BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 23, 2018– Panamanian lawyer Giovanni Caporaso Gottlieb emailed Amandala on Thursday, July 19, 2018, and in that email he stated, “Regarding your article (of Tuesday, July 17, 2018, titled ‘Panamanian attorney wants CB Governor Joy Grant fired’), I am available for an interview in order to confirm our demand to the Prime Minister to fire Governor Joy Grant. — Best Regards, Dr. Giovanni Caporaso, Caporaso & Partners Law Office, OPM Corporation.”
Gottlieb was referring to our headline story of the above-mentioned date, which reported on a letter ostensibly written by Gottlieb in which he accused Central Bank governor Joy Grant of “ineptitude,” and asked Prime Minister Dean Barrow for her “immediate dismissal” on behalf of the account holders, who feared that their money, along with the reputation of Belize and its financial center, “is on the line.”
Gottlieb went further, saying that his clients “would not want to have to resort to an attack on Belize in the International Monetary Forum.”
For background, on June 29, Central Bank Governor Joy Grant released a video on Central Bank’s YouTube account, saying that, “Choice Bank failed to provide the Central Bank of Belize with a plan deemed satisfactory that indicated their ability or willingness to resolve the situation.”
The statement referred to the fact that Choice Bank, an offshore bank located on Marine Parade, had been having problems with its liquidity, which allegedly prevented the bank’s clients from being able to make withdrawals from the bank.
In fact, on June 6, we learned that a client had filed a sworn affidavit claiming that Choice Bank was planning to wind down by the end of the month. The client said that that would result in the loss of “substantial” funds for depositors.
The hammer blow for Choice Bank came in the same video released by Central Bank, in which it is stated that Central Bank “concluded that the actions taken by the ownership and management of Choice Bank were insufficient to properly rectify the situation…” and that they had revoked Choice Bank’s license and had appointed a liquidator whom they later replaced with another liquidator, who, with the support of a team from Central Bank, would liquidate the bank’s assets and would distribute the assets in a “fair and equitable manner.”
The announcement by Central Bank of liquidation came less than two days after Choice Bank had announced, on June 28, that it was emerging from its “constraint liquidity” and depositors would be able to make withdrawals again, and that by the end of the year, the bank would return to normal operations.
On July 7 on the website issuewire.com, a Panamanian lawyer, Giovanni Caporaso Gottlieb, who said that he is the director of Caporaso & Partners Law Firm and was representing a large number of Choice Bank’s clients, wrote what he said was an open letter to PM Barrow, asking for Grant’s dismissal as Central Bank’s governor on the basis that she had not “complied with the mandates that the laws of Belize impose on the Central Bank in relation to the Choice Bank crisis.”
Gottlieb stated in the letter that he has been a practicing attorney for 30 years and specializes in offshore banking. He said that when Choice Bank first told its account holders that it encountered a lack of cash flow, he personally requested intervention from Central Bank, and they had not replied for six months.
Amandala took advantage of Gottlieb’s offer, and for clarity, emailed him some questions. His response is slightly edited for clarity.
AMANDALA: Why do you want Central Bank of Belize Governor, Joy Grant, fired?
Gottlieb: Because she did not accomplish with the Central Bank mandate especially the Part V, Article 27. After that Choice Bank declared their “liquidity problems”, no action was taken by the Central Bank that even did never replay to emails and complaints. During the six (6) months of the Choice Bank’s crisis, due to external factors which the new International MasterCard regulations, she and the Central Bank of Belize DID NOTHING to protect the Choice Bank customers savings. The Central Bank immobility during the crisis, appears more like a performance worthy of Pontius Pilate (washing his hands).
AMANDALA: Have you gotten a response from Prime Minister Dean Barrow as yet?
Gottlieb: No, and probably since he is also the Minister of Finance, I never will.
AMANDALA: You said that you represented “a large number” of clients. What approximate percentage of these do you represent?
Gottlieb: I do not have this data because I don’t know how many clients Choice Bank have, but every day some new one contact me, many had all their savings there so the wright supporting me, but they do not have money even to Apostille a Power of Attorney. I think that people should get answers from the government and not from lawyers.
AMANDALA: Do you believe that there is anything political about this? If so, do you believe that this was one of the reasons for the delay (6 months) in Central Bank acting on Choice Bank?
Gottlieb: I cannot confirm, but there are a lot of unanswered questions on the Central Bank behavior, and especially why they decided to name a Liquidator two day after Choice Bank told us that it was ready to approve withdrawals from our accounts? And why the liquidator left after 2 days and how much they spent of our money on it? Also, why they go to liquidation if the bank state that they have a superavit and deposits in excess to the Belize requirements? Finally, why the Central Bank did not put an Administrator and nominate immediately a liquidator, with experience.
AMANDALA: You said that your clients “would not want to have to resort to an attack on Belize in the International Monetary Forum.” What sort of action would that be?
Gottlieb: First, spend all our effort to make those facts public by international press, second, to present a claim to the FMI. Third, investigate how they spend our money, because we do not understand why they fired all the bank staff and they establish a bureaucratic liquidation machine, by naming inexperienced personnel and/or “friends of friends” that might eat up our money in the process. Eventually, if we find a criminal behavior, we will pursue it.
AMANDALA: You said that “she (Grant) had not ‘complied with the mandates that the laws of Belize impose on the Central Bank in relation to the Choice Bank crisis.’” Is there any specific law that you believe was broken?
Gottlieb: Yes, the mandate of the Central Bank obliges the institution to supervise and control all banks and nothing has been done in this case.
AMANDALA: In your letter, you said that when Choice Bank first told its account holders that it encountered a lack of cash flow, you personally requested intervention from Central Bank, and they had not replied for six months. How could this happen? Did you not follow up on your first requested intervention from Central Bank? What was the result?
Gottlieb: The best answer I got was in April 18: “The Central Bank of Belize is not permitted by statute to respond to your specific questions.”
We were not able to get a response from Prime Minister Barrow, because, according to the Belize Press Office, he left the country on Friday, July 20, to see about his health, and will not return until tomorrow, Tuesday, July 24.
We called Central Bank this evening for a response from Governor Joy Grant, but her secretary told us that we had to email our questions to the Governor because she was in meetings all day, and she would make sure that she knew that we had called.
As of press time tonight, we have not received a response from Governor Grant.