BTL settlement spawns another round of litigation
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 8, 2018– Most Belizeans thought that the government acquisition of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) was settled at over half a billion dollars, but this morning attorneys for Sunshine Holdings and the BTL Employees Trust gathered in the chambers of Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel, where a new round of litigation began to take shape.
When the attorneys were finished, dates were agreed upon, for a full hearing of a claim from Sunshine Holdings.
Attorney Rodwell Williams, SC, who is representing Sunshine Holdings, explained what is involved to reporters who were camped outside the court.
“Pending before the court were two applications, one by the claimant, Sunshine, to continue the freeze, and for an ancillary order to the freeze, and one by my friends to strike out the claim…we have decided on an early trial date. I think the last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — 24th, 25th, 26th of April…” Williams said.
Williams was asked what exactly he meant by “the freeze”.
“We were just trying to freeze funds that were paid in compensation…most of that money has been paid out…some of it is here…the freeze will affect what is in the jurisdiction,” he said. He continued, “…the claim is to trace all the money, and have it go to Sunshine, less the investment loans. That’s the object…in the alternative, for the investment loans to be paid out of it. That’s the alternative, principally on the basis that Sunshine was the rightful owner of the shares…the compensation should have been paid to Sunshine. The Trust is the rightful owner of 2 shares in Sunshine, and so, that’s what they should have sought compensation for, and Sunshine for the 11 million shares…we are asking the court for restitution, and to trace that money in the hands of the trust. So, as to recover it,” he explained.
Attorney for the BTL Employees Trust, Eamon Courtenay, SC, told reporters, “The government has compensated the BTL Employees Trust in respect of the shares that it acquired. Belizeans should know, and in particular, the employees of BTL should know, that a trust is in existence, is established for the benefit of those employees. They owned about 11 million shares in BTL, which the Government acquired, and this whole fight for 7 or 8 years has been over how much compensation they are to get. That compensation has now been paid to the Trust.
“Lo and behold, to our surprise, Sunshine, under the control of Sir Manuel Esquivel and Mr. Net Vasquez, are seeking to get that money. It’s about 10 million dollars that is being held for the benefit of the employees of Telemedia. They are trying to get it in order to pay two loans, a loan that was made by the Government of Belize to Sunshine, and a loan that was made by the Social Security Board to Sunshine. The difficulty with that is, of course, as everyone has seen, in the settlement agreement, the Government agreed that that is going to be paid by Sunshine, and the CCJ has confirmed its decision. What we have here is a trial over whether or not Sunshine can get this money.”
Courtenay was asked why the Government and people of Belize should be on the hook for this particular debt that we didn’t incur.
He replied, “The Prime Minister…and Rodwell Williams…signed the Settlement Agreement, and witnessed the Settlement Agreement. There is a clause…where the Government of Belize specifically says, Sunshine has these two loans. Sunshine will remain responsible for those loans…when you asked the question, why should the Belizean people be responsible for it, my brother, that question should be answered by Dean Oliver Barrow. His signature is on the settlement agreement, in black and white, from the perspective of my client, the Trust. Don’t forget what the Trust was saying. The Trust was saying that this entire nationalization was unlawful and unconstitutional.
“But, it was taking so long, and there was a decision. You want to compromise this? If you want to compromise this, give me everything that I was claiming, and you are responsible for the loans, and Mr. Barrow agreed to that.”
“Now, they are trying to come through the back door, through Sunshine, and is trying to undo what they signed…I think the 24th, the 26th of April is going to be very, very interesting,” Courtenay said.
“The sad thing about all of this,” Courtenay added, “is that there is a trust for the benefit of the employees of Belize Telemedia. Mr. Net Vasquez is a director of Belize Telemedia, and he is seeking to take the money that is for the benefit of the employees, and take it and pay it to the Government of Belize. Something must be radically wrong with that. How can he be a director of a company that has millions of dollars for the benefit of the employees, in a trust, and he is fighting to take away the trust from the employees of that company. It’s stupidity on stilts.”