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Nov 1, 2017

C.C.J. Settles B.T.L. Dispute – US $78 Million for Ex-Owners

Eight years of costly legal battles between the Government of Belize and Dunkeld International Limited, a subsidiary of the Ashcroft Group, over the final payment for the 2009 B.T.L. acquisition, ended in an eight minute ruling handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice this morning.  The government has been given ten days to pay approximately eighty million U.S. dollars, which represents about a quarter of the foreign reserves.  The CCJ directive compels Financial Secretary Joseph Waight to pay out a whopping seventy-eight million U.S. dollars in compensation before or by November tenth. This case arose out of a Settlement Agreement reached in 2015 on which the court was asked to determine what amounts should be paid in US and in Belize dollars to the claimants.   The CCJ today also affirmed independent audits of liabilities conducted in Belize by reputable firms, including Horwath Belize LLP and Moore Stephens Magana.   While government sought to reject those certifications, the CCJ upheld its findings, stating that interest should not be paid only on the amount in question during the time that the exercise was actually being conducted.  Justice David Hayton read the decision earlier today.

 

Justice David Hayton, Judge, CCJ

“This judgment should at last bring an end to protracted litigation resulting from a disputed nationalization of Belize Telecommunications Limited and associated bodies.  The dispute concerns the third and final payment due from the Government of Belize to Dunkeld International Investment Limited and the trustees of the B.T.L. Employees Trust under a September 2015 settlement agreement made between those parties.  The settlement was embodied in October 2015 consent order of this court that granted the parties liberty to apply to it to enforce the settlement.  As a result, the parties have applied to this court to determine the amount of U.S. dollars and Belize dollars to be paid by the government to the claimants, though the Belize dollar payments are to be held on trust to help the people of Belize.  The larger the amount of Dunkeld liabilities and trust liabilities, the greater will be the U.S. dollar payments and thus would be available in Belize dollars for the people of Belize.  Unfortunately, the settlement made no provision as to how these liabilities were to be determined.  Ideally, there should have been express provision for such liabilities to be determined by an expert auditor agreed upon by the parties with agreed terms of reference.  In the absence of such a provision the lengthy, acrimonious relations between the parties made almost certain that the dispute over fixing the amount of the liabilities. To avoid such a dispute some agreed process for the determinations necessary or in default an application to this court, as had already occurred in respect of the second payment of compensation.  The claimant, however, pushed ahead without consulting with the Government of Belize and appointed reputable, independent firms to calculate the actual liabilities incurred in connection with the compulsory acquisition and to certify the realm of amounts due on the June settlement date, the twenty-eighth June, 2017.  The Government of Belize, however, made it clear that it wouldn’t accept such certification but would, itself, need to verify and agree to the liabilities after being allowed to see relevant documents which support explanations, if necessary.  We rejected the Government of Belize’s approach but accepted that the claimants’ conduct had led to delay so interest should not be payable since twenty-eighth June, 2017.  No aspersions have been cast by the Government of Belize on the professional competence and integrity of the international firms which had ordered the actual liabilities incurred in connection with the compulsory acquisition.”

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