In January, the Government of Belize passed two laws that would prevent any Belizean or any company registered in Belize to attach the foreign reserves of the Central Bank or the assets of the state to any legal proceedings. The laws also criminalized the action of doing so with a penalty of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or two years behind bars. This was as a result of a fifty million dollars arbitration award against the Government and in favor of companies related to British billionaire, Lord Michael Ashcroft. The constitutionality of both laws is being challenged and leading that charge is Senior Counsel and PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay who also doubles as attorney for Lord Ashcroft.
“We discovered that what the Prime Minister said was not true it was a falsehood. The foreign reserves in Belize are protected by the laws of the United States of America and the fact show as we can stand here today and show that there has been no attempt to go after the foreign reserves of Belize, you cannot go after the foreign reserves of Belize or any country that is the law of the United States. Now I had specifically said in the senate first of all that the law that was being proposed was directed at me and that I was personally and professionally affected by it. You will recall that I also spoke in the senate about the fact that to the extent that there was a belief that there was a need to protect the reserves that should be done and that there was absolutely no need for any criminal legislation dealing with this matter; protect the reserves and that is the end of it. Upon research it is pellucid to me that the law is unconstitutional in the criminal sentences and provisions that it provides.”
Two claims have been filed in the courts of Belize to challenge the constitutionality of the laws. Caribbean Investment Holding Limited, an Ashcroft related company filed one while the other was filed by the law firm of Courtenay. However, Courtenay is dealing with both matters.
“Upon research it is pellucid to me that the law is unconstitutional in the criminal sentences and provisions that it provides. I practice law as the constitution guarantees me, I have attorneys in my office who practice law and who have advised and who will advise in the future and they like me are at risk of criminal prosecution by this government and the CCJ has already declared that the provision that they have relied on is unconstitutional. The constitution of Belize says specifically in section 6 that you cannot create a criminal offence in relation to things that have happened already and that is what the law does. I have obligation to strike down that law, to ask the court to strike down that law to challenge that law as long as I believe that I am affected by it and as long as I believe that people around me may be affected by it and I want to respond specifically the question of a conflict of interest.”
The united Democratic Party wants Senator Courtenay to resign from the Senate citing conflict of interest. However, Courtenay says he sees no conflict of interest between what he does as a legal advisor and a PUP Senator.
“The People’s United Party and I maintain that we will do any and everything to protect the reserves of Belize. There is no change from that and there is no conflict with that. Now who has a conflict of interest ? I am saying to the media and to the public of Belize, the Prime Minister of this country is to declare to the people of Belize whether or not his law firm is a shareholder in Mr.Ashcroft’s company, I repeat, Is the Prime Minister’s law firm a shareholder in Mr.Ashcroft’s company, we need an answer to that.”
“Sir just as Lord Ashcroft can find anyone to defend him you as an attorney can decline defending him how do you justify your position as senator who is for the people or should be for the people defending a man who appears to at all cost wants to destroy Belize based on agreements that have been condemned by the CCJ our highest court.”
“First of all the CCJ referred to one agreement that is the first thing but look in the code of conduct of the legal profession and you will see what my obligation is and what is the obligation of any attorney? We have an obligation to take and represent people as long as we do not have any conflict of interest okay? and I don’t know what Mr.Ashcroft’s intensions is and you will have to talk to him about what his intention is I do not believe that he has any intention to destroy Belize. Collecting his debt is not destroying Belize.”
Courtenay is challenging the criminal aspect of the law.