US authorities are concerned about Belize's failure to bring charges against a man suspected of ordering a massive shipment of methamphetamine precursor chemicals, according to reports.
In February, Belize customs officials and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents intercepted some 3,000 sacks of a methylamine hydrochloride concealed in a shipment of six 12-meter containers purportedly containing fertilizer from China. The chemical would have been enough to produce 400 tons of methamphetamine, worth $10 billion, according to the authorities. Suspicions were aroused by the size of the shipment, as the country's fertilizer merchants rarely import so much at once, reported Plus TV.
The shipment was ordered by Vernon Cuthkelvin (pictured) who imported the chemicals through his company, the Belize Garden Consortium. Cuthkelvin claimed that the company in China from which he bought the chemicals must have made a mistake with the order, reported the Belize Times.
Investigations into Cuthkelvin's involvement have so far fallen flat. In Belize, the chemical is not illegal in its pure form. As Cuthkelvin's lawyer told Belize's Channel 5, the substance can also be used to manufacture medical products. Even if customs officials tried to charge him for making false customs claims, which could incur a $2.3 million fine, they would have difficulty proving Cuthkelvin knew the chemicals were not the fertilizers he claimed.
According to the Belize Times, a pro-opposition newspaper, Cuthkelvin has received preferential treatment as a result of his relationship with the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) which he used to work for. The case has caused concern among US officials who feel the government has handled the case badly and want it to immediately address the country's laws concerning precursor chemicals, the newspaper stated.
InSight Crime Analysis
Though Belize is flagged in the US State Department's 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report as being a transit point for precursor chemicals on their way to Mexico, large seizures are less commonly reported than in other parts of the region, particularly Guatemala and Mexico. The size of the shipment seized in February, however, suggests that Belize's role as a transhipment point may be increasing.
This case highlights the difficulty facing the authorities in battling the trafficking of precursor chemicals. While Guatemala and Mexico, for example, have outlawed certain precursors used to produce synthetic drugs, the legitimate use of such substances in pharmaceuticals and pesticides means that Cuthkelvin has an easy defense to fall back on. This is aided by Belize's comparatively lax laws on precursors.
Some have claimed that the precursors were headed for the Mexican Zetas gang. This is backed by a White House statement last year, which pointed to a presence of the group on Belize's borders and sea ports.
Allegations that the failure to bring charges against Cuthkelvin is due to government corruption are damning and could bring continued pressure from the US, which this year will send over $5 million to the country in police and military aid.