In August of 2009, the Government of Belize took over BTL. This was followed by a number of court battles with the Ashcroft Alliance. Last year, in mid September, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that the Government had reached a settlement over the company with its former owners. As part of the settlement, BTL had to pay the British Caribbean Bank for a mortgage debenture which was already in default when the government took over the company. Government had resisted paying, citing that the debt was undertaken illegally. That matter was vented in court and ultimately the Government lost the case. When he spoke to the nation last year, Prime Minister Barrow said the amount at the time was forty eight million US dollars which the Government would pay initially, and that amount would be paid back by the company. He said the Government would also pay sixty five million three hundred thousand as compensation for the acquisition of shares. Government calculated one dollar and forty four cents per share, while the Aschroft companies claimed the shares had a value of ten dollars per share. At the time it was announced that an arbitration panel would come up with a figure between the two. Reports are that the initial figures are in and it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Prime Minister Dean Barrow returned to the country today and he was asked about the ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
“They’ve offered an outline of their core findings, the valuation method that they used but both sides have a chance to turn their experts loose to review the valuation methodology and to see if the math adds up but to the extent that while it’s not final it’s a clear indication of what is likely to be the end result, that is true; they have come down a little bit under the midpoint valuation which is good for us and 60% of what they are indicating the award is likely to be is going to be attributable to the accommodation agreement. Since as you know I had agreed with Lord Ashcroft that any portion of the award that is attributable to the accommodation agreement will be in Belize dollars and must be spent in this country on projects to benefit the people of Belize that also is good news so all that will go out is 40% of the award. Our US dollar liability is therefore limited to that and as I said the Belize dollar portion will in fact be spent on good and charitable works in this country.”
“Even taken though that is the most favorable interpretation that is still about forty to fifty million US dollars that has to be paid out, where will the government find the money ?”
“You know that we’ve already in fact raised the legal limit on treasury bills so we are going to do domestic borrowing. Remember also too though that we under the agreement we only pay half of it immediately and then we have a year to pay the balance. Look we knew we would have to pay, we took the company and we knew we would have to pay given where the Ashcroft Alliance was in terms of their valuation if this holds I have to consider it a victory for the government and people of Belize.”
The Prime Minister was asked if it was a tactical error not to have challenged the accommodation agreement at the European arbitration panel.
“Made no difference because we challenged it in this arbitration proceeding and they ruled on it. They in fact found that while the then administration might not have had any legal and constitutional authority to be in fact contracting for these huge tax giveaways without first going to the National Assembly they found that the administration had apparent authority that since the attorney general offered them an opinion insisting that in fact the administration was entitled to do this the petitioners, the former owners could not be prejudiced by having relied on what the then administration said was entirely legal signed off on by the attorney general.”