Belize loses bid in US Appeals Court to have BZ$36.9 mil Belize Bank award tossed out

The US Court of Appeal D.C. Circuit Court in the USA today upheld the confirmation of a US$18.5 million (or BZ$36.9 million) arbitration award, plus interest and legal costs, handed down in 2013 by the London Court of International Arbitration against the Government of Belize in the protracted litigation row over a deal involving Universal Health Services (UHS), today known as Belize Healthcare Partners Limited (BHPL).

The deal for a $33 million debt guarantee for the private hospital was originally made in 2004 under the former administration of Said Musa, followed by a settlement deed in 2007, and after a dispute arose, it was submitted for resolution to the foreign arbitral tribunal.

The bank, controlled by British billionaire Michael Ashcroft, is seeking enforcement of the award in the USA, along with other arbitral awards made against Belize and in favor of Ashcroft-related entities. Together, the Ashcroft-related companies are now seeking US$68.5 million (or BZ$137 million), with an additional tab for interest and legal costs.

The Government had argued that the Belize Bank-UHS award was wrongfully confirmed in the USA, citing conflict of interest by one of the arbitrators. It has also claimed that the agreements from which the arbitral awards arose lacked requisite legislative approval.

On Friday, though, the US Court of Appeal in the D.C. Circuit ruled otherwise, and confirmed the arbitral award of BZ$36.9 million, plus interest.

This decision came contrary to a recent decision by the Belize Court of Appeals earlier this month, refusing to enforce the award against the Government of Belize on the basis that granting the request would run afoul of public policy.

Financial Secretary Joseph Waight told Amandala following the ruling that, "They will encounter the same situation as the earlier three, as there are no [Government of Belize] assets to attach in the US. No doubt they will be going to the [Caribbean Court of Justice]."

As we reported in January, the Government of Belize had lost three petitions filed in the US Supreme Court in an attempt to fight off the enforcement of arbitral awards handed down back in 2009 in disputes with foreign investors over agreements they had with the Government of Belize.

In Belize v. BCB Holdings Limited et al., the Supreme Court ruled against Belize on January 9, 2017, confirming the award of US$27.5 million, while in the case of Belize v. Belize Social Development Limited, the court ruled on that same date, affirming the arbitral award of US$22.5 million in a case involving the dispute over the now nationalized Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL). Both awards were handed down in 2009, and in the case of the BSDL award, the CCJ had refused to enforce it based on illegality. In January, the US Court of Appeal also refused to hear Belize's request to quash the BZ$8.5 million arbitral award in favor of Newco over a botched airport concession deal, after the litigants won the arbitration heard in Miami.

It is not known whether the Government will also take the UHS matter to the US Supreme Court, given the recent rulings against Belize in that court, and Belize's refusal to comply.

The Financial Secretary confirmed today that none of the awards affirmed by the US Supreme Court have been paid.