General — 24 March 2016 — by Adele Ramos
Ruling imminent in multi-million-dollar arbitration dispute over BTL nationalization

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 22, 2016–Amandala has been informed by a member of the Government of Belize’s legal team that a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), based in The Hague, Netherlands, could come any time now, in the litigation between Dunkeld International Investment Limited of the Turks and Caicos and the Government of Belize, following the challenge made by the Ashcroft group to the 2009 nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) by the Government of Belize.

The PCA tribunal was initiated to settle the dispute arising in the context of a 1982 investment treaty between Belize and the UK, which the Government was accused of violating when it nationalized BTL.

The arbitration proceedings began in December 2009 and last September, the Government announced a partial settlement, including the payment of $97 million to British Caribbean Bank, for the $45 million loan which the Government had acquired when it nationalized the phone company. The Government had also announced that it would make a down-payment amounting to 32.5 million Belize dollars for the shares which it had acquired through nationalization, at the rate estimated by its consultants, NERA Economic Consulting, at 72 cents a share.

In presenting the national budget on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, had said that, “As this matter now stands, GoB and the former shareholders of BTL await the judgment from the Arbitration Panel on any further payment due for the shares.”

Today, Opposition Leader Johnny Briceño, the area representative for Orange Walk Central, said, in responding to Barrow’s budget speech, that the Prime Minister had “slipped something into his budget” when he projected that domestic debt would increase to over $700 million.

“He appears to be setting aside another $200 million to be able to pay for BTL,” Briceño said.

In total, the Government had paid out an estimated $162 million for the British Caribbean Bank loan and the BTL shares acquired when it nationalized BTL, as reported on March 8, 2016.

Ex-prime minister, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Opposition member for Fort George, said today that the Government will soon be paying out another $200 million or so for the final settlement when the arbitration award is handed down in the next few months. Musa said, “The Government will end up paying over $360 million for this aging telephone [company].”

It has been reported that the former owners had originally demanded $350 million in compensation.

Professor Albert Jan van den Berg is the presiding arbitrator. The Government of Belize’s overseas attorney is Juan C. Basombrio, Esq., partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, a US firm, while Dunkeld is represented by Allen & Overy LLP.

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