On the 13th of May, the legal dispute in which Belize Bank International and Evergreen E-Pay Solutions Inc. have been embroiled, flared up again. In 2015, the legal wrangling between the two entities took place in the Supreme Court of Belize, where Evergreen was successful in getting the court to order Belize Bank to issue a payout to the company; then on the 3rd of February 2016, Belize Bank presented an appeal. Now, the battle will play out in the United States’ Federal courts.

On Friday, May 13, in Miami, Florida, Evergreen (an e-commerce business) filed a federal law suit alleging that Visa International had permitted three banks in Belize to process international transactions despite not having proper licensing. The case, assigned to US District Judge Donald Graham, includes serious allegations such as fraud, breach of contract, negligence, and business defamation. Evergreen’s current complaint against Visa and Belize’s “Defendant Banks” includes 21 counts. It also makes claims against specific persons, and makes allegations of constant lies and threats of violence by some of these individuals. Evergreen claims that being wrongfully associated with illegal business activity destroyed its business and tarnished the name of its owners, Robert Allen and Kelliane Beltran. They further argue that it was actually Visa, and the defendants — Belize Bank, Credomatic and three named Belizean bank officers — who acted illegally.

According to the numerous summons, the plaintiff is identified as Evergreen E-Pay Solutions Inc., Digital Empire USA, Inc., Robert Allen and Kellianne Beltran, and it is stated that the plaintiff is suing the following defendants: Visa, Inc., Visa International Service Association Inc.; two Delaware incorporated entities, Caribbean Investment Holdings Ltd., BCB Holdings Ltd., British Caribbean Bank International Ltd., Belize Bank Ltd., and Belize Bank International Ltd. (all Belize-incorporated companies); and Credomatic International Corporation, a Costa Rican corporation, along with individuals listed as Alina Gonzalez, Filippo Alario, Christopher Coye, and John Does 1-10 (collectively “Defendants”).

According to the lawyer for Evergreen, Joseph J. Pappacoda, a Fort Lauderdale sole practitioner, all three of the implicated banks are under Caribbean Investment Holdings, which are majority-owned by the well-known businessman Lord Michael Ashcroft.

Evergreen went on to say that the case ought to be processed through federal courts in Florida, because the “majority of false and fraudulent statements by Defendant Banks’ representatives referenced in this Complaint to Plaintiffs were made from Belize, Central America to Palm Coast, Florida, either by phone call, email, mail, or facsimile transmission.” Also, the approximately 700,000-800,000 Visa transactions processed for Evergreen were allegedly processed through Bank of America in Miami, Florida. The representatives of the listed Belizean banks have been summoned to that jurisdiction.

Past 2015 Belize Supreme Court Case

In Belize, Evergreen has had success in arguing their case against the Belize Bank. According to a 2015 Supreme Court ruling issued by Justice Courtney Abel, the Belize Bank and Evergreen had an agreement — a contract that the bank suddenly and illegally terminated. Belize Bank was ordered to pay Evergreen “$3,309, 373.44 plus interest at the rate of 8% from the date of filing of the claim until judgement, together with costs to be agreed or on the prescribed basis under the rules.”

The bank, however, appealed the ruling on the 3rd of February, 2016 and requested a stay of the judgment on March 16 pending its appeal. According to the submitted affidavit of Bank Company Secretary Abner Peralta, “the Appeal has good prospect for success, in which event, the Bank would not be liable for any sums to the Claimant, Evergreen E-Pay Solutions Ltd.”

On why they (the Bank) would prefer to defer payment until the appeal concludes, Belize Bank’s Chairman, Lyndon Guissepi, in his affidavit expressed concerns “about the timely return of those funds to the Bank if successfully appealed, given that Evergreen is not a Belize business; this might give rise to concerns that the recovery of the Order payment would take long, or fail to happen”. He went on to assure the court that they would not run away from the obligation to pay Evergreen if the appeal is not successful. Guissepi writes, “the Bank believes that the Claimant will suffer no prejudice if it is ultimately successful in its appeal because the Bank will be in a position to satisfy the payment terms of the Order at that point and pay compensation by way of interest.”

A Court Case, Now Billions

Back in Miami, Evergreen is now focusing on the alleged illegality of Visa’s dealings. Reports on the case presented this past Friday to US federal judge Donald Graham specifically address that the three Ashcroft-controlled banks provided Visa credit and debit card processing services for about 800,000 online purchases by customers of Evergreen’s international merchants. In money terms, Evergreen reports say that between August of 2012 and February of 2014, the banks and Visa processed card transactions amounting to US$10-$15 million. Evergreen’s lawyer, when addressing the press, claims that the monetary benefit to Visa is the reason that the company (Visa) did not address violations sooner.

Pappacoda, a Floridian, is quoted as saying that “The Belize banks did not have the proper Visa licensing, did not have the proper capital reserves or the bank rating to process international Visa transactions. Visa turned a blind eye because [they] were making a lot of money.” According to Evergreen, Visa made significant revenue from processing the US$10-$15 million in card transactions. With this legal argument, Evergreen is alleging blatant illegality.

Part of this money was being made by Visa through Belize Bank transactions and through their business relationship with Credomatic and Evergreen’s customers, Film World Media (Canada), Razzle Enterprises Ltd. (Delaware), and UAB Click2Sell Ltd (Lithuanian). Evergreen claims that more was to be made from incoming businesses at the time Belize Bank wrongfully terminated the business relationship. Evergreen claims that it acted legally throughout the entire process; however, Belize Bank had criticized an excessive chargeback of 2.05% incurred by one of their businesses.

Chargebacks were also an issue raised by Visa. The Belize Supreme Court ruling states that Visa did in fact charge Belize Bank US$68,800 for program violations relating to chargebacks. As they detail in their new lawsuit, Evergreen believes that the chargebacks were not the major concern.

Chargebacks are usually measured against monthly volumes processed by merchants. Industry standards dictates that anything between 2% and 5% would trigger red flags for Visa Inc. Evergreen explains that one of their customers, Merchant Film World Media Inc.’s, was flagged for a high chargeback of 2.05%. Evergreen claims that the returns were not exponentially greater than standard, and goes on to blame the Belize Bank for Film World Media’s exceeding limits to the “false and fraudulent MCC Category Coding”.

As part of this alleged scandal, Evergreen’s lawsuit states that the profitable transactions were falsely coded as Belize retail transactions (“MCC #5999: miscellaneous specialty and retail stores”) when the transnational transactions should have been coded as “cross-border, high-brand-risk transactions”. They claim that it was Credomatic that “provided the programming gateway for transfer of funds … and fostered the use of false and fraudulent MCC Category Codes used by [the Defendant Belize banks].” They claim that according to “logic” Belize Bank and Visa must have known that the codes were, as they allege, fraudulent.

According to Evergreen, Visa and the Belize banks are to blame. It states that “due diligence matters, such as licensing verifications, capital reserves verifications, and bank A or B Rating verifications, were either not completed by Visa and Visa International at the time of establishing [Belize Bank Ltd.] and [Belize Bank International Ltd.] as Visa Member-Acquirer Banks on or about July, 2006, or were ‘unofficially’ waived, or simply ignored, by Visa, and Visa International some time thereafter”.

It must be noted that Evergreen is not only going after businesses, however. The company in its lawsuit details personal grievances and names specific individuals. In this new court case, Evergreen is going after management and former management of the Belize Bank. In their claim they have summoned and pointed fingers at Christopher Coye, Filippo Alario and Alina Gonzalez multiple times and, in effect, accuse them of participating in the alleged illegal activity of their employers. Evergreen also alleges that they and their business partners were constantly lied to by Belize Bank representatives, which created mistrust between their business partners and which ultimately prompted death threats against them. They claim that substantial funds in their Belize Bank account were frozen and they had no other option but to sell their US and Belize properties at a loss and that they lived in hotels fearing for their lives, and those of their friends, and unborn child.

Evergreen’s case, is specifically about registration, breach of contract and knowledge of what they say was false codification. They claim that they had no knowledge of these alleged violations when doing business with Belize Bank. They additionally claim that, using fake e-mail addresses, they have found that officers of Belize Bank continue to make overtures to potential business partners despite still, allegedly, not meeting regulatory standards.

Pappacoda says that the Belize Bank had claimed in previous years that it had acquired the necessary licences, and it was only after investigation and after the Evergreen owner Robert Allen had done business with them that he found that the banks did not have the proper licensing to process international payments. That, they explain, is why they are not only pursuing the Supreme Court case in Belize, but now are also going after Visa, Credomatic, Ashcroft’s Belize Bank and a number of individuals in US federal courts for alleged civil and criminal wrongdoing.

We attempted to get comments from Belize Bank Chairman, Lyndon Guissepi on the matter; however, he indicated that he was in a meeting and was therefore not available for comment at the time.

Amandala