From THE REPORTER......9/20/2000
Group buys BTL shares, signals telecom war
Reliable reports this week say that Belize Holdings Limited and other
Ashcroft interests have acquired the 25 percent share interest which MCI
has been holding in Belize Telecommunications Limited, despite the
strictures which forbid any one entity from owning more than a quarter of
The Ashcroft buyout is the latest move to jockey for a position of
strength in anticipation of the showdown which is sure to come when BTL
tries to renew its monopoly status in the year 2003.
The MCI shares will give the Ashcroft group the right to elect two more
directors to add to the one director it already has. By calling for a poll
at the next annual general meeting, which is due sometime soon, the
Ashcroft group may be able to elect two more directors for a total of five
out of eight board room seats.
The Government of Belize has already broadly hinted that BTL's monopoly
status will not be renewed, but the Ashcroft interests, which have been
allowed to dominate the Belizean economy, is getting ready for a
cataclysmic fight which is sure to leave some broken bones in its wake.
Prime Minister Said Musa, who has recently been critical of BTL's
performance, is between a rock and a hard place. He risks antagonizing a
powerful adversary if he refuses Ashcroft the monopoly concession; and he
risks universal condemnation in Belize if he agrees to give any more
special favours to the now foreign-owned Belize Telecommunications Limited.
Mr. Musa has had to lean heavily on Mr. Ashcroft's financial support in the
campaign leading up to the last general elections, and he knows that he may
need this support again. Mr. Ashcroft on the other hand, knows that he has
the financial clout to destabilize Belize, and probably calculates that the
prospects of destabilization will be enough to bring the Musa government to
But the strong-armed tactics of the reclusive British billionaire are not
likely to go unchallenged. DataPro, Ashcroft's chief rival in the
telecommunications field, has already made inroads into BTL's once private
preserve and can now offer the full range of telecommunications service to
its closed market IBC clientele. And BTL is rapidly losing market share in
overseas business because of technological advances in the form of The Box,
an ingenious gadget with a built-in modem which allows users to make
international calls for pennies a minute.
Adding to the woes is a new report from the Caribbean Action Task Force on
Money Laundering. This Task Force has expressed open concern at the actions
of the Ashcroft-owned Belize Bank, and specifically the role of its
President and CEO, Philip Johnson.
Recently, the Task Force reported that "During the course of our
interviews, the examiners took note of a material concentration of
duties/positions where one individual holds the post of CEO of the largest
bank, the Chairman of the private company which administers the
IBC/Shipping Registry, Commissioner of the IFSC (International Financial
Services Commission) and whose bank acts as a Registered Agent for IBC's.
This could cause undue influence.
The report goes on to say: "It was also noted that the advertising material
available in the bank's offices heralds that its Corporate Services
Division can establish an IBC in 1 Hour, and that beneficial ownership (is)
not disclosed, and that there is no requirement to file accounts.
"This type of material certainly gives the impression (notes the Task Force
report) which may be far from the truth, that little due diligence would
precede registration, if it could all be accomplished in one hour.
"It also highlights questionable features of the international financial