Prime Minister Dean Barrow Wednesday placed his National Security Minister, John Saldivar, on “indefinite suspension” as well as demanding his resignation as the leader elect of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) amid allegations linking him to a bribery scandal involving an imprisoned American businessman dating back to 2013.
In a short radio and television broadcast following a lengthy emergency Cabinet meeting, Barrow said that the suspension would allow for both the government and the police to fully investigate the allegations made during the ongoing trial of the American, Lev Dermen, in the United States.
Barrow said he had earlier warned that any minister implicated in the matter would be dismissed, but that Saldivar has continued to maintain his innocence.
“I have earlier gone on record about this matter. This was after ministers had sworn to Cabinet that none of them had taken any money from Dermen and associates. I said in Cabinet at the time and later at a press conference that any minister subsequently proven indeed to have taken money and therefore to have lied to Cabinet would have to leave the Cabinet.
“That time for leaving in due of what happened Monday and Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah, that time has unfortunately come, “Barrow said, adding “I therefore today asked Minister Saldivar to submit to me his resignation as the leader elect of the United Democratic Party.
“He has agreed to do so. In addition to the resignation I have decided to put the minister on indefinite suspension from the Cabinet,” Barrow said, adding this would allow for the minister “to prove the innocence which he strongly maintains (and) it will also give time for the government to obtain official transcripts from the trial and direct the police to launch and complete a thorough investigation into all the allegations made in the course of that Dermen trial”.
Following his election last Sunday as the UDP leader, Saldivar, who has consistently denied receiving any bribe in the past, said “I have not been, at this point, accused of anything.
“I’ve always said that I am not guilty of any wrongdoing. I maintain that and until anything else is proven otherwise that is my position and I’m glad that the people of Belize saw it that way whilst the media may not have,” he added.
Saldivar told reporters he was unfazed at the ongoing court case in the United States since nothing incriminating would come out as evidence against him.
“I know that there is nothing that’s going to come from that that’s going to affect me in any negative way. I’ve always maintained my innocence,” he said, adding “I will discuss nothing more about that trial”.
Prime Minister Barrow, who is not due to contest the next general election carded for November 1, this year, told the nation that he his office had been closely following the trial in the US and that while it has been some time now that documents relating to the trial had surfaced with allegations linking Belizean officials including a minister of government being involved in “improper activities related to Belize.
“The allegations contained assertions that Belizean officials were paid by Dermen and his associates in connection with Dermen’s efforts to obtain Belizean nationality and a Belizean diplomatic passport and ambassadorial or consular status”.
Barrow said that the testimony given during the ongoing trial by a witness “has proved to say the least explosive” and that the witness had “incriminated Mr. John Saldivar in particular and produced text messages in support of his evidence relating to the allegations….”
The main opposition People’s United party (PUP) has since called on Prime Minister Barrow to dismiss Saldivar saying “Belize has been ridiculed for too long because of the stink of corruption under this UDP”.