John Saldivar named in US court documents regarding Lev Dermen’s fraud case
Friday, January 24th, 2020
Belize’s Minister of National Security, Honourable John Saldivar, has been named in alleged court documents associated with a fraud court case set to start on Monday, January 27th in the state of Utah, USA. California USA businessman, Lev Aslan Dermen, alongside Isaiah and Jacob Kingston, are being charged with money laundering and fraud. Part of the court documents contains testimony from Jacob Kingston providing evidence against Dermen and alleges that a Belize government official ‘routinely’ received money from Dermen.
The case involves a bio-diesel company named Washakie Renewable Energy in Salt Lake City, Utah, which allegedly and illegally schemed to obtain $511 million in tax credits. The supposed scheme involves the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jacob Kingston, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Isaiah Kingston, along with a California businessman Lev Aslan Dermen. While hearings will soon start, some of the allegations are that a member of the Government of Belize, believed to be Saldivar, was “routinely paid $25,000US in cash each month” as part of the scheme.
The court documents believed to be circulating online show the name John Saldivar as the alleged Belizean minister who communicated via text messages with Dermen’s associate, Jacob Kingston. Kingston is now apparently going to testify against Dermen and will also declare that not one, but two Belizean Government officials were bribed. While it is unknown if the text messages revealed in court will exhibit and prove any bribery allegations against Saldivar, another set of court documents surfaced some weeks ago and allegedly has proof of the $25,000US bribery.
The Leader of the Opposition of the People’s United Party, Honourable John Briceño, reacted to this latest update on the case. He said that Saldivar is disgracing Belize by associating himself with the wrong people. Briceño called on Prime Minister Right Honourable Dean Barrow to act and stop covering for the wrongdoers in his administration. Briceño called on Saldivar to resign from the National Assembly as the Area Representative of Belmopan.
Saldivar had admitted via a press release on January 15th of having met Dermen in 2013 during the Gold Cup Football Tournament. He categorically rejects any suggestion of his involvement in any act of fraud or bribery with Dermen. Saldivar claims that such ideas are motivated by political actors who are hoping to get mileage for imminent elections.
Prime Minister Barrow held a press conference on January 15th addressing the issue. He said that once the allegations are confirmed, action will be taken by his government. “I promise the Belizean people; I will move swiftly in the face of what I would know to be actionable wrongdoing. We will get to that position sooner or later, but I can’t act until evidence comes forward,” said Barrow.
Following this new development, late on Thursday, January 23rd, Barrow responded via a press release, stating that such documents naming Saldivar where not enough proof to do anything against the minister. “The extract speaks only to the alleged existence of the text messages. It does not disclose the contents of those messages or even the subject matter of the texts.” The release continues. “It absolutely does not constitute so much as an allegation, much less provable material that Minister John Saldivar received money from Kingston or Dermen.” The official note added that the Prime Minister can only act if there is evidence of the receipt of money by Minister Saldivar or some other improper or incriminating act. Barrow finds it violating and unfair to act against Saldivar before any evidence of any wrongdoing forthcoming.
In additional, the release refers to the assertion made by Briceño about Barrow being able to get information on the case before hand. Barrow’s response indicated that he spoke with the U.S. Charge d’Affaires at the American Embassy in Belize and was informed that the embassy cannot access such information. Barrow also spoke to the Belize Financial Intelligence Unit in connection with the Dermen case and the possible involvement of ministers in wrongdoing. According to the release, the FIU Director did not report any irregularities with any Minister of Government.
Saldivar is currently one of the leading candidates vying for the leadership of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP). On February 9, 2020, the UDP will be electing a new party leader as Prime Minister Barrow steps down. It is yet unknown if this matter will affect Saldivar’s race to try and lead the UDP.
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