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Feb 27, 2004

Gaming company asks court to unfreeze funds

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On Thursday, the Financial Intelligence Unit froze the bank accounts of an Internet gaming operation based at Data Pro in Ladyville. The F.I.U. said it was acting on a request from the United States Department of Justice, which claims it has evidence that the company is engaged in money laundering. Today, legal representatives for Caribsports challenged the move. Patrick Jones reports.

Protester

“Government of Belize supposed to represent the people. Help! Help!”

Patrick Jones, Reporting

Employees of Caribsports Book and Casino Limited queued up early in Battlefield Park. And what they couldn’t express vocally was loudly expressed on placards and posters. Inside the chambers of Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, Attorney Dean Barrow fought to get funds belonging to the demonstrators’ employer Caribsports unfrozen. After almost an hour and a half of in chamber hearing, Conteh adjourned the matter until the middle of next week, giving both sides a chance to file further affidavits and to make additional arguments. But in the meantime…

Dean Barrow, Attorney for Caribsports

“The funds are unblocked to the extent of meeting salaries, emoluments of employees, utilities bills, and legal expenses. So the eighty people who are worried about their jobs still have to worry in the longer turn because the matter is not finally resolved.”

Barrow contends that only a court of law should be vested with the power to freeze funds and not the Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit. But since that is not the substantive matter in this case, Barrow says a fundamental burden of proof is lacking on the part of the Government of Belize.

Dean Barrow

“The measures for cooperation under our law can only arise with respect to the commission of a money laundering offence in Belize or elsewhere, but it must be a money laundering offence as defined in our law. What these people are being accused of us is not money laundering according to our definition. The whole thing is extremely unfortunate because basically the U.S. is after these people saying that they conduct an internet gaming operation, which they do from Belize, from the Data Pro E.P.Z., and for which they have received a license from this government. The same government, having licensed them to conduct an internet gaming operation, turns around now and in response to a request from the U.S. who wishes to prosecute them for the very same internet gaming operation, attempts to seize their funds and to shut down their operation. It doesn’t make sense; the government cannot have it both ways. And it seems to me it will have to try and sort this out in a way that recognises the power of the United States, but that respects the laws that the very government has made and respects the license that the very government has conferred.”

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

This afternoon, the Financial Intelligence Unit issued a statement saying that the F.I.U. is Belize’s competent authority to act on the request of foreign governments for assistance in the investigation of financial crimes. The F.I.U. says Caribsports is being investigated for alleged criminal activities pertaining to illegal gambling, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion as provided for in Section 7 (1) (G) of Belize’s F.I.U. Act. The hearing will resume next Wednesday afternoon at two in the Chief Justice’s chambers.

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