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Mar 29, 2005

Two boards claim to run BTL

The dispute over who owns and controls Belize’s major telecommunications provider keeps getting nastier. At times the level of detail has become dizzying but we’ll do our best to put the situation in as simplified a version as possible.

Basically, Jeffrey Prosser’s ICC, relying on a U.S. district court order issued Friday, claims to hold a six-two edge on the board of directors. Those U.S. based alleged directors held a meeting today, by conference phone call, and, among other things, restored John Vondras as managing director and agreed to implement some form of employee stock ownership plan.

The Government of Belize, however, disputes this interpretation of the Miami judge’s ruling, claiming that her decision allowed the G.O.B. to combine with other shareholders to elect four directors, thus creating a board deadlocked at four-four. According to Solicitor General Elson Kaseke, the secretary of the board, Wilman Black, notified all directors that due to the Easter Holidays today’s scheduled meeting could not be held and will instead convene on April fourth in Belize City. By that time, says Kaseke, the Belize Supreme Court will have interpreted the company’s articles of association to make it clear that G.O.B. has majority control of the board and the company.

While Kaseke was relying on the Belize Supreme Court for vindication, ICC lawyer Lanny Davis, in a phone interview with News 5 from his Washington office, pointed to the actual words of U.S. federal judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages. Davis said that Kaseke was “acting in defiance of the U.S. court order” and “should not be believed”. Davis repeated that the court orders that B.T.L. be returned to ICC’s control and went on to note that secretary Black defied the board’s legal order to call today’s meeting and as such has been suspended from his post. He has been replaced as secretary, says Davis, by U.S. national Herbert Sampson. Also suspended by ICC was Gaspar Aguilar, who, depending on whose version of events you subscribe to, is either B.T.L.’s CEO and board member or financial controller.

Again, according to Davis, Aguilar has been suspended with pay, for his refusal to change the company’s website to comply with the ICC version of reality. The attorney did add, however, that it wasn’t really Aguilar’s fault as he was just following instructions from Attorney General Francis Fonseca.

ICC chairman Jeffrey Prosser wrote this morning to Prime Minister Said Musa, giving him until the end of the day to simply answer whether he will comply with the Miami court order restoring Prosser’s six to two board majority. Failing the receipt of an acceptable answer, Prosser will on Thursday seek a contempt ruling from the Miami judge, a ruling which Davis says will prove financially and politically embarrassing to the Belize government.

And while the G.O.B. was making no official statements, Investment Minister Ralph Fonseca was upbeat when asked early this morning how all this drama will play out.

Patrick Jones
?So you see another couple months, couple weeks, a year for this whole BTL issue to settle down??

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Investment
?No, we?re talking weeks. We?re talking about weeks for all intents and purposes we are very close to having it settled down. I think that once we have this Miami court thing sorted out and the Prosser people have been talking with the Sunrise people or the staff of BTL, that they will come to the obvious conclusion, they could not pay for their shares. They got us into a terrible position. And now they have got to pay the price which is to back off and try to recover the monies that they have invested in the shares from Social Security and the note that they took on from RBTT.?

According to G.O.B. appointed board member and B.T.L. executive Karen Bevans, Gaspar Aguilar is still her boss and the Belize government is still calling the shots. She did allow, however, that all the uncertainty was causing morale problems at B.T.L. and she and other employees would like to get down to the business of making the company an even bigger success.

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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