Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Heredia/Harmouche Connection Revealed

Sunday, July 16, 2017, 18:38
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Manuel-Heredia-JrThursday, 13 July 2017 After months of insisting that he was ready to face the Senate Select Committee, UDP’s Manuel Heredia Jr. finally had to answer questions about his rather “chummy” relationship with the Harmouche clan from San Pedro. In the Audit Report on Immigration irregularities, Heredia is called out for his role in nationality applications which were approved for Lebanese nationals from Ambergris Caye. All of them had the surname, “Harmouche” or “Harmouch”. In the section on Nationality, the Auditor General spends about 40 or so pages on the Lebanese nationals with that surname, and she determined that 11 of them got Belizean nationality just before the March 2012 General Elections. 38 of them got their first issue Belizean passports, or their first renewals between 2011 and 2013. A number of them got their nationalities, in a process helped along by Heredia’s intervention on their behalf. The Audit team also had specific concerns about what they called a “special connection between Khodr Harmouch, the Honorary Consul of Lebanon in Belize, and Hon. Manuel Heredia.” They saw letters in which the Lebanese diplomat asked for Heredia’s help for several members of the Harmouch/Harmouche family to get nationality. They saw a letter dated December 9, 2011, where Khodr Harmouch asked for Heredia’s help for Samir Harmouch’s citizenship application. Immigration Clerk Gertrude Armstrong wrote on the document that “Heredia requested Samir Harmouch’s nationality file sometime after December 9, 2011.” By January 2012, Samir Harmouch was granted Belize Nationality The audit team found another letter from Khodr Harmouch to Minister Heredia, in which he was requesting help for Ahmad Harmouche. That letter was dated December 8, 2011, and the audit team’s check says that by January 11, 2012, Heredia “requested the nationality file.” The audit team then looked into the nationality application of Ali Harmouch, his father Abdul Harmouch, and there were elements of it with which the Audit team was not satisfied. They noted their concerns about what they viewed as irregularities, and the fact that from their perspective, both men did not qualify. Yet, Abdul Harmouch’s application was another file that “was requested for processing by Manuel Heredia”. In her report Auditor General says, “We found in the Visa files for Lebanon that Khodr Harmouch’s Office issued Visas to many other persons with the name Harmouch. That situation appeared to be conflict of interest for the Honorary Consul of Belize in Tripoli, to ask a minister of government to intervene in the nationality process for persons who were apparently his family members, whether they had qualified for Belizean nationality or not.” Then, there was Ammar Harmouch, who - from the Auditor General’s perspective - did not meet the 5-year requirements for nationality, yet he was given Belizean Citizenship anyway. The minute sheet says that “his file was requested for processing by Minister Manuel Heredia”. The Nationality report then goes on to mention Hani Harmouch, whose application had irregularities from the audit team’s perspective, but again, “Minister Heredia requested Hani Harmouch’s nationality file”. There is also Ahmad Harmouche’s nationality application, and from the Audit team’s perspective, it was riddled with irregularities. Their checks say that “his nationality file was requested for processing by Minister Manuel Heredia”. There was also a second Ahmad Harmouch, whose application also had irregularities, and once again Heredia allegedly intervened on his behalf. Oussama Harmouch applied for nationality and he didn’t meet the 5-year requirement. There were other irregularities, but once again, he was granted nationality, with the assistance of Manuel Heredia, who intervened on his behalf. When the Senators asked him about all these Harmouche/Harmouch applicants he helped, Heredia bristled at the suggestion that he was giving them special attention. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem as though Heredia is able to differentiate among the many Harmouche family members on San Pedro. When he was confronted with the exact names of the persons he assisted, he said, “For the first names, even the ones I meet regularly, the first names, it's difficult to remember those ones but the last name, (Harmouch) yes.” He was very insistent that he never - ever - “requested any file for processing”, as the Auditor General claims. Readers will remember that the Auditor General is only quoting from the minute sheets for all these applications, the official documents that the Immigration Officers use to report on the status of each nationality file. Her team quoted the exact words that the immigration officers themselves used in the descriptions in the minute sheet. He claims that he would only “request information” about these applications to find out what the reasons were for any undue delays. Heredia said, “If there are irregularities in the application, that is not my job to check. It is the job of the officers in charge to check. If something was wrong, then they should have not qualified this person. I have never instructed and will not ever instruct anyone to say, look he does not qualify, we’ll go ahead and grant; I will never do with that.” He was also insistent on making the case that the Lebanese family Harmouches were not the only “constituents” that he helped. He claimed that he helped many others, and that it is an unfair characterization to suggest that he was partial to these Lebanese Belizeans.
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