BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 18, 2018– The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down its decision regarding the case of Titan International Securities, which was seeking in excess of four million dollars in compensatory damages from the Government of Belize for the violation of its constitutional rights when police raided its offices in September 2014. The Belize Government raid was carried out in cooperation with the United States, where an indictment against Titan principals was unsealed.
The CCJ, however, set aside the US4.6 million dollars in compensatory damages that was awarded by Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel, and substituted in its place BZ$100,000 in vindicatory damages for the manner in which the police raid was carried out.
In September 2014, at the time when police had carried out the raid, the US had indicted Titan International Securities, its president Kelvin Leach and eleven others on charges of securities fraud, evasion of taxes, money laundering and conspiracy to commit those offences.
In Belize, a magistrate signed the warrant for the police and agents of the Financial Intelligence Unit to conduct the search and seizure of Titan Securities’ office equipment under the mutual assistance law.
The raid was said to be necessary to preserve evidence of financial shenanigans in which the offshore company was allegedly involved.
“The warrant was read to Mr. Leach, who was on the premises when the officers arrived, but it was not given to him. Additionally, he did not receive a list of items seized by the authorities and Titan’s attorney was not allowed to enter the offices during the search,” said a media release from the CCJ.
The CCJ release added, “While the search was being conducted, Titan was informed, via email, by the International Financial Services Commission that its license had been suspended. The license has since expired, and it was never renewed. In December 2014, Titan filed proceedings in the Supreme Court, in which it alleged that the mutual assistance law was unconstitutional and that the search was executed in an unreasonable and oppressive manner, claiming that its constitutional rights were breached.”
In their original claim, Titan was seeking 22 million dollars in compensation, but Justice Abel awarded the company the 4.6 million dollars for breach of its constitutional rights.
“The Court of Appeal agreed that the search was carried out in an unreasonable and excessive manner, but held that Titan failed to show a link between the loss claimed and the constitutional breach. In its view, the taking of the property was not the cause of the shutting down of Titan’s business; it was caused by the suspension and non-renewal of the license,” said the CCJ media release.
The CCJ agreed with the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal that the law itself was not unconstitutional, but that the company’s right to privacy was violated.
“Like the Court of Appeal, the CCJ was of the view that Titan’s loss was caused by the suspension and non-renewal of the license. The Court of Appeal was therefore right to say that there was no basis for an award of US$4,460,000 to Titan. The CCJ did, however, award Titan BZD$100,000 in vindicatory damages after it considered the high-handed manner in which the search and seizure operation was conducted,” the CCJ media release ended.
The CCJ’s Justice Rajnauth-Lee said, “The court held Titan should be awarded vindicatory damages Belizean dollars a hundred thousand. The court noted that the correct approach when making such an award [is to] assess the nature of the breach in terms of the particular facts of the case and to decide whether an additional award was required, which would not only vindicate the rights of the party, but would also deter the authorities from engaging in such conduct. The court considered the fact and circumstance of the case and took the following matters in account before making the award.
“One, the trial judge found that a copy of the search warrant was not left with Titan’s officials. He had found that items were taken which were not relevant to the request from the US Government. The Court of Appeal agreed that the search was conducted in an unreasonable and excessive manner, since there was no sifting of the records to comply with the specific request from the US. No inventory of the items taken was left with Titan. Titan’s attorney was denied entry into the premises during the search and the Court of Appeal found that the police officers acted in a very-high handed manner during the operation.
“As to cost, the court found that there was no reason to interfere in the cost order made in the Court of Appeal and awarded Titan one-half of basic costs, given that it was partly successful in its appeal. The appeal was therefore partly allowed. The order of the Court of Appeal was affirmed, save that this Court awards to Titan vindicatory damages for breach of its constitutional right to privacy in the sum of Belize dollars, a hundred thousand. The respondents were ordered to pay one half of the basic cost of the appeal.”