not she exercise that discretion, or whether or not she didn’t. So, that is what will be determined at the next court date. The decision will be handed down on March 13th.”
For his part, Geovanni Brackett says today’s hearing is the apex of a long and hard fight – which he has no doubt that he will win despite their many challenges. It is about justice across the board, he says.
“We have parts of a system where it is supposed to be easy to fight for justice, but we have seen that a Court had to force a Commissioner to do his job. We have seen the likes of a DPP who has gone underground . We are no longer in communication and she has stopped replying to our requests, and it is very strenuous because you have ordinary citizens trying to get justice on behalf of the nation with individuals who seem to be above normal and supernatural.
Mr. Penner, like any other Belizean who has been found with a stick of weed or so should be brought before the Courts. Other young men who have been caught with minor offences have been dragged through the courts for years. We need to see that same vigour in the justice system when politicians and the political directorate are accused of horrendous activities and crimes.”
Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin will deliver his decision on March 13.