BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 18, 2015–Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana has refused an application by the Government of Belize to strike out a claim filed by Belize International Services Ltd. (BISL), challenging the government takeover of the international business corporation registry and the shipping registry, which were put under the control of British billionaire Michael Ashcroft and Panamanian investors with European connections back in 1990.
When the Government took over the registries in June 2013, BISL had threatened that, “The Government will become liable to BISL for an amount estimated to be in excess of 60 million United States dollars in damages…”
Although the claimant had filed a constitutional challenge to the takeover, Justice Arana has ruled that it is really a contract dispute, and she does plan to hear the matter later this year.
Arana’s judgment, dated Thursday, March 12, explained that, “The Attorney General has applied for an order that this claim for constitutional redress be struck out as an abuse of the process of the court; as an abuse of the procedure for constitutional relief; and that judgment be entered for the [Government] dismissing the claim with costs to be paid by [BISL].”
However, the judge also noted that there are major issues which need to be determined by the court in addressing the BISL claim.
“This is a claim for damages for breach of contract and should have been brought as an ordinary claim. However, I will not strike out the claim,” Arana ruled.
She then declared that she is converting the matter to an ordinary claim for breach of contract.
The questions which Justice Arana will seek to have answered are:
(1) Did the contract between BISL and the Government come to an end on June 10, 2013, as alleged by the Government, or was the contract extended to June 11, 2020, as averred by BISL?
(2) Did the Government breach the contract?
(3) And if so, what quantum of damages should be awarded?
BISL is represented by Eamon Courtenay, SC, and Pricilla Banner of Courtenay, Coye LLP; while the Government is represented by Denys Barrow, SC, and Naima Barrow of Barrow and Co.
Courtenay told Amandala that the factual issues, even as they relate to the constitutional matters, and the allegation by BISL that the takeover was an abuse of state power, would be ventilated, and if the court finds that such an abuse has occurred, it could award damages for the claimant.
A full hearing of the matter is set for this July, Courtenay said.