PM introduces bill to protect Belize’s reserves from Ashcroft allied companies

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Updated: January 27, 2017

At the last Sitting of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the nation that the Government would not pay the fifty million US dollars arbitration award to Belize Social Development Ltd and BCB Holdings Ltd, two companies linked to British-Belizean billionaire Michael Ashcroft. The Supreme Court Judge ruled that the companies may seek to gain possession of Belize’s foreign assets. To prevent any such thing today Barrow introduced a “bill for an act to restate for greater certainty the immunity of Central Bank of Belize from legal proceedings in other states.” This means that Government made assets held by the Central Bank of Belize untouchable by foreign entities that have engaged the Government in legal proceedings. In fact, doing so can land the claimant in jail for two years or be fined two thousand dollars. At the Sitting of the House of Representatives today in Belmopan, the bill went through its three readings and after the House adjourned, PM Barrow spoke with the media.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I’m hoping and believing that after the bill is signed into law it will certainly act to deter those  who may have been thinking of going after the reserves. There are no guarantees, but there can be no gain saying that this is a significant, robust powerful concrete step that we’ve taken. It also psychologically I think sends a wonderful signal to our people and to those who would come after the reserves that in a matter like this Belize stands united.”

Reporter

“You have in the past spoken with Mr. Ashcroft have you in this case spoken with him?”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“ No I haven’t because it is as I tried to indicate in the House, how can I settle. I supposed not ever say there is nothing to talk about that might sound like the product of an impoverished mind but if these things are as I am convinced, they are so horribly illegal, on what basis can I offer or agree to pay anything out the short answer to your question is that there’s not been any discussion. “

According to PM Barrow, this law will protect Belize’s foreign reserves in all countries where the country has reserves.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“They are not all over the world, there are a couple of countries in which I believe the Central Bank has reserves. So to the extent that it would serve for the United States, it would also serve for the UK, Canada if there are reserves in Canada but I need to repeat that this can’t stop people who are not within our jurisdiction from making an attempt. The law is effective in the context of what we know is currently in play but for example; suppose you were talking about vulture funds, there is no way we can get at the operator or owners of those vulture funds if there were to be some assignment for example of this award to a vulture fund it is difficult to actually be able to deploy the deterrent effect because we can’t find them within the jurisdiction to charge them but I do want to stress that the effort to make assurance we have these repeated opinions which have been refreshed, we got one of the opinions from 2012 but there’s been a refresh in view of what’s taken place recently and they all assure us that absent the litigating risk it is next to impossible for anybody to attach the reserves of the Central Bank.”

Belize Social Development Ltd has asked the US Supreme Court for permission to enforce 50 million dollars arbitration award. Barrow says the Government will resist.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“The lawyers who are all abroad who have represented us are still on retainer and to the extent that as I told you an application has been filed for permission to enforce the judgments we are going to resist that. I don’t know that we’ll get very far because the condition for the grant of enforcement is mainly that the judgments have been finalized for a sufficiently long period of time so that nobody can say the application is premature. Where the issue will be joined is in the effort that I fear will no doubt come to enforce by way of attaching assets and I’m saying to the extent that they want to try to attach assets of the government of Belize which as far as I know are very few, we are prepared to fight and we will have as well the second bit of legislation that was passed the crown proceedings act to help us but it is principally the reserves naturally that I am concerned for two reasons, that is obviously where the heart of Belize beats, that is where we live and so those are to be protected at all costs but secondly because such an effort would be so absolutely unfair. Now fairness for the sorts of people we are dealing with is obviously much overrated but my goodness the Central Bank has had nothing to do with this.”

Barrow shared that the Government’s greatest concern in respect to this matter, is the possibility of having Belize’s foreign reserves frozen, even if it is for a short period of time.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“That’s what I’m worried about, I talked about trying to ensure that for example the people that we were particularly thinking of would not be able to get an ex parte freezing order which we believe if happened we could fairly quickly unblock but in the meantime the reputational, the psychological and perhaps even the practical damage would be normal so we are hoping that this in terms of what is immediately in play also guards against that, the deterrent feature of the legislation should be enough to give anybody who knows that they are part of an entity that is within our jurisdiction pause for thought. You know the Honorable Minister for Housing said “Well the penalties should be increased.” Apart from not wanting to be disproportionate I don’t think any of those we are currently contending it would want to spend a day in jail so two years is quite enough but with respect to what is immediately in front of us I think we are safe.”