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#499183 - 12/20/14 03:59 AM GOB loses Arbitration to Ashcroft Alliance  
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GOB Loses Int’l 41.7 Million USD Arbitration To Ashcroft Alliance, Says It Will Appeal

Government today suffered a major setback when it lost a 41.7 million US dollar international arbitration case to the Ashcroft Alliance. The arbitration was heard in Costa Rica between Ashcroft's British Caribbean Bank and the Government of Belize.

The case centers over a loan that the then Ashcroft controlled BTL made from the bank in 2007, together with interest and costs. The government owned BTL has maintained that the loan was illegally entered into and the company should pay it back. But, the bank is still out tens of millions of US dollars - so they went to ask an arbitration panel to compel Government to pay.

The arbitrators agreed that the debt stands and the bank must be compensated - but only for the face value of the loan, not for any additional amounts, which the Bank was claiming.

But in a release today Government noted that that matter is still being decided in a case pending before the Supreme Court of Belize, brought jointly by Telemedia and Government against the Bank, arguing that the loan was illegal and may not be enforced. And while that is awaiting a court date, Government says it has received legal advice and will also challenge today's award.

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#499308 - 12/24/14 03:43 AM Re: GOB loses Arbitration to Ashcroft Alliance [Re: Marty]  
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GOB Will Fight Decision of Arbitration Panel

Last week, the government of Belize took something like a body blow to the kidneys when it lost a 41 million US dollar international arbitration case to the Ashcroft Alliance in Costa Rica.

The panel of three international arbitrators found that the Government must pay Ashcroft's British Caribbean Bank a debt that BTL borrowed from the bank back in 2007. Government and BTL have disputed the validity of the debt since it took over in 2009, saying that the loan was contracted for an illegal purpose and should not be repaid by BTL.

But…the arbitrators didn't agree. So, now will government be forced to pay? Prime Minister Dean Barrow today told the media that they plan to energetically resist the judgment..

Attorneys for the Ashcroft Alliance argue that the decision of the tribunal is final and government must pay.

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#500751 - 02/06/15 04:04 AM Re: GOB loses Arbitration to Ashcroft Alliance [Re: Marty]  
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Supreme Court Says GOB Does Not Have To Pay Arbitral Award

The Supreme Court today ruled that the Government of Belize does not have to pay 33.5 million dollars to the Ashcroft Alliance. It's a win for the Barrow Administration, but the Ashcroft Alliance intends to take it to the Court of Appeal, and if there is need, they are determined to appeal all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice. And Michael Ashcroft himself was right there in the courtroom to hear it! He appeared only mildly disappointed in the courtroom when the decision was handed down.

Viewers may remember the origin of that 33.5 million dollars that the Alliance is trying to collect on. It dates all the way back to 2007 when then Prime Minister Said Musa and then Attorney General Francis Fonseca signed a loan note, using public funds to guarantee the debt for a private hospital, formerly known as Universal Health Services.

It's etched in history as one of the signal events which led to the demise of the Musa Administration. After Musa and Fonseca signed the loan note, without the knowledge of Cabinet and without taking it to parliament, Msua then - again without public disclosure - secretly diverted a Taiwanese grant of 10 million US dollar grant and another 10 million US Dollar grant from Venezuela to pay off the debt.

The bank then loaned that money to the Healthcare Partners Group and sold the hospital for 39 million dollars.

That should have been the end of that transaction, but according to the Bank, they had to return half of what the Government paid to them, and so the settlement fell through.

And so, by their reasoning, the settlement failed, and now they want back their money. The London Court of Arbitration has since agreed with them, and at the end of September last year, the Belize Bank sued the Barrow Administration in the Supreme Court to have the arbitration award of 33 million dollars plus interest be enforced in Belize. That's important because even though the international court ruled in their favor, without an order of the domestic court, the arbitration award cannot be enforced.

After deliberating for over 4 months, Justice Shona Griffith delivered her judgment today. She agreed with the Bank that the money is owed, but because Musa and Fonseca did not disclose the loan note they signed, and because they didn't take it to parliament, the arbitration cannot be enforced.

It's an important win for Government, but it's only round one of a 3-round battle, and when he exited court today, Government's attorney, Denys Barrow granted us an interview. Here's what he had to say:

Denys Barrow, SC - attorney for GOB
"The court said that the executive is basically always entitled to enter into agreements, including loan agreements. The problem is that entering into an agreement, making an agreement and enforcing that agreement are two separate stages. It is therefore why the finance and audit reform act 2005 makes provision that there should be a resolution of the national assembly, approving loans of a certain amount, because implicit in that, is that if the national assembly, which votes the payment of all monies, approves the making of the agreement, then it follows as a matter of course that the national assembly must intend to approved the payment of the obligation which is incurred, but if there has been no parliamentary approval, but simply he making of the agreement by the executive, by the government, then the question of getting paid is a separate question."

What Barrow and Eamon Courtenay, attorney for Belize Bank agree on is that this case is most certainly going to the next highest court in the land, the Court of Appeal. This afternoon, Courtenay spoke with the media at his law office and discussed with us the prospects for success before the panel which will hear the case:

Eamon Courtenay, SC - attorney for Belize Bank
"The government and the Ashcroft Group of Companies have been involved in, for lack of a better word, a war, a legal war and I think it has been going on for over 6 years. So, what has to put in that context, one has to look at the fact that in so far as this particular piece of mitigation is concern, this is round one. If the government had lost, they certainly would have appealed to the court of appeal. So you can expect that we are going to appeal to the court of appeal. And I am fairly certain in predicting that whoever loses in the court of appeal will go to the CCJ. From the perspective of the bank, we have the judgment. Government has won round one and it's on to round two at the court of appeal, so we will certainly appeal it and we know that this matter is not going to be resolved until it gets to the CCJ, so the quicker, the better really. For the bank's perspective, two main plans of the government argument, that is that there was bias in the tribunal and secondly, that bank attempting to double recover was not accepted by the judge. And so the judge's judgment was and you say a very technical issue relating to section 114 of the constitution. This is not the place to argue it or to reargue it. With respect we disagree with the judge, but that's the nature of our business; we put the arguments, the other side put their arguments, the judge analyses it and I have to say that Justice Griffith did a very detail and extensive analysis of the arguments and came down on the side of the government and I think you heard her specifically say that it tip the balance. So, it was a very finely balance argument."

As defendants, the Government of Belize, has been awarded half of their legal costs.

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#500919 - 02/10/15 12:57 PM Re: GOB loses Arbitration to Ashcroft Alliance [Re: Marty]  
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It is high time for these court hearings in Belize to end

By Wellington C. Ramos

It seems as if Mr Michael Ashcroft will not stop pursuing the people and government of Belize for this $33.5 million that he claims he is owed. I have heard our Prime Minister Dean Barrow say over and over again that, in his opinion, the then prime minister, Said Musa, and his attorney general, Francis Fonseca, now the leader of the People's United Party (PUP), acted illegally by approving the loan without the approval of the Belize's National Assembly.

Now, it is clear that the Supreme Court judge is in agreement with their line of argument. Knowing them, they will never be satisfied with this judge's ruling because they think that, because they have money, we in Belize must succumb to them. Our country cannot afford to pay this kind of money to anybody. Especially, when most of our people did not benefit from the use of Universal Health Services. Even up to today, the average Belizean citizen cannot afford the cost of the healthcare this institution provides. Also, within the PUP Cabinet at the time there were ministers of government who were opposed to the government paying this money but Said Musa and his attorney general Francis Fonseca went ahead and paid it anyway.

Mr Ashcroft is going to instruct his lawyers to appeal this case to the Belize Court of Appeals and then to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). However, what will happen if he ends up losing this case in both courts? In my opinion, he could decide to just let it rest, take back the company and its assets or contemplate bringing legal action against Said Musa and Francis Fonseca, his two friends, for the decision they made. A business cannot just lose $33.5 million like that without getting back its money. This is where this case is heading and it will cause problems between them and the PUP.

According to most of the Belizean people I have spoken to here in the United States and in Belize, they are against any government of Belize paying $33.5 million to Mr Ashcroft and, if they pay it, they will suffer in the next general election to be held. This was one of the issues raised in the 2008 general elections when the UDP defeated the PUP by a landslide 26 to 5 seats.

Prolonging this issue could also bring back some bad memories to Belizeans from 2008 and that could impact on the political careers of Said Musa in Fort George Division and Francis Fonseca in Freetown Division. I think that this issue should be a part of their re-election campaign because it has something to do with our nation's wealth.

We cannot afford to have our politicians making these major decisions on their own, without abiding by the constitution of our country. When a politician is elected, he or she must swear to an oath that they will uphold and defend the constitution of our country. Any breach of such an oath, should be grounds for removal from office through a recall process. If this is not written in the laws of Belize, then what is the sense of having our elected representatives swearing to an oath?

Again, I call on my fellow Belizeans to pay keen interest to this constitutional issue at hand. Our country is in deep trouble and it is our responsibility to save it.

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