From 7 news..
Prosser Takes on Ashcroft
He left government holding a US$50 million bag but today the long silent Jeffrey Prosser fired off saying he's not the bad guy, and he's not to blame.
Prosser's release says that he'll pay the money in the next 90 days. What's kept him back from paying since the deal was sealed in April? In a few words: Michael Ashcroft. Or at least that's what we infer from the not too subtle quote from Prosser himself, which says: "certain vested interests in Belize have deliberately and maliciously interfered in the completion of the financing for the BTL share purchase with the purpose of stopping it....were it not for this interference, full payment for the shares would have been made months ago." It continues: "this...included misrepresentations to financial institutions outside of Belize and some minority shareholders in BTL." While Prosser doesn't call names, we will. The man he's trying to get at is Michael Ashcroft, who, rumor-peddlers in government circles have been saying for weeks, has been giving Prosser a bad name at the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago and the International Bank of Miami.
On the face of it, it's a good spin; Ashcroft is an easy target. But, on closer examination, it seems hardly more than finding a convenient, if not altogether plausible, enemy. All indications are that right now, Prosser's name is hardly the gold standard in banking circles. First, there's a US$250 million judgment against him in Delaware, second he's being sued by his biggest lender, the RTFC in St. Thomas and St. John's U.S. district court for US$532 million, and third, he's being taken to task by the utility regulator in the Virgin Island for alleged unauthorized movement of US$28 million to buy Social Security's shares.
With all this, Prosser is clearly an embattled man whose financial profile is under attack in many quarters. But that's not the way he sees it. In what we take to be offered as a sign of generosity and a certain largesse, Prosser says in his release that "ICC has borne all the costs associated with the bank notes, these costs have not been borne by the people or taxpayers of Belize." Prosser's release adds that, "certain contractual responsibilities in the purchase agreement are still to be completed by both sides." When these unspecified obligations are met, the release says, the remaining sum due to the government will be paid within the next 90 days. The release adds that Prosser has paid US$31 million for shares so far, and interestingly, adds that it has paid a further US$4.5 million for what are called "obligations at Intelco, including payments to the Social Security Board." Again, a notable, but hardly consoling detail, because Intelco is at least a US$20 million asset, and Social Security is 10, possibly US$15 million into the hole with the moribund company.
And while many questions remain, overall, Prosser's response makes an already intriguing story that much more interesting. With me in studio to analyze it is our news director Jules Vasquez. Jules, what's your read of the situation?
Jules Vasquez, 7NEWS Director
What you're seeing here is Prosser trying to exculpate, extricate himself from the situation which is centrally that he reneged on his agreement with the government of Belize and did not pay the $50 million that he was supposed to yesterday. He can point to Ashcroft to the agreement or whatever that is the bottom line: almost exactly one year after he was brought in to take over BTL,
Prosser still has not found the bulk of the money to buy over BTL. No matter how you gloss it over, cast blame, aspersions, whatever: the central immutable fact is that yesterday, in fact from September, Prosser was supposed to come up and he has not.
But you can't discount the fact that Michael Ashcroft, himself the owner of a successful bank, carries great influence in regional banking circles and one unkind word form him could plentifully hurt a reputation.
I have no doubt of Ashcroft's influence, and it's widely believed that he never liked how the cash-free Prosser transfer went down in the first place with Prosser getting so many concessions that he never got and in fact from the get-go with Intelco, and because of that, many in government say that he has in his way tried to undermine the deal. But who is Michael Ashcroft to interfere with a banks decision a prospective client's financial soundness? Try as he might and we know he was viciously, publicly opposed to Intelco, which he saw as corrupt, and though he tried mightily he could not block Glenn Godfrey's US$25 million loan from that bank. A bank, Indira, makes its decision on repayability. It is never personal. A bank will lend money to persons of questionable character, if they can repay. And that more than anything (as has been demonstrated in his history with the GOB) has been the issue with Prosser: can he repay? And if he can, what was Prosser doing at those banks anyway? What happened to his traditional banks, his banking history is with the RTFC which is suing him for US$532 million.
Those are big numbers Jules, but right now, what is the bottom line?
At bottom Indira, it is this. Yesterday government rolled over its $50 million debt at the International Bank of Miami. Now Prosser still owes $57 million in total, but only $50 million of that is to the IBOM, $7 million is to GOB; all figures are U.S. dollars. What will government do with it? Well all indications are, and there has been absolutely no official word from Belmopan, but all indications are that it will continue to stay the course with Prosser. So it will hold on to the guarantee on the $50 million, and its own debt for $7 million, until Prosser comes up with the money. In the meantime, Prosser says he'll pay all charges, and interest. Which seems to be the least he can do considering he is collecting all the earnings. And when it's all over, he'll scoop up the Intelco mess, and very believably, the price for that will be coming to a phone bill near you.
So no Ashcroft bailout, no re-nationalization?
It appears not. The Ashcroft option is out, presumably because of his known antagonism to the whole Intelco deal. And the re-nationalization, well that's very "pie in the sky," because it is felt that the most Belizeans could buy up is about US$25 million worth of BTL, which is hardly 25%. We just don't have the buying power.
But another important thus far overlooked part of the bottom line on this Indira is that with Prosser's release, we have for the first time an admission from his as well that the transfer on the face of it was, at least, fraudulently worded. On the day the share transfer agreement was signed March 22nd it said that US$89 million had been received for the shares in BTL. Prosser has now admitted that he at this point has only paid US$31 million, an important point.
And, that was paid sometime after the agreement was signed?
Jules, it continues to be a compelling, intricate story, I'm sure you'll keep us up to date on how it is unfolding. Thanks for joining us. You can still vote in our poll on what you think government should do now that it is holding the bag.