Tonight, accountants at BTL are getting ready to sign off on almost 12 million dollars in dividends after the Court of Appeal refused an injunction today.
That injunction was sought by the British Caribbean Bank and Dean Boyce of the Employee's Trust.
Viewers may remembers that the Caribbean Court of Justice gave an order back in September when the Ashcroft Alliance argued that BTL Annual General Meeting was being pulled up on the calendar to quickly declare a dividend - much of which will accrue to Government which holds controlling interests in the company.
The CCJ obliged with an injunction restraining BTL for three months - which ends tomorrow. As we reported, the Ashcroft Alliance weren't taking any chances in the event the Court of Appeal hadn't decided on whether the acquisition of the Company was constitutional or not. They applied for interim relief to extend that restraint of issuing of dividends far past tomorrow when the CCJ's order ends.
Written arguments were presented to the Court of Appeal several weeks ago - and that decision was handed down today by President Manuel Sosa.
He announced today that the Appeal Court refused the injunction leaving BTL free to pay the dividends - which is 45% of the company's profits, about 11.9 million dollars.
Attorneys for both sides discussed the outcome today:
Denys Barrow - Attorney of GOB
"The hearing was an application by BCB and by Dean Boyce for an injunction restraining the Government - or commanding the Government to use their majority shareholding in Telemedia to make Telemedia not pay any dividends whatsoever to anybody. That will include no dividends to Government, Central Bank, Social Security Board, the Unions - no dividends to anybody."
"Can you tell us what position was from the Court of Appeal?"
"The Court of Appeal gave its order just now refusing the application for the injunction, which means that BTL can now go ahead and pay the dividends that it had been proposing to pay back in October of this year?"
Eamon Courtenay - Attorney for the British Caribbean Bank
"As you know, the Caribbean Court of Justice made an order that the Board of Telemedia could not consider question dividends before December 14, which is tomorrow. So, in the interim, we applied to the Court of Appeal, asking the court to grant the injunction. They have now considered it, and they have refused to grant the injunction."
"Sir, the arguments were not presented in open court. Can you explain to us what the positions were from your side?"
"Well, as you can imagine, the clients have a judgment, first of all, from Mr. Justice Legall that the acquisition of the property was unconstitutional. Secondly, it means that we are entitled to damages. In the case of British Caribbean Bank, it is owed over $30 million US, and nobody is paying it. Yet, you have Belize Telemedia about to pay millions of dollars in dividends, and you also have the Government, on the other hand, saying that it is virtually bankrupt and can't pay its creditors. And so, we were asking the court either to restrain Telemedia from paying the money, or if it is paid, to pay it into an escrow account to abide the outcome of the appeal."
"I really do prefer not to argue my case in the media, but just to outline the facts. What we submitted to the Court was that the decision to pay dividends is a matter for Telemedia, and not for the Government of Belize. It is something that is wholly unnecessary to restrain the payment of dividends because the argument that they were advancing really is not that they are entitled to the dividends per say. They are saying that if they succeed in getting acquisition set aside, then they will be entitled to damages. And the damages would include the loss of dividends which would have been paid out, and they are saying Government would not be able to pay it back. I think $10 million, or whatever it is, is the amount of dividends, which I submitted to the court is - quite frankly - not only disrespectful, but can make no sense."
"Sir, so at this point, for the avoidance of doubt, the board - tomorrow or after - they can issue the dividends freely, right?"
"They can issue the dividends, I think, starting today."
Godfrey Smith - Attorney for Dean Boyce
"As you will recall, the court gave oral decisions. It has not given any written decisions. So, obviously, we cannot properly assess our next move until we have a chance to see the written ruling of the court. Appealing to the Caribbean Court of Justice is obviously an option, but obviously, we have to wait until we've had time to review the full decision of the court before we make a decision on that."
Of the 11.9 million dollars in dividends, about 7.5 million of it goes directly to the Government of Belize.