International — 26 October 2012 — by Adele Ramos

Court of Appeal to decide whether BTL can proceed to pay dividends on Dec. 14, 2012

Trustee of the BTL Employees Trust, Dean Boyce, was this afternoon relieved of having to face cross-examination for affidavit evidence sworn before the Court of Appeal, in which he expressed deep concern that the Government of Belize would be hard-pressed to pay compensation to the former owners of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) because of current financial challenges evidenced by its inability to meet full payment of the $544 million super bond.

Recently, the appellant won a ruling from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which stayed the hands of BTL’s board from paying any dividends for this year until December 14, 2012. However, they have now gone to the Court of Appeal, which has heard the legal challenge to the nationalization of BTL, seeking to extend that injunction to completely bar any payment of dividends until the matter is satisfactorily resolved by the court.

Denys Barrow, SC, counsel for the Attorney General’s Ministry and the Ministry of Public Utilities, took issue with Boyce’s assertions on government’s financial position and asked the court to permit his cross-examination. That should have occurred this afternoon in the Court of Appeal, but Barrow agreed to withdraw his motion after Boyce’s attorney, Godfrey Smith, SC, made it clear that Boyce really had nothing more to add – that whatever assertions he had made in his affidavit had been backed up by exhibits to his statement, including documents published by the Government of Belize.

Barrow said that once it was clear that what Boyce had put before the court were statements of opinion and not statements of fact, there was really no need to put him on the stand.

Conversely, Smith agreed to stand down on his application to cross-examine a key government witness, Financial Secretary Joe Waight, who had also been quoted in Boyce’s affidavit to the court.

“None of [the] documents make the statement he [Boyce] seeks to make: that the government’s finances had deteriorated significantly,” Barrow told the press. “That is not the fact, but he has sought to draw the conclusion.”

We asked Barrow, though, whether what Boyce had inferred isn’t a logical conclusion based on statements by government in the public domain.

“It is an available inference you can draw, but what I wanted to do was to put to Mr. Boyce…all the other factors that go into the statement that he has made… Other inferences can be drawn from the statements made,” Barrow added. “Boyce drew conclusions; the documents did not draw any.”

Attorney Smith told the media that now that both sides have withdrawn their motions to have the witnesses cross-examined, they will be required to put their written submissions before the court, and the court will take it from there.

“We await the full hearing by the court on paper of the application for the injunction,” said Barrow, “as well as its decision on the 8th Amendment.”

The court recently concluded its hearing on the challenge to the Government of Belize’s acquisition of Belize Telemedia Limited. At today’s hearing was Alan Slusher, a government-appointed director of BTL, who also has expertise in finance.

Barrow expects that the court will order whatever remedy, if any, in respect of the BTL nationalization, quite likely when it returns for its next session.

The Court of Appeal will be officially off on recess as of tomorrow, Friday, October 26, and the next session is due to commence around March 2013.

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