51 page legal opinion on Definitive Agreement surfaces
Tonight, there is a new document that has surfaced surrounding the Definitive Agreement. It is a 51-page legal opinion that does not sit well when you think of all the justifications by government officials we have been hearing in the past few weeks. The legal opinion is from Ben Juratowitch KC, a widely recognized attorney who has served as counsel in tribunals between states, disputes between foreign investors and states, and disputes between commercial parties. While the document is fully loaded, and we can dissect it in the days and weeks ahead, the timeline of how things unfolded is what is, perhaps the most curious at this juncture. This legal opinion provided by Juratowich, at the request of the Government is dated on April 20, 2023. In its summary, Juratowich advises the government that the Definitive Agreement between Portico Enterprises and the Government of Belize is invalid and unenforceable. After going into the basis of that conclusion, Juratowich then advises the Government of Belize of three options they could use to handle the agreement going forward. The first advises the government that they would have to indicate to Portico that the Agreement is invalid and unenforceable, explaining that this is because it was entered into without authority and because its content is illegal as a breach of the Constitutionally enshrined principle of the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislature. The second option would be for the government, should they want to proceed with the project, issue a new contractual foundation that would prove valid and enforceable. The third option would be to simply declare the Agreement invalid and unenforceable, but be prepared for court proceedings in which they could use the basis of the legal advice provided in the document.
Again, this advice was given on April 30, 2023 …. Fast forward 25 days later, and the Definitive Agreement is tabled in Cabinet on May 15, 2023, brought from the Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Investment. Up to this point, the agreement has not been declared invalid or unenforceable by the government. As a matter of fact, in the Cabinet Paper, under the heading, ‘PURPOSE’ – it clearly states that the purpose of this going to Cabinet is to have them review and approve the agreement so that the necessary legislations can be put into place. Also interesting, is that nowhere in the Cabinet Paper was Juratowich’s advice included.
The curiosity doesn’t end here. Ten days later, after the Cabinet meeting, and after Minister Anthony Mahler condemned the accommodations, the documents are leaked into the public domain; this takes us to May 25, 2023. At this point, the document is still not declared as unenforceable or invalid. It wasn’t until after the media and public’s outcry over the audacious accommodations and unprecedented tax breaks and incentives that the government came out to condemn some contents of the Definitive Agreement. Since the document has been leaked, and the agreement became public knowledge, key players in both present and past administration have said they did not the agreement existed; they did not know that Erwin Contreras had signed such a deal, and for some, they have not seen the document prior to it being leaked. As a result of this leaked document, our newsroom has found 850 acres of land that was grabbed up days before election, reportedly destined for Portico Enterprises Limited. Additionally, threats of lawsuits against the government, and other interested parties in this Portico project have called for investigations to be carried out into the agreement. It is a situation that has cast aspersions and doubts in both the present and previous administrations, but one that everyone needs to tiptoe around due to the possibility of lawsuits. Later in the week, we will look closer at the legal advice and report accordingly.