Today Justice Courtenay Abel dismissed a claim brought by Sunshine Holdings Limited against the Government of Belize and the BTL Employees Trust. The claim is connected to the half a billion dollars settlement that GOB had to cough up for the nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited. It’s a very interesting, complex and as Justice Abel described, a peculiar and bizarre case. The final monies for the BTL acquisition for BTL was made last November but Sunshine Holdings Limited was attempting to collect what it believes it was rightly owed before it was shut down by Justice Abel today. Under the Musa Administration over ten years ago, the Social Security Board loaned Sunshine Holdings ten million dollars. Sunshine Holdings used that money to buy shares in BTL. But when the government nationalized BTL, it also acquired the shares owned by Sunshine Holdings Limited.Sunshine Holdings took the matter before the Caribbean Court of Justice and last month the CCJ ruled that Sunshine Holdings can file court proceedings with respect to its claim. That claim was dismissed by Justice Abel who said that he claim was meritless and baseless. BTL Employees Trust was represented by Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay.
Eamon Courtney, Attorney: “As you know 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 were 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 by the trust and the CCJ approved the payments. So it was rather bizarre for us 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. The judge found that it was what he described as a colorable device which 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 is being paid to attorney 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.”
Reporter: What happens with the debt that Sunshine had, that $20 million loan to the Government and to the SSB ?
Eamon Courtney, Attorney: “Again we went through all the evidence and the evidence showed that from way back in 2012 the Government gave it’s assurance to Social Security Board that the money that was owed by Sunshine to the Social Security Board the Government would pay. Up until 2016 after the settlement agreement Social Security wrote to Government and said ‘pay me as you promised to pay me.’ The Government has not made good on that. In the settlement agreement, clause 5.4 it is made very clear that that liability remains with Sunshine, which is government owned. It is simple as far as the trust is concerned. An honorable agreement was made on the 11th of September 2015 between the trust, Dunkeld and the Government, monies were paid it was honored and the Government should stop these spurious attempts to undo that which it agreed to do. There must at the end of the day be an end to litigation and an end to this endless spending of public money.”
Reporter: So Sunshine won’t get any of the $114 million and the Government also has that $20 million debt that it now has to absorb is that correct?
Eamon Courtney, Attorney: That is correct and as the judge pointed out and we keep pointing out, why is it that Sunshine never made a claim for compensation when this acquisition took place in 2009 and was repeated in 2011 Sunshine never made a claim for compensation, it never made a claim for compensation because it would be Sunshine owned by the government claiming from the government compensation. As I said in a different case it is stupidity on stilts and the judge rejected it comprehensively. I mean it is a really ridiculous and bizarre and expensive frolic by the government. Enough is enough man. It is the comedy and the I don’t know who is ruling the asylum that the government is in but we really have reached the bottom. It’s really disgraceful you all were in there and heard the words the judge used describing the claim, absolutely without merit. Enough is enough man.”
Sunshine Holdings Limited was represented by Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams, and the Government was represented by Solicitor General Nigel Hawke.