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Jan 6, 2012

Takeover of Luke’s Port; like popping a PIL

It was day two at the Port of Belize today and all indications are that the flow of business was seamless following the takeover by Private Investment Limited on Thursday. The test will be this Saturday when PBL will be clearing a Caribbean Shipping Line vessel that was scheduled to arrive today but experienced a delay. The receiver, Arturo “Tux” Vasquez says that there have been no inconveniences and that staff members are working around the clock as normal. News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks back at the roadmap of the takeover, triggered by a default of a sixty-four million dollar loan plus accruing interest by the previous owner, businessman Luke Espat.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Speculation about the imminent takeover of Port of Belize Ltd., one of few remaining assets belonging to the Luke Espat Group, began surfacing in late November of last year.  While it was initially rumored that a receiver would be moving in to assume control of the struggling business questions fielded to executive chairman Lyndon Guiseppi in mid-December led to a dismissal of the notion that the Belize Bank was somehow involved in the matter.

Lyndon Guiseppi

Lyndon Guiseppi, Executive Chairman, Belize Bank [File: December 14th, 2011]

“There’s no attempt on the bank’s part to take over the Port. In fact, the bank is not a lender with the Port; the Port is not a borrower with the bank. So that is speculation, but it is a little more than speculation. It is in fact, incorrect to suggest that the bank is trying to take over the port. The Belize Bank has no loans to the Port of Belize.”

Despite the fact that Guiseppi was technically correct in his response it later came to light that a shell company, Private Investment Limited, registered at the bank’s Market Square address, was indeed appropriating PBL.

Prime Minister Barrow was also quizzed on the issue following a House Meeting a few days later.  At the time the P.M. told the media that he had been in dialogue with both Espat and Guiseppi to ensure that the affairs of the port would go undisturbed should the company fall into receivership during the holiday season.

Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow [File: December 16th, 2011]

“I was concerned that nothing be done to disrupt the port activities certainly over Christmas and early into the New Year. Now I’ve also indicated to Mr. Guiseppi that if a time comes when they have to exercise their commercial rights Government certainly can’t interfere with that.”

While it was made clear that there wasn’t much that could be done by way of government intervention, on Thursday when Port of Belize Ltd. was assumed by PIL, its former owner cried foul.  Luke Espat believes that the occupation of his company was deliberately facilitated by the Barrow Administration.

Luke Espat

Luke Espat, Former Owner, Port of Belize Ltd.

“I have informed the prime minister this morning that he was helpful in allowing rogues to steal my business.  He said his police force was only here to keep the peace as far as he knows and I informed the senior officer of this.  So as you can see the police insist on staying without a court order so I will go to the courts now to get a process going.”

According to P.M. Barrow the guarantee on the credit facility issued to Espat allows for the installation of a receiver should he default on payment.  That process, the prime minister maintained, would go unimpeded.

Dean Barrow

“The loan arrangements are such that certain events can trigger the appointment of the receiver, there is no way on earth that government will seek to interfere to prevent that but, if it comes to that I said to Mr. Guiseppi, I would imagine that before you move you will get in touch with the union that represents the port workers and you will let government know, you will take the sorts of steps that can minimize the degree of disruption that a transition will inevitably cause.”

The process of changing the port’s management during receivership, says Arturo Vasquez, will be fluid.  Senior officials, including Deputy C.E.O. Francine Waight, will retain their positions within the company.

Arturo Vasquez

Arturo Vasquez, Receiver, Port of Belize Ltd.

“Senior management that are in their respective positions continue to do their job.  I have not taken responsibility of anybody’s position.  Accountants are still dealing with the banks.  The Deputy C.E.O. is still dealing with the operations.  The operations manager is still dealing with the warehouses and they in turn have spoken to their staff.  I really have not had any response.  Even the office assistance that we have gotten to be honest I don’t see any concerns at all from the staff.  Again, I guess that I did not put myself in between any management position, you know, I am here to oversee senior management the way they perform their respective duties.  As when the Deputy C.E.O. joined us again I told her when she came in, it took us two minutes, you can go back to your desk and you do exactly what you have to do and we will continue to talk.  You just keep updating me.”

As for the future of the Port of Belize Vasquez says the first order of business is evaluating the company’s existing assets.

Arturo Vasquez

“The main thing that we need to look at right now is to make an assessment of the assets, liabilities, all the operations of the company and perhaps advise the bank as to where we believe the port, the finances of this port stands at the moment and as we proceed we may also think about bringing in foreign assistance to give us good evaluation, port experts.  I am not a port expert as such, I am more management and finances but I think we also need to look at, we need to assess the assets of this company to perhaps come out with a better idea of what we really have here, look at the values what we own and what we owe and to be in a better position to say what is the next step.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Takeover of Luke’s Port; like popping a PIL”

  1. CEO says:

    This was the same type of talk when Luke aquired the port with not a penny of his own money now he is there talking about “rogues steeling his business”.

    Just wait until the other crowd gets back in: they will find a way to give it back to you.

    Easy come easy go!

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