It was Justice John Muria’s last day on the bench in Belize; he delivered two major judgments before departing. The government suffered a major loss in the Supreme Court when the Justice ordered the enforcement of an award in favor of BCB Holdings and the Belize Bank in a suit which had already played out in a London Court. Justice Muria essentially ruled that BCB Holdings and the bank are entitled to enforce the award which was made on the twentieth of August, 2009 at the London Court of International Arbitration. Justice Muria, in his fifty-two page ruling, emphasized that the settlement deed between the government and BCB Holdings was valid and legal as found by the arbitrators. He also rejected arguments by attorney for the government, Michael Young that the settlement was contrary to public policy because the people of Belize protested. The judge said public argument has little to do with the legality of the settlement deed, but rather a political stand taken by the present administration following a change of government. Muria said “Public outcry is an inappropriate test of public policy for refusal to enforce the award.” According to BCB’s attorney, Eamon Courtenay, it’s a judgment in which the government will have to pay approximately forty-three million dollars to his clients.
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney
“On behalf of BCB he granted the order, and BCB is now entitled to enforce the award given by the London Court of Arbitration. So, he refused the position taken by the government which was that we were not entitled to enforce the award. It means that we will now take the steps necessary to have government pay the award which the arbitrators quite legally ordered the government of Belize to pay. As you know, the London Court of International Arbitration had made an award in favor of BCB for approximately forty million dollars—with cost I think it comes up to about forty-two million dollars. The government chose not to participate in those proceedings in the arbitration and once the award is given, it is then brought to Belize for the government to pay. What Justice Muria decided today on our application is that the government of Belize must pay BCB and the Belize Bank the forty-two million dollars that was awarded by the London Court of International Arbitration. Now, the government had taken the view that they were not required to honor the award because they said it was contrary to public policy and contrary to the laws of Belize. Mister Justice Muria did not agree with them and therefore ruled that the government has to pay the award in favor of the bank. I haven’t read the reasons by Justice Muria but it seems that if you don’t participate in a case, there is a consequence and the consequence is at this time, that the BCB is entitled to enforce the award. I am sure, well I suspect that they are going to appeal it but at this stage this is the order of the court.”
Jules Vasquez, Channel 7
“In practical terms how does that work in terms of enforcing something like that?”
“What the arbitration act says is that it is to be enforced as a judgment of the Court of Belize. So this will be entered now as if it an original judgment of this court and then the steps for enforcement. As a practical matter, when it’s the state, unlike a private individual, what we would get is an order from the court that a specific minister or other officer for example the financial secretary, be order to pay the amount by a date certain and failure to do so would be a consequence that the person would be visited with contempt. So it’s just like a judgment of the court of Belize.”
Courtenay says he will write the government to ask them to pay. And if that doesn’t work there will be additional litigation.