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Jun 23, 2008

C.J. rules against Telemedia in business tax case …

Meanwhile in news from the Belize Supreme Court, Government’s efforts to secure payment of the millions of dollars in taxes from Belize Telemedia climaxed on Saturday with a ruling in Belmopan’s favor. Telemedia’s attorney Eamon Courtenay had asked Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh to uphold a London judge’s injunction on the Government which would force Belmopan not to issue any more judgment debtor summonses on B.T.L. until the matter had been settled in arbitration. The Government’s case was argued in court by senior counsel Lois Young, who maintained that Belmopan was completely within its rights to demand the money and has done so through the proper legal channels. After hearing both sides, the C.J. took a brief adjournment. On his return to the bench, Conteh maintained that while the case raised a number of “novel and troubling issues”, he was unwilling to grant the injunction because tax laws are not within the powers of another country. The C.J. stated: “I am at a loss to understand” how a foreign court can enjoin a foreign government from the process of collecting taxes. In the C.J.’s eyes, the London judge had overstepped his bounds and furthermore, his injunction was “even more egregious” because it purported to interfere in a sovereign field of tax without any reference to the arbitration process in and of which it is said to be given. The judge also awarded fifteen thousand dollars in costs to the Government. A press release issued today by the Government maintains that “in its application to the Supreme Court, Belize Telemedia had argued that it was entitled to set off against business tax, the sum of ten point three five million dollars which it claimed was owing to it by the Government of Belize under the so called Accommodation Agreement signed by the previous administration”. The release goes on to state: that the Government will vigorously pursue every available avenue to collect business tax and other taxes owing from Telemedia. While Belize Telemedia has already indicated that it does intend to file an appeal against the ruling, the immediate effect of the CJ’s Saturday decision is that the Magistrate Court is now free to deal with the summonses already issued to Telemedia for the months of February and March. Apparently the Commissioner of Income Tax has already issued similar notices to the company for April and May. All told, the Government is demanding eight point seven million dollars from Belize Telemedia.

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