On Monday we reported on the picture that has been circulating of Audrey Matura-Shepard and Michael Ashcroft having breakfast at the Radisson on Friday. Normally, a breakfast meeting wouldn't make the news but because of a swirl of speculation and mass hysteria on facebook, Audrey-Matura Shepherd held a press conference this afternoon to dispel all the assumptions. Here is what she had to say.
And she did take that opportunity to ask Ashcroft 3 questions. Two were centered on the lawsuit against the Government of Belize regarding the nationalization of BTL and BEL. The other was regarding the falling out between Prime Minister Barrow and Ashcroft.
And the answer to that question was “yes”, there is room for compromise but apparently not enough for him to let up in this case – according to Shepherd he will persist in getting what is owed to him by law.
Shepard also dismissed speculation that she discussed topics regarding the Port of Belize, the stevedores and the upcoming elections.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd on breakfast with Lord Michael Ashcroft
A casual breakfast at a very public place between attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd and Lord Michael Ashcroft has attracted attention in many sectors. Matura-Shepherd accepted an invitation to breakfast last Friday at the Radisson and she took her son along; someone took a photograph that was circulated since Friday on social media. Now, Matura-Shepherd is also an activist, the president of the Christian Workers Union and has taken on a number of important national issues as well as personalities in both the public and private sectors. She has now come out openly to speak about matters discussed during the one hour encounter. According to Matura she sought answers to three issues: campaign financing, litigation and the possibility of mediation to settle years of legal challenges between the government and the Ashcroft group of companies. This morning, Matura-Shepherd was accompanied by her two sons when she spoke to the media about the conversation.
Audrey Matura Shepherd
Audrey Matura Shepherd, Attorney
“My agenda, I told him, and as I discussed with him, I brought the three issues I wanted address. I recall having told you all the history of how I first met him and why I was not pleased with his money being accepted by the U.D.P. I recall that he had a very good relations with the then party leader; in fact the firm of the prime minister is still his firm for the Belize Bank and so I had to ask him—like anybody would—like what happened to you two?” That was one of my questions. The second one was will you litigate the country to death? I don’t know how many of you follow the litigation and the implication it is for Belize, but from my legal training, I can tell you it has some severe implications. And the third thing was having said all of that, having realized the animosity between him and the country; I had to ask, “Is there room for compromise?” I mean why would you not give up the opportunity if you can hear this person out to bring some kind of sense of peace, semblance and putting aside this problem that we have—because it is a problem lot of Belizean want to accept it or not. So let me give the answers. To the first question, what went wrong, he said basically he didn’t say anything bad about the now prime minister. He said he doesn’t know what went wrong. He financed their campaign that got them into office before the previous election and he knew that they had good relations. He said up to today they still talk and meet on different occasions. And it would be so good if they declare—since I have to be so open about anybody I meet—I think we need to ask the government to start to declare when they meet. I mean it goes so far like I can confirm that when the prime minister was to get married, his wife’s bachelorette party was held on the yacht belonging to Mister Ashcroft. So there is a relationship so they need to disclose the extent of those relationships and meetings. In relation to the second question, will you litigate the country to death, his simple answer was yes. On principle I will keep litigating because I must show that what was done to me was wrong and there is only one place I can prove that and that’s in the courts. But he did lament the appearances of independence of the courts and the fact that he is in litigation for six months now. So when I heard that yes, you will litigate, I know how the court system works and I know how many appeals could come about and I know how long it could go. But in the meantime like he rightly pointed out to me, which then required pointing out, is the attorneys who are making the money. If you all notice right now, every time the Ashcroft case goes to court, it is not the attorneys for the government that we pay a fixed salary that we go to defend those cases. It is all private attorneys and they are all connected to somehow the government of the day and their fees aren’t little fees. But nobody wants to hold the country accountable…to tell us, disclose to us finally how much money these attorneys have gotten over the six years because we the Belizean people are paying that bill.”
As we reported on Wednesday night, a photograph of a casual breakfast between Audrey Matura Shepherd and Lord Michael Ashcroft was plastered all over social media last Friday even before the breakfast had concluded. Whether it was out of mischief, the motive for the release of the unauthorized photo is not known but the attorney/activist has been prompted to speak publicly about the discussions. Matura Shepherd says that she spoke of the following with Lord Ashcroft: campaign financing, from which, she claims, both the P.U.P. and the U.D.P. have benefitted and the six years of litigation between Ashcroft and the Government which is represented by severalprivate attorneys connected to the government of the day whose fees are not little. The third issue was about mediation. Matura Shepherd makes the point that Lord Ashcroft agreed that there is room for compromise because when it all over, it is the people of Belize who will have to pay.
Now, if it needs to be told, on his visit last week Lord Ashcroft met with a list of local personalities but it is only the breakfast with Matura Shepherd that went viral on Facebook. We have been in contact with Lord Ashcroft who tells us “I have heard the recent comments made by Audrey Matura to the media and I have no comment to make on our breakfast together other than I found her articulate, charming and good company.”