General — 19 October 2012 — by Adele Ramos
Villanuevas lose appeal – $400,000 plus interest

“This in my mind is not justice,” Villanueva, Sr., told Amandala

Veteran broadcaster Rene Villanueva, Sr., his son Rene, Jr., and their company Cahal Pech Limited have been ordered by Supreme Court Justice Oswell Legall to pay the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) $400,000 plus 6% interest as of March 16, 2010, in a lawsuit brought against them for arrears DFC has maintained was owing on a $1.4 million debt dating back to 2003—a debt which the Villanuevas continue to maintain they are no longer liable for, since the debt had been assumed by Richard Hoare, a businessman subsequently murdered in 2007.

“This in my mind is not justice,” Villanueva, Sr., told Amandala, reacting to Legall’s ruling today, after perusing the 26-page decision that he said they will most likely appeal, because the judge has not accurately represented some key facts in the case. He also said that the DFC did not stick to the settlement agreement they had made in good faith back in 2004—but turned around and sued them in violation of that settlement agreement.

Villanueva furthermore contends that they never defaulted on the DFC debt, as the court judgment indicates, but insisted only after Richard Hoare tried to pass back the loan to them, the Villanuevas—6 months after Hoare was in control of Cahal Pech, where he ran an enterprise Belizean Dreams, and after making at least two months’ payments on the debt—that they could not pay the debt.

He told us that they had gotten the property from the DFC after it could not collect from Derek Boyd, aka “Rick the Ruler.” The Villanuevas committed to paying roughly $16,000 a month.

Villanueva said that although the payments were difficult to sustain at times, “it was working”—that was until an angry patron who was put out of the establishment set the place ablaze in July 2003. The establishment was refurbished from insurance proceeds and reopened in December 2003.

In his decision, Legall said: “Perhaps defaults in paying the installments pushed the defendants to sell the property.” The judge referred to a purchase agreement between Hoare and the Villanuevas dated April 2004, but in a prior paragraph exhibited a letter from Rene, Jr., dated November 2004, saying they could no longer afford to make payments on the DFC loan.

According to Villanueva, Sr., it was Richard Hoare who asked him in early 2004 to sell the Cahal Pech property to him, because Hoare had a master plan for a tourism project that involved several other properties, including Kitty’s Place. Asked if Hoare ever explained why he reversed his decision to take on the DFC loan, Villanueva said no reason was ever given. Neither was any reason cited in Legall’s court ruling.

This is the essential point on which the Legall ruling turned: in his conclusion, Legall said, “[DFC] granted a loan to [the Villanuevas] who defaulted on the loan. It was the intention of the [DFC] and [the Villanuevas] that liability for repayment of the loan was to be transferred to Richard Hoare, who had made an agreement with the defendants to purchase the property which was the security for the loan, but that intention was not crystallized by any written and signed document transferring the liability for the loan to Richard Hoare, who refused to sign any such document and refused to accept any such liability, and who died in 2007.”

Legall noted that the DFC “had prematurely and mistakenly showed on its accounts Richard Hoare as debtor and the defendants [the Villanuevas] with a zero balance.” Still, the judge held that “the debt therefore remained with the defendants.”

The judgment also notes that, “…due to the non-execution of the transfer documents – the refusal of Richard Hoare to accept the debt – the claimant [DFC] transferred back the loan to the defendants [the Villanuevas].”

All parties accept that subsequent to Hoare’s abandonment of the deal that there was an agreement between the DFC and the Villanuevas to dispose of the Cahal Pech property, and if there was a balance owing that the Villanuevas would use part of the proceeds from a separate lawsuit against Richard Hoare, claiming damages for breach of contract, to offset the balance owing.

Where the parties differ is here: the Villanuevas say that had the lawsuit initiated in 2004 failed, both parties, based on their agreement, would call it a loss; but the lawsuit did not fail, and in fact, Justice Samuel Awich this May awarded the Villanuevas $879,694.46 against the Hoare estate. Villanueva, Sr., told us that he has not yet been paid a cent of those proceeds. The court says that this fact notwithstanding, the Villanuevas must pay the DFC.

Villanueva, Sr., told us that the agreement with the DFC is that the principal balance of $400,000, which remained after the sale of the property, would be met out of the proceeds of the Richard Hoare lawsuit—not from their pockets.

Although the DFC board had agreed to waive interest payments on the balance, the DFC’s current suit claims 13% interest amounting to $268,794.28 against the Villanuevas, $117,163.48 in attorney fees, $5,878 in escrow and $11,706.70 in other fees—all amounts disallowed by Justice Legall. The judge said the claim did not reflect the amounts quoted in a DFC board directive based on the agreed settlement, and furthermore, no supporting documents were provided to the court to prove the additional expenses.

DFC’s total claim against the Villanuevas was $898,408.39, but the judge awarded less than half that amount, deeming the balance to be the $400,000 quoted by the DFC after it sold the Cahal Pech property for $900,000 to DALT Limited.

Villanueva, Sr., said that the DFC had gotten an offer for much more—for $1.3 million, and they never explained why they accepted the offer for $900,000 instead. The company that won the bid had then People’s United Party minister Dan Silva as one of its principals, said Villanueva.

Apart from ordering the Villanuevas to pay $400,000 plus interest to the DFC, the court has also ruled that the Villanuevas must pay the DFC $10,000 in costs.

Michael Young, SC, and Melissa Balderamos-Mahler represented the Villanuevas, while Darlene Vernon represented the DFC.

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