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The Caribbean Court of Justice opened its first term for the 2017-2018 judicial year with the appeal of Belize Bank Limited versus the Attorney General. The case concerns the long-standing battle for monies owed to the bank on behalf of the former Universal Health Services, now Belize Healthcare Partners Limited. The argument arises out of an agreement that was signed by former Prime Minister Said Musa back in 2004, which promised payment of a loan owed to the Belize Bank by Universal Health Services.� Litigation began three years later, when government entered into a thirty-three million dollar settlement after it became clear that the debt would not be paid off in its entirety.� Despite a judgment in its favor, the Belize Bank has been unable to collect on the arbitral award since the Supreme Court denied permission to make compulsory that decision locally. Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, appearing for the Bank in Port-of-Spain today, presented the argument supporting granting the funds to the Bank.

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Belize Bank Limited

"Your honors, it is our respectful submission that there is one issue, really, for the court, which is: is it contrary to public policy for this court to grant leave to the bank to enforce this award. I have, as is my practice, prepared a speaking note for the benefit of the court and my learned friends on the other side, and I hope Your Honors have it; I propose to stick closely to the note. Your Honors, I think it is important to start with my paragraph four, where we identify four points which we say are common ground between the parties. And the first is that there is no prior legislative approval [that] was required for the government to validly enter into the loan note, and I provide the citation where that can be picked up. The question of enforcement does not arise until and unless leave to enforce is granted. The reference for that is page nine-six-seven of the record, paragraph seventy of the submissions of my learned friends. Thirdly, legislative approval is required for payment of the award as a judgment from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and fourthly, the obligation to lay a supplementary appropriation bill before Parliament would arise if leave is granted. Your Honors, it is our submission that taking these four points of commonality between the parties, the real question is if the court accepts these points, namely that there was no need for prior legislative approval; two, the question of enforcement and the question of laying an appropriation bill only arises after if leave is granted to enforce; and it is accepted that the prior legislative approval is required for monies to come out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to meet a judgment, we are then thrown to the sole issue: is this court's grant of leave contrary to public policy?"

The matter is also the subject of appearances in the U.S. court, which have ruled in favor of enforcement against Belize assets there.

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U.S. Supreme Court Turns Down Further Review of UHS Case

The Supreme Court of the United States today declined to review an order from the District of Columbia Circuit affirming a trial court opinion in favor of the Belize Bank Limited, concerning an eighteen-point-five million U.S. dollar award against the Government of Belize.

In 2004, an agreement signed by former Prime Minister Said Musa guaranteed payment of Universal Health Services' debt to the Belize Bank. A settlement agreement was established in 2007 but under the new Dean Barrow administration the government refused to pay up and argued that the settlement was invalid. The matter was taken to arbitration where the Bank won in 2013, but the Government, after obtaining a favorable ruling against enforcement here, attempted to get the matter thrown out in the U.S. but lost at every stage.

Belize argued that it did not ratify the New York Convention after independence in 1981, although it was a part of the United Kingdom when it did so, and the U.K. did not extend the ratification. Because of that, Belize said it should not be bound by adherence to the treaty. A decision is also pending at the Caribbean Court of Justice concerning enforcement in Belize which was denied by the Supreme Court and upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously denied hearing in three similar arbitration cases in January - Government of Belize versus Newco Limited; Government of Belize versus BCB Holdings Limited and Government of Belize versus Belize Social Development Limited.

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Barrow must find another US $18.5 million

Today, the United States Supreme Court has decided that it will not review a lower court decision which enforced a US $18.5 million London arbitral award against the administration of Prime Minister Dean Barrow. The Government of Belize was appealing a D.C. Circuit ruling which confirmed that the arbitral award could go forward.

On August 8, Belize filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which orders a lower court to deliver its record in a case so that the higher court may review it. In that petition, Belize argued that the ruling was incorrect because it is not party to the New York Convention, which is a convention that deals with the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards.

While the US Supreme Court Justices today denied the petition, as is customary, they did not explain their reasoning for this decision.

The matter at hand was regarding the US $18.5 award issued to Belize Bank by a London Court of International Arbitration tribunal following a dispute over a debt guarantee. GoB had appealed the award in the federal district court in Washington.

However, the federal judge ruled in favor of the Belize Bank. In March, another ruling by the D.C. Circuit supported that judgment. The D.C. Circuit denied Belize's bid for rehearing thereafter.

In its petition, Belize was of the position that the US Courts incorrectly read the New York Convention and the U.S. position on enforcing treaties on nonparty states. According to the petition, Belize, previously known as British Honduras, was a part of the United Kingdom when the New York Convention was ratified. The petition revealed that the ratification was not extended to British Honduras by the U.K.

After Belize became independent and changed its name in 1981, it never ratified the treaty. And so, because of that, Belize's position was that it should not have been tied to the treaty, Belize argued.

The root of the dispute can be traced back to a 2004 agreement signed by former Prime Minister Said Musa, in which the Government of Belize guaranteed the debt that Universal Health Services Co. had owed the Belize Bank.

According to the bank's claim, in 2007, GoB entered into a BZ $33 million settlement after UHS couldn't pay its debt. When GoB failed to make payments, the Belize Bank began its proceedings in the London Court of International Arbitration.

However, those proceedings were terminated in January 2008 after GoB and Belize Bank arrived at a settlement.

Three months later, when the UDP came to power, the bank returned to court after the Barrow administration filed a lawsuit in the Belize Supreme Court to nullify the original loan settlement on the grounds it was simply not valid.

Since then the matter has been a constant legal battle. The Belize Bank won in 2013 when it was awarded BZ $36.9 million, plus legal costs and interest.

Belize's legal team in this matter is comprised by Juan C. Basombrio, Steven J. Wells and Timothy J. Droske of Dorsey & Whitney LLP, while the Belize Bank's legal team is comprised by Ryan C. Morris, Dana C. MacGrath and Louis B. Kimmelman of Sidley Austin LLP.


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