The Chief Justice ruled that proof of loss to GoB cannot be substantiated
Former PUP Minister Jose Coye held a press conference today, Wednesday, to announce that his case before the Supreme Court of Belize, brought by the Government of Belize, to answer to a charge of misfeasance, has been struck out.
Coye and former PUP Minister Florencio Marin were accused of underselling 56 parcels of land in the Caribbean Shores area and causing the government to suffer loss.
The issue dates back to just before the general elections of 2008, when Coye was the area representative for Caribbean Shores and Marin was the Minister of Natural Resources. They sold 56 parcels of undeveloped lands, which were inaccessible swamp grounds at the time, for $4,000 per parcel to a private company.
In the aftermath of the 2008 elections, the new government claimed that the lots were worth far more than what they were sold for, and therefore caused a loss to the government. The lands, they contended, were in a highly coveted residential area – immediately behind Belize Healthcare Partners hospital and adjacent to University Heights. They estimated that the lots were sold at a loss of $924,000 to the government.
The case was first heard in May of 2009 by then Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, who ruled that the government could not bring such a case against a former Minister. The Government of Belize appealed, and the Belize Court of Appeals overturned CJ Conteh’s ruling.
Coye and Marin then appealed to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which in a landmark decision ruled that indeed a former Minister of government can be charged for “misfeasance.”
The substantive case started in May of last year, and today, the case was heard and dismissed by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin on the grounds that there was no proof of any loss to Government.
Coye was represented in court by Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, and Marin was represented by Magali Marin and Senior Counsel Edwin Flowers. The lawyers for the two respondents had filed an application in court last week that the Court strike out the witness statements presented by the claimants because they were in violation of the Evidence Act and the court procedure rules.
The Chief Justice ruled in favor of the respondents this morning, and their attorneys proceeded to request that the entire case be struck out. In upholding the application, the CJ ruled that the remaining evidence did not substantiate the government’s claim of loss.
At his press conference today, Coye boasted that “There were hearsay evidence; they were lacking in expert opinion; they were irrelevant.”
“I could say that the representative for the claimant, who is from the Solicitor General’s office, admitted in the court yesterday that there was in fact violations of the court procedure rules and the Evidence Act,” he went on to say.
Coye explained that the violations were made in the sworn testimonies of the four witnesses, who were senior public officers at the time when the case first surfaced. He argued that the witnesses lied about the evidence in their testimonies. One of the witnesses, he said, testified that he valued the lots in 2008 at around $18,000 each. That witness tried to make it seem that he was valuing the same lots in question before the court when in fact he was not, posited the former Minister of Works.
Coye said that the witness valued lots that were already developed and not the swampy lots in question before the courts. He said that you cannot claim that a developed lot which was sold for $18,000 is the same as a lot that was sold for $4,000 — a lot that was swampy and had no roads to access it.
Coye added that the second witness brought to the court some lots that he claimed were sold some time in 2001. Again, said Coye, those lots were fully developed. Coye said the figures that person presented were the exact figures that a certain attorney presented in court, an attorney Coye accused of being behind the claimants’ case.
The other two witnesses’ claims were also struck out. One was claiming that he paid $50,000 for one lot from the private company, but Coye said that was not true because that person had only put down a deposit for $20,000 on the lot and was to pay the balance, which he didn’t. Coye said he filed an affidavit and gave it to the Registrar’s Office and claimed that his home was broken into and he lost the land title.
Coye said that he believes that the public officers’ claims were strongly perjured because there was nothing to substantiate those claims.
“From the outset, we knew, and they ought to have known, that they had no grounds to pursue such a charge,” he said. “And why did they know? Because the Lands Department, as you can recall, was shut down almost four, three months, for quite some time, for an audit to be undertaken.”
Coye said the audit was done by the Auditor General and when the audit was complete, the Auditor General found nothing wrong with the project.
“That audit was presented to the court, the parliament, the House of Representatives,” he said. “There was nothing to be found wrong with the project.”
Coye said that it was expected that at that time the Government would have reconsidered its position. “We thought that was what the Attorney General would have done, because they had no evidence or proof. So the audit to us was clear that there was no such claim for any losses for a claim of misfeasance, as it was called.”
Coye said that he believed that the charge was placed against him out of “malice, vindictive hate and greed,” and he blamed a specific attorney for being behind the pursuance of the case. He conceded that his reputation has been damaged by the accusations.
“My reputation was damaged because there are people who may tend to believe first what they hear,” he said. “It did bother me in a sense, but it’s something that it didn’t hurt me to the extent, because I knew what they were doing was untrue.
“And, I could say this to you all that what happened in that court room this morning, when I listened to that judgment, that was not a victory for Joe Coye, so much. It was a victory for Belize. Our justice system is the bulwark of our democracy. And when the justice system falls, democracy falls. But this morning was a victory for Belize because the judge had the courage to make that decision,” he commented.
The court ruled that the government will bear the cost of court.
Crown Counsels Nigel Hawke and Iliana Swift appeared on behalf of the Attorney General and Government of Belize.