No more Ashcroft campaign financing for the UDP, says Barrow

Amid the protracted public hostilities between the Ashcroft group and the Dean Barrow administration, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said on Tuesday that he would not approve of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) taking any more campaign financing from British billionaire Michael Ashcroft or any of his companies.

Ashcroft has been the biggest financier of political campaigns in Belize, both of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) and the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP). Currently, Belize has no laws for transparency and accountability in campaign financing, though this current administration has pledged reforms.

Additionally, deputy leader of the PUP, Mark Espat, along with three other elected parliamentarians of the PUP, have recently reiterated the call for more transparency and accountability in campaign financing.

“Would you approve of the UDP taking any more campaign financing from Mr. Ashcroft or any of his companies?” we asked the Prime Minister, given the open war that continues to brew between the Barrow administration and the Ashcroft group of companies.

“No, I would not,” Barrow responded, twice.

The question was posed in light of reports that the Prime Minister’s law firm, Barrow & Williams, is on retainer with the Ashcroft group, despite the declared war in which he wrested 94% shareholding in the nation’s longest standing phone company, Belize Telemedia Limited (formerly Belize Telecommunications Limited), from the Ashcroft group.

Attorneys who represent the Ashcroft group have termed Mr. Barrow a hypocrite for calling them out for recent actions to try and, as attorney Godfrey Smith puts it, warn Digicel of Jamaica about what they are getting into, in negotiating to purchase up to 45% of shares in BTL in the impending divestment of the shares, formerly held by the Ashcroft group.

A senior and highly experienced attorney in the Bar, Barrow, up until his party rose to power in 2008, did legal work for the Ashcroft group.

However, Smith has pointed out in local media interviews that Barrow’s law firm, in which he Barrow is a senior partner, continues to do mortgage work for the Belize Bank, and because he shares in the profits of the law firm, shares in the funds coming from the Ashcroft bank.

Smith also said that the Barrow law firm also helps process work permits for foreign nationals working with the Ashcroft group, based on a fax he said he received on Friday, October 1.

Responding to the talk that Barrow’s law firm is still doing business with the man who he accused in August 2009 of “chance taking,” “disrespect,” and “new-age slavery,” the Prime Minister said: “That’s a diversionary tactic. That’s an effect to take attention away from the acts of near treason in which they have engaged personally. But dealing with the allegation, there is simply no truth to any suggestion that the law firm that I part-own was on retainer.”

Whatever is paid on these mortgages, said Barrow, is not Ashcroft’s money but is “the client’s bill,” deducted from the funds loaned to the client.

“There is no retainer arrangement,” said Barrow, claiming that there are only “the little bits and pieces, principally of mortgage work, done by the firm, done at the instance of clients of the Belize Bank....”

He also stated that it was Ashcroft who made a decision years ago to cut off his law firm: “When I made my public stand against Ashcroft, even before the change of government and certainly after the change of government, when it was clear that I would fight this man to the knife on behalf of the Belizean people, Michael Ashcroft instructed the people at the Belize Bank not to give any more work to Barrow and Williams....”

“The work comes despite that injunction,” said Barrow. If the Belize Bank continues to “on its own” send mortgages to Barrow & Williams, given the position against Ashcroft because of what he has done to this country and what he continues to try to do, said Barrow, then “more fool he.”

 (Story from the Tuesday, October 5, 2010, edition of “The Adele Ramos Show” on KREM TV and KREM Radio)