“It seems to me that Sunshine is not seeking to get justice. It is seeking to get a windfall…This court will not allow its process to be used to permit that…” said the judge
BELIZE CITY, Fri. May 11, 2018– The Government of Belize has been litigating with the Ashcroft alliance since 2009, when it passed a legislation to re-acquire Belize Telemedia Limited in a second nationalization that saw six years of legal wrangling, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
This lasted until September 2015, when Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that he was leaving the country for “medical reasons” and returned with his now controversial BTL Settlement Deed.
However, the BTL Settlement Deed was not the last move. Prime Minister Barrow’s law partner, attorney Rodwell Williams, SC, brought a claim from Sunshine Holdings Limited, a government-controlled company, against Dean Boyce and the BTL Employees Trust. The claim involves 114 million dollars that was paid out of the BTL Settlement Deed.
After three days of hearing, however, Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel handed down his oral judgment, describing the government’s case as having “no merit”.
Sunshine Holdings Limited went to court claiming that 114 million dollars paid to Dean Boyce and the BTL Employees Trust out of the BTL settlement should have been paid to Sunshine.
Nestor Vasquez, the sole director of Sunshine Holdings, wanted the court to order Boyce and the BTL Employees Trust to pay them the money owed to the Social Security Board.
At the time when the government acquired BTL, it also acquired Sunshine Holding Limited, which had $11 million worth of shares in BTL. The Sunshine shares were bought with the proceeds of a $20 million loan the company, when it was under Ashcroft control, had gotten from the Belize Social Security Board. The loan has yet to be paid.
In delivering his oral judgment, Justice Abel remarked, “It seems to me that Sunshine is not seeking to get justice. It is seeking to get a windfall…This court will not allow its process to be used to permit that… This court cannot find that any of the monies paid… have been wrongly made or directed… There is no merit in Sunshine’s claim…
The claim is dismissed”.
Justice Abel also ordered Sunshine to pay the cost of the litigation.
Attorney Eamon Courtenay, S.C., who represented Dean Boyce and the BTL Employees Trust, was extremely critical of the government for filing the claim that he described as a “bizarre claim”.
Courtenay, upon exiting the courtroom remarked, “I had started from yesterday saying that this was a bizarre claim, and it was Sunshine, which is owned by the Government, suing the Trust, and suing the Government, seeking to get compensation that had been paid by the Government to the Trust. So, it was a rather circular situation, the Government’s company suing the Government and the Trust to get compensation from it.
“The judge refused to do that, accepting our submissions because all the monies that have been paid over was paid over by way of the settlement agreement, which went to the National Assembly, was approved by the National Assembly. There were repeated challenges in the CCJ as to the amounts to be paid to the Trust, and the CCJ approved the payments”.
Courtenay added, “So, it was rather bizarre for us for Government to have Sunshine come here, and try to get back some of the money. In fact, they were claiming all the money, and alternatively, about 50 million dollars.
“The judge found that it was what he described as a colorable device, which in my words, not the judge’s words- – in my words — borders on fraud. You cannot pay money to somebody under an agreement approved by the court, and then a few months later, get somebody to come on your behalf to get back that very same money.
“I said it before, and I say it again, it is a bizarre situation. I say again to Belizeans, hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money are being paid to attorneys by the Government of this country to bring spurious claims. It is the people who are paying for all of this, and it is sad, and it ought to stop”.
Courtenay described the case as he had a previous one involving the government as being “stupidity on stilts”, that the judge rejected.
“It is a really ridiculous, bizarre, and expensive frolic by the Government. Enough is enough. It is comedy, and I don’t know who is ruling the asylum that the Government is in, but we really have reached the bottom”, Courtenay said.
This loss by the government means that the government is still on the hook for the Social Security Board’s 20 million dollars that it has promised to pay to the Social Security Board. It has so far failed to honor its promise.
“There must, at the end of the day, be an end to litigation and an end to this endless spending of public money,” Courtenay said.
Senior Counsel, Rodwell Williams, Sunshine’s attorney, declined reporters’ request for an interview and left the precincts of court immediately after the ruling; when he was reached at his office, he sent word that he was in a meeting.