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Jun 17, 2008

… Bze Bank/Telemedia keep SolGen and Supreme Court busy

Story PictureThe Supreme Court calendar is chock full of cases involving Belize Bank and the Belize Telemedia Limited. And this morning two different matters landed before the Chief Justice, one regarding the dispute between Market Square and the Income Tax department over back taxes…and a second case about those millions from Venezuela. The substantive issues are not up for discussion yet but tension is running high as attorneys on both sides argue their positions. Today Nigel Pleming appeared on behalf of the Belize Bank seeking interim relief from the CJ. Why? In March, the Governor of the Central Bank wrote to Belize Bank urging them to credit Government’s account with the U.S. ten million dollars sent from Caracas and to provide documentary proof of the Taiwan transaction for a second ten million dollars. The Belize Bank took the case to court, but Justice John Muria sent them to the Banks and Financial Institutions Appeals Board. The Belize Bank filed that appeal with the board, but when the Central Bank wrote to them again indicating that they would now move to enforce the directives, the Belize Bank rushed back to court. On Monday Belize Bank secured a hearing for today which as outlined by attorney Nigel Pleming is against the Attorney General, the Minister of Finance, the Appeals Board and the Central Bank. According to Pleming, the Appeals Board does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter and to do so would in fact be a violation of his client’s right to a fair trial under the Constitution of Belize. To bolster that last claim, the English barrister told the CJ that the Appeals Board is appointed by the Prime Minister who quote “has stepped so far into the ring, throwing punches in all directions, he cannot appoint independent members of the board”. In response, Senior Counsel Lois Young maintained that the Belize Bank application is an abuse of process and an attempt to “come through the back door to contradict the CJ’s brother judge’s order”. Young went on to claim, that Belize Bank is trying to and will do anything to stop the return of the ten million US dollars, a substantial sum”. When we left the court at six this evening, Pleming had applied to the court to cross examine Governor of the Central Bank Sydney Campbell about the affidavit he filed today. The Appeals Board is being represented in the proceedings by Michael Young, while Solicitor General Tanya Longsworth Herwanger appeared for the Government. Both counsels believe that the proceedings are strictly between the Central Bank and the Belize Bank. While Young will wait for a determination by the court to make a response, the SolGen says the Government anticipated these moves.

Tanya Longsworth Herwanger, Solicitor General
“These are really preliminary battles so to speak. We really haven’t gotten to the substantive arguments or the big war if you want to call it that.”

Janelle Chanona
“But looking ahead to the war, your strategy, the evidence in at your disposal, you’re confident in both these cases?”

Tanya Longsworth Herwanger
“Yes, I believe so, yes. And these are not steps we did not anticipate. We started out knowing that this would be a bumpy road ahead. We started out anticipating a series of interlocutory applications as has transpired. So this is nothing that we didn’t see when we looked at the road to success and we feel that our cases are strong.”

Janelle Chanona
“How much of a balancing act is it to keep track of everything?”

Tanya Longsworth Herwanger
“It is a big balancing act, it is a big balancing act. As I’m sure you know, there are a number of cases, there are various applications and unfortunately these cases seem to be dominated our time and the court’s time. But despite what it would appear on the media, we actually have a broader portfolio of cases. So it is a big balancing act to be able to manage these cases, which are of course of great public importance, but also the other cases that the department has. But I think we’re doing okay and we feel quite confident with the positions that we have taken.”

The other case that came up today was in the CJ’s chambers was that of the Commissioner of Income Tax versus the Belize Telemedia for the millions the Government is claiming it is owed in arrears in business tax. That matter has been adjourned for a special sitting on Saturday.

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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