Attorneys for Sunshine Holdings, the BTL Employees Trust and the Government of Belize presented themselves before Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel today. In November of last year, the Government of Belize made the final payment for its acquisition of Belize Telemedia Limited. However, Sunshine Holdings is still trying to collect what it believes it is owed. 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. Sunshine Holdings was represented by Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams.
SC RODWELL WILLIAMS, ATTORNEY FOR SUNSHINE HOLDINGS
“Pending before the court were two applications, one by the claimant Sunshine to continue the freeze and for an ancillary order to the freeze and one by my friend to strike out the claim and he proceeded with the hearing of the application to strike out the claim because if the claim is struck out then there would be nothing left to discuss about freezing. Mr. Courtney began his arguments and the court we had some discussion and it was felt that, in my view, it was bound to fail and the court indicated that there was sufficient merit that it should go to trial on the merits. So rather than expend time, energy and money on preliminary issues we have decided an early trial date. We were just trying to freeze funds that were paid in compensation that is what the freeze is all about, to say hold but most of that money has been paid out so some of it is here so the freeze will affect what is in the jurisdiction but the claim is to trace all the money and have it go to Sunshine less the investment loans that is the object and in the alternative for the entire investment loans to be paid out of it- it’s the alternative principally on the basis that Sunshine was the rightful owner of the shares therefore the compensation should have been paid to Sunshine. The trust is the rightful owner of two shares in Sunshine and so that is what they should have sought compensation for and Sunshine for the $11 million shares, that is our case. So we are saying that it was paid out in breach of trust and there is what we call we are seeking restitution, knowing receipt that the trust knew that it did not own 11 million shares it owned the two shares. It made a claim for what it did not own, pursued that settlement successfully obtain payment in a settlement for what it was not entitled to so we are asking the court for restitution and to trace that money in the hands of the trust so as to recover it.”
Representing the BTL Employees Trust was Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay who sought to strike out Sunshine’s claim.
SC EAMON COURTENAY, ATTORNEY FOR BTL EMPLOYEES TRUST
“Belizeans should now, and particularly the employees of BTL , should know that a trust is in existence is established for the benefit of those employees. They owned about 11 million shares in BTL which the government acquired and this whole fight for seven or eight years has been over how much compensation they are to get. That compensation has now been paid to the trust. Low and behold to our surprise Sunshine under the control of Sir Manuel Esquivel and Mr.Net Vasquez are seeking to get that money, it’s about $10 million dollars that is being held for the benefit of the employees of Telemedia they are trying to get; they are trying to get it to pay two loans, a loan that was made by the Government of Belize to Sunshine and a loan that was made by the Social Security Board to Sunshine. The difficulty with that is of course as anyone has seen in the settlement agreement the government agreed that that is going to be paid by Sunshine and the CCJ has confirmed that in its decision. So what we have here is a trial over whether or not Sunshine can get this money. Today we had applied to strike out the claim and we had started out our arguments and the judge said “listen this is complex, it’s going to be here for a long time and in fact it seems that Sunshine are trying to raise some very new and novel points of law.” From the perspective of my client, the trust don’t forget what the trust was saying. The trust was saying that this entire nationalization was unlawful and unconstitutional but it was taking so long and there was a decision ‘You want to compromise this give me everything that I was claiming and you are responsible for the loans.’ and Mr. Barrow agreed to that and now they are trying to come through the back door through Sunshine and trying to undo what they signed and what the CCJ has already confirmed. So I think the 24th to the 26th of April is going to be very interesting. The sad thing about all of this is that there is a trust for the benefit of the employees of Belize Telemedia, Mr.Net Vasquez is a director of Belize Telemedia and he is seeking to take the money that is for the benefit of the employees and take it and pay it to the Government of Belize- something must be radically wrong with that. How can he be the director of a company that has millions of dollars for the benefit of the employees in a trust and he is fighting to take away the trust from the employees of that company? It’s stupidity on stilts.”
Solicitor General Nigel Hawke represented the Government. The case will be heard on April 24, 25 and 26.