Belizean Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte has given Opposition Leader John Briceño 24 hours to provide evidence that high-level officials of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) are linked to the number of illegal landings by drug planes across the country.
Peyrefitte said that Briceño, who made the allegation during his New Year’s message, runs the risk of being sued for libel or slander.
The Attorney General said the allegation is damning and threatens to damage the reputation of all government officials, despite the fact that they were not named.
“It seems like we have become so accustomed to irresponsible comments by people and in the age of social media, almost immune to them,” he began.
“But when words come from the Leader of the Opposition for Belize, the person who wants to be prime minister, the person who would be prime minister if the PUP (People’s United Party) were to win in the elections, when you have irresponsible comments coming from him it’s a dangerous thing,” Peyrefitte said.
He told television viewers that Briceño had indicated, “he has credible information which is evidence of UDP officials high up in the government who are facilitating the landing of drug planes.”
“Now if that is true, and you have information on that, why would you sit on that information? If you have that information, then produce that information because if you don’t have that information then what you’re saying is extremely libellous and that’s utter slander,” Peyrefitte argued.
“I mean, that is a serious, serious thing to say on national television and as a part of your message from the PUP. Now I am giving the Leader of the Opposition 24 hours to provide that information. If he doesn’t provide that information, then I have to call him a liar and I will have to say that you cannot believe a word this man says if he’s going to say something like that and not produce the evidence,” the Attorney General added.
“You are casting aspersions on a number of different people who are for sure not involved in any illegal activity. So, for you to paint the senior officials in the UDP with that broad brush without any evidence at all that is just outrageous,” Peyrefitte said.
Watch Briceño’s New Year’s Day address in full, below:
The Attorney General said the fact that Briceño stopped short of naming anyone does not exempt him from libel and slander and that if he does not have confidence in providing the information to the relevant authorities in Belize, he could present it to an external organization such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the international police organisation, INTERPOL or even the European Union.
“He may want to say well, I don’t want to provide it to the police, they are corrupt. I don’t want to provide it to you the Attorney General because that’s your government or the DPP, so then provide it to somebody,” Peyrefitte continued.
“Provide it to the media, unless you don’t trust anybody in the country and if you don’t trust anybody in the country then why would you want to be prime minister of this country? Or put it to CARICOM, put it to Interpol, put it to the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency), put it to the European Union, anybody,” the Attorney General taunted.
“If you have evidence that high UDP officials are facilitating the landings of drug planes in this country, you need to, if you’re going to say that then you better have evidence of that,” he said.
And that is something like I said, you can’t say that without having that information ready for the public, and I am putting it to the Leader of the Opposition, you need to provide that information to the public within 24 hours or his credibility, whatever is left of it, will be completely shot, and that’s my view on that,” Peyrefitte added.
The Attorney General said that by not naming anyone, Briceño “has opened himself up very wide because when you don’t specifically mention a person then the inference is that it can be anybody.”
“It can be me, it can be the prime minister, it can be anybody,” he noted.