Caribbean Investment Holdings Limited, which had changed its name from British Caribbean Holdings, has decided to challenge the “Anti-Ashcroft” bills. As we have been reporting, British Caribbean Holdings and Belize Social Development Limited had won a fifty million US dollar arbitration award against the Government of Belize. Now, in order to keep both companies from taking Belize’s foreign reserves and assets broad, GOB passed the Central Bank International Immunities Act and amended the Crowns Proceeding Act. Essentially, these two bills made it illegal for any Belize or company registered in Belize to attach the country’s foreign reserves and assets in any legal proceedings. However, Caribbean Investment Holdings Limited has filed a claim contesting the constitutionality of the Acts. Well the government of Belize decided to file an injunction against both companies from pursuing this matter further. Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte explained.
Michael Peyrifitte – Attorney General
“We are not alarmed; it is not the end of the matter. What happened was the last order coming from the CCJ, it was the feeling of the attorneys that we should go directly to the CCJ for the injunction since they were the ones who indicated the arbitration award was not proper. So all they said is that there is no appeal before us and that the arbitration award was not proper. So all they said is that there is no appeal before us and that they are primarily an appellate court so we should go to the Supreme Court in Belize to make that application and as far as I know the Sol Gen made that application this morning to the Supreme Court. Absolutely the government of Belize can make an application to the court, the question was just whether or not should we go directly to the CCJ or should we do it as a matter of first instance and go to the Supreme Court here in Belize. The CCJ felt that it was better to go to the Supreme Court in Belize to start an original action since that is where this action to enforce the award started originally. So they didn’t say that we can’t get the injunction, they didn’t say an injunction refused or anything like that they just said “don’t come directly to us yet, go to the Supreme Court of Belize and then let it take its appellate process if any of the parties who feel that they did not get what they want could appeal and then if it’s an appeal to us, then we will hear it but start at the Supreme Court. Remember now, they are trying to get an injunction for them to stop all proceedings in the US based on the fact that our CCJ has said that those arbitration awards were null and void so we are trying to. Remember now the new piece of legislation, it says that an injunction shall lie and so we are trying to get that injunction to stop them from having the US attempt to enforce it because we are saying, how can you enforce something abroad between two parties that are Belizean when the highest Belizean court has already said that you cannot enforce it. Early this morning we filed the papers to start the process in the Supreme Court to stop them from continuing in their attempt in the US, that is what we are trying to do. Since BCB is a Belizean company and the Belize Bank is a Belizean company, what we are trying to do is to stop them, to injunct them from continuing in the States to enforce an arbitration that our courts have said that are not legitimate. “
The injunction hearing was heard today in the courtroom of Justice Michelle Arana. Arana granted the junction. Senior Counsel Denys Barrow who represented the Government spoke to the media.
Senior Counsel Denys Barrow
“We did not give away the rights of our courts to say to BCB Holdings, Belize Bank Limited that you are bound by the decision of our legal system. So if there is a judgment of our legal system which says to you companies that you must not seek to enforce the judgment that you have gotten abroad, then that decision of our court binds those persons who are subject to our jurisdiction. So remember, nothing stops Belizean courts and the Government of Belize from coming before a Belizean court to say to these persons “do not proceed further, you are disrespecting the CCJs decision. You are violating a clear principle of law which says that having litigated a matter to its finality, you cannot launch any collateral or back door attack upon that judgment of Belize’s highest court.”
“To take it down from then, the airy remove of those legal judgments what happens next on the ground, are Belize’s reserves safe or are they under significant threat?
Senior Counsel Denys Barrow
“I really can’t answer that in any meaningful way. The effect of this injunction order should be that it must be obeyed, if it is obeyed by the two entities then it means that nothing further will be done by them in the US to take their judgment from the US court further. It means that they will not seek to attach Belize’s reserves any of Belize’s property because they’ve been told “Do not enforce that judgment.” Now if they disobey this injunction then all sorts of consequences can happen.”
British Caribbean Holdings Limited was not represented. However, they did send a statement saying that Supreme Court was not the forum to be dealing with the matter. Anyone who attempts to attached the Central Bank’s foreign reserves or GOBs foreign assets can be fined up to two hundred thousand dollars or be locked away for two years.