The initial offering of shares in Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) closed today, Monday, January 31, 2011, while the Court of Appeals’ ruling is still pending on a case heard just last week challenging the constitutionality of the government takeover that put 95% of the company into the hands of Central Government back in August 2009.

In response to a query from our newspaper, Financial Secretary Joe Waight informed Amandala today that up to the middle of last week, 447 individuals and entities had purchased 11,243,240 shares for BZ$56,216,200.

Included is the BZ$50 million worth of shares purchased last year by the Social Security Board (SSB), which gives the SSB a 20% stake and two directors on the board of BTL.

Starting October 15, 2010, the shares were offered to the public at a rate of $5 each, but in blocks of 100 shares.

Waight said that there are still a few share applications pending. These were received towards the end of last week.

No strategic investor has purchased shares in BTL to date, although Waight said that there have been “some serious inquiries.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow had indicated last October that he does intend to open another public offering of shares, if this round of offering did not yield a good enough response. The initial deadline of December 31, 2010, was extended by a month.

The pending constitutional claim challenging the government’s acquisition was raised as one concern by both unions and private sector when the SSB was considering an investment in Telemedia. Without the approval of these two entities, the government directors of the SSB carried the vote for the purchase.

In light of concerns over the risk of the investment, Prime Minister Barrow had undertaken to set aside the proceeds from the sale, in the event that the court rules contrary to his expectation and does not uphold the nationalization, which would mean that the shares would have to be returned to the former owners.

The Government won in the Supreme Court, but the former owners of BTL appealed.

With this divestment, Government will be left with about 73% of BTL.