Crackdown in Belize?

24 March 2004

The government of Belize has notified a computer programmer with ties to the Internet gambling industry that he must either leave the country or face arrest.

Spencer Hanson a former employee of Antigua-based World Sports Exchange (WSEX) and Carib Sports in Belize, reportedly has two weeks to relocate.

Hanson was one of 21 individuals indicted in a U.S. court in 1998 for their involvement with online gambling businesses. He was working for WSEX at the time.

Carib Sports, meanwhile, has been the subject of recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

Hanson told that he found out the U.S. government was trying to get him expelled from Belize when he was trying to get his immigration papers.

Belizean authorities aren't commenting on the case.

Of the 21 individuals indicted in 1998, Hanson was the only one who held no ownership in a betting operation. He was brought into the case because he accepted a bet from an undercover agent while he served as an employee of World Sports Exchange.

Only one individual, Jay Cohen, founder of WSEX, returned to the United States to face charges. Cohen, who was convicted in 2000 for violating the Wire Act as well as conspiracy; completed his prison sentence Tuesday.

Hanson, like most of the other indicted individuals, remained away from the United States and had experienced little trouble until now. He worked as a computer technician for Carib Sports in Belize until 2002, when he left the industry entirely.

It is speculated that U.S. authorities want Hanson because of his relationship with Carib. Last month the Department of Justice asked the Financial Intelligence Unit of Belize to freeze all of Carib Sports' bank accounts because it suspected the company was guilty of money laundering violations.

Carib Sports took the case to the Supreme Court of Belize and had all of its accounts completely restored. Belize's money laundering act states that a criminal prosecution must either be ongoing or imminent before assets may be frozen. Although the United Sates said it planned to prosecute Carib Sports, it gave no indication of how soon it would press charges. The pre-conditions of the Money Laundering Act, therefore, were not met, and the Chief Justice restored all of Carib Sports' funds on March 3.

Despite its loss in Belize, the United States is still conducting an investigation into Carib Sports from the Pittsburgh Prosecutor's Office.