BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 9, 2017–In an undated press release sent out yesterday from the Secretariat of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) calling for the removal of the Opposition People’s United Party’s Senator, Eamon Courtenay, the UDP said, “We believe that his action is an outright betrayal of Belize’s national interests and comes in extreme conflict with the Senatorial seat he holds. We therefore call for his immediate removal from the Senate.”
The government’s call for Senator Courtenay’s removal from the Senate was triggered by a constitutional challenge he filed at the Supreme Court registry on behalf of the Ashcroft group of companies, which are seeking enforcement from US courts for an arbitral award of US $50 million – by any means necessary, including the reserves of the Central Bank, held in the US.
The Government’s newspaper, The Guardian, of Sunday, February 12, 2017, said that “…on February 3 … Claim 66 of 2017 was filed by Courtenay and Coye LLP …”
Government’s fear that the foreign reserves of the Central Bank of Belize, which are held in US banks, could be attached to the arbitration payment, prompted the government to pass two pieces of legislation to protect the Central Bank’s reserves — the Central Bank (International Immunities) Act and Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act, which were passed in a single sitting of the House of Representative in late January.
The two pieces of legislation were passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate with full bi-partisan support from the Opposition PUP side of the Legislature.
The Central Bank International Immunities Act 2017 has been drafted with one singular purpose and that is to protect the Central Bank of Belize from legal proceedings in other states.
The Crown Proceeding Amendment Act is designed to criminalize any attempt to go after the assets of the Belize Central Bank. The penalties for violating the law include hefty court fines and imprisonment. The act makes provisions relating to enforcement of foreign judgment against the Crown illegal.
When he rose to speak on the bills in the Senate, Senator Courtenay said, “I want to start by putting on record that in my personal capacity and in my professional capacity I am affected by the legislation that is before the Senate. It threatens personal criminalization of me and it threatens my practice of law.”
“No one, absolutely no one in this chamber, myself included, Senator Peyrefitte, will vote against a bill that seeks to give further immunity to the assets held by the Central Bank. No one,” he then noted.
Today, Thursday, the PUP issued a press release with the caption: “PUP supports Hon. Senator Eamon Courtenay.”
The PUP release, after meandering through several other issues, finally mentioned Senator Courtenay at the very end of the release, saying, “For the record, Senator Courtenay has done a stellar job in the Senate highlighting the wrongdoings of this government and continues to enjoy the full support of the Leader of the Opposition.”
What the PUP release did not say, however, is that the party had voted with the government in the House for the Central Bank laws, and Senator Courtenay had also voted for its passage in the Senate.
The UDP press release said ominously: “If the Ashcroft group were to succeed in getting a US Court order against our reserves, all the assets of the Central Bank would be frozen until the matter is finalized and the amount quantified. During that period, the Central Bank and the country would not be able to pay for supplies or conduct foreign transactions. It would cripple trade and business and bring us to a standstill.”
So while the Government has severely criticized Courtenay for filing the constitutional challenge on behalf of the Ashcroft companies, the PUP Leader, Hon. John Briceño, has voiced his support for Courtenay in his role of Ashcroft’s attorney.
The PUP, for their part, say that they are of the view that the Central Bank reserves are safe and cannot be attached to satisfy the Ashcroft arbitration award.
It said it in its release today: “The PUP has concluded its research and wishes to inform Belizeans that according to the laws of the United States of America, Belize’s reserves in the Central Bank are safe and cannot be attached or executed against by anyone including Lord Ashcroft’s companies.
“Section 1611 of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of the USA states:
“The property of a foreign state shall be immune from attachment and from execution, if— (1) the property is that of a foreign central bank or monetary authority”.
“The advice the PUP has received from US based attorneys is that this law fully protects Belize’s foreign reserves,” said the PUP.
Amandala has learned that Senator Courtenay is out of the country, but has responded via a Whatsapp text message to both 7News and News 5 Live.
“The UDP is once again trying to distract attention from their incompetence. I said in the Senate that the constitutionality of the laws is questionable. The court will answer that question shortly and show that once again, the Barrow Administration has rushed legislation through the House that is invalid. Rank incompetence,” he said.
The PUP press release did not mention what Senator Courtenay had done to incur the wrath of the ruling UDP; it attacked only the Government, and stated that the Party Leader was fully supporting the senator.
Amandala attempted to speak to the PUP Leader, Hon. John Briceño, to clarify whether the entire PUP Executive was standing with him behind Senator Courtenay, but we were not successful.