May 10, 2021

Belize: Eamon Courtney says Ashcroft pursuing Central Bank reserves, a laughing matter

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From The Guardian Belize

Lord Michael Ashcroft and his Belizean business interests are once again on a full-court press against the Belizean people. They seek to undo the law that is keeping Belize’s foreign reserves, and the country’s economy protected. The Alliance is seeking to get the Central Bank Immunity Act struck down by the Supreme Court and declared unconstitutional.

Readers will remember that this law and the Amendment to the Crown Proceedings Act were passed by the Barrow Administration. It was necessary because the UDP government realized that the Ashcroft Alliance may be eyeing those funds. So, the Government passed the Central Bank law to ensure that those reserves are out of their reach.

That was necessary because a US court already granted a judgment against Belize, allowing the Alliance to collect an award of 50 million US dollars, which was handed down by the London Court of International Arbitration. Prime Minister Dean Barrow has insisted that his government will not pay a single cent of that award, and so the Alliance has been trying to force Belize to pay. This is an old fight in court over the abusive Accommodation Agreement which the Musa Administration unlawfully signed for BTL, when the Ashcroft Alliance was the owner. The Barrow Government refused to honour it because it was a noose around the neck of Belizeans. The Alliance has been trying to force the government to pay for that agreement by way of arbitration award, ever since.

The government, with good reason, was concerned that the Ashcroft companies would attempt to go after the Central Bank’s reserve to satisfy this judgment debt. That was the reason for the Central Bank Immunity law; it criminalizes any attempt to attach those reserves as part of any judgment debt. The Ashcroft Company, Caribbean Holdings Investment Limited (CIHL), and their chief law firm, Courtenay Coye LLP, have since argued 2 claims against the law in an attempt to challenge its constitutionality. They were heard in a 2-day trial on last week Wednesday and Thursday, before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.

Eamon Courtenay, the Lead attorney for Caribbean Investment Holdings Limited, argued before the judge that this 50 million US dollar award is treated as property by the courts. The government must pay CIHL money, and that is property. They have asserted that the Central Bank Immunity Act unfairly deprives them of that property in its application, which is a violation of their rights. Courtenay has also made the submission that all parties in Belize must have a right of due process of law. That right of due process, from CIHL’s perspective, is to include their ability to pursue any legal matter in the courts of Belize and outside, and they assert that this law violates their rights.

Eamon Courtenay’s law firm, Courtenay Coye LLP, was represented by attorney Magali Marin-Young, and she submitted before the Chief Justice that this law unfairly criminalizes the actions of attorneys who are advising a person who are attempting to enforce arbitration awards.

In defense of the case, Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke has countered those positions, and he has made the point to the judge fundamentally, they are trying to enforce a judgment that the Caribbean Court of Justice has already ruled unenforceable.

That was the CCJ judgment of 2013 which condemned former Prime Minister Said Musa’s actions when he didn’t get prior parliamentary approval to sign the Accommodation Agreement. It is well known by Belizeans that the CCJ said, “Prime Ministerial governance, a paucity of checks and balances to restrain an overweening Executive, these are malignant tumours that eat away at democracy. No court can afford to encourage the spread of such cancer. In our judgment, implementation of the provisions of the Deed, without legislative approval and without the intention on the part of its makers to seek such approval, is indeed repugnant to the established legal order of Belize.”

The Court refused to enforce the award because it is contrary to Belize’s public policy.

So, the Chief Justice has now reserved judgment in these two claims to be announced at a later date. His judgment will determine the constitutionality of the Central Bank Immunity Act, and there is a possibility that he could strike out the law. If that happens, the Central Bank’s reserves will be exposed once again, and Eamon Courtenay hasn’t given a straight answer on whether or not his clients will go after them again.

The press asked him directly if his clients are committing to leave the Central Bank’s assets alone should this law be successfully challenged. His response was, “I think you are being humorous and so I am going to laugh and that’s my answer to that.”

Does Courtenay see it as a laughing matter that his clients, the Ashcroft Alliance, could wreck this country’s economy if they get at the Central Bank’s foreign reserves?

For more on this story go to:

IMAGE: Lord Michael Ashcroft – Wikipedia

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