Today Senators debated the Central Bank of Belize International Immunities Bill 2017.The bill was first introduced during the Special Sitting of the House of Representatives on Friday. Dubbed the “Anti Aschroft” Bill, the piece of legislation seeks to protect foreign reserves held by the Central Bank of Belize in other countries. The passing of this bill is a direct response to the arbitration awards granted to Belize Social Development Ltd and BCB Holdings Ltd, two companies linked to British-Belizean billionaire Michael Ashcroft The awards are to the tune of fifty million US dollars and the government of Belize has resisted the US Judge ruling saying that the agreements made with those companies by the former administration. Belize Social Development Ltd has asked permission to enforce the arbitration award and to safe guard Belize’s foreign reserved from Aschroft, the Government decided to make it illegal for the Central Bank’s assets to the attached to litigation. The bill went through all three readings during today’s Senate Sitting.
Senator Rufino Lin
“First and foremost I want to make it unmistakably clear that the Private Sector is in full support of the objectives of the bill; that objective being to protect the financial assets of the Central Bank of Belize. To insulate our hard earned foreign reserves against insatiable predators who are not ashamed or morally constrained to seek enforcement of arbitral awards arising from an accommodation agreement that is egregious in nature and ruled as contrary to public policy by our highest court. I have read the accommodation agreement, I am familiar with the many financial allowances and economic benefits afforded and I cannot begin to understand how it is that two Belizeans, two powerful Belizeans can draft such a one sided agreement to the detriment of this country.”
Senator Ashley Rocke
“In our deliberation as the church, recently here in Belize, an institution of which name I will not mention now became defunct, there was obviously nothing to safeguard the assets of many Belizeans who had invested in the said unnamed company. In effect, many Belizeans lost huge portions of their savings and investments. We believe that both bills, the one now and the one to come, are necessary not merely for the equinity of the government but all Belizeans who engage in the financial service of the government as well and for that reason and many others, the church has decided to support the bill.”
Senator Osmany Salas
“ We are faced with the situation where if you don’t act immediately we know we stand for our foreign reserves to be frozen and the worst is that we stand to lose them all together which would create even more chaos in our national economy and could then undermine the wellbeing of our fellow citizens. You know I don’t think we have much of a choice, we may in fact be forced to support the bill due to the exigencies of the situation.
Senator Elena Smith
“But the truth of the matter is that both governments have made, if we want to say, some questionable decisions and we can also say that one government started the mess and the other added to the mess; that is the truth of the matter we can’t hide from that. As a result now Mr. President we are now at a place where we must ensure the protection of our assets and hence the reason for this bill. Failure to do so will surely be detrimental to our people and our country’s economy and there may be lots of repercussions if we don’t do what is necessary but the bottom line is that we are now between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
Senator Michael Peyrifitte
“ While senator Salas and Smith may not like some history that has brought us here to have to pass legislation to protect the assets of a body that the world knows and accept is immune, is a simple reason. We can assign blame all we want but the facts are clear. I want to borrow from a PUP field marshal when he said in this Honorable Chamber, may have been right where you are Senator Thompson, he said that the mess this country is in is because of the PUP; let’s not forget those words.”
Senator Eamon Courtenay
“Mr. President and colleagues whilst it is very easy to call names, make fun, find pejorative language to call people; it is important that we not miss the point and it is important that we not miss the context. I have to say that Senator Salazar, Salas did provide context with respect to this bill. What we don’t want is to bring Trump to Belize, we don’t want alternative history.
This new bill makes it illegal for someone to attempt to attach the Central Bank assets in litigation. The fine is two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or two years behind bars. UDP Senator Michael Peyrefitte who is also the Attorney General of Belize explained how that portion of law would work.
Senator Michael Peyrefitte
“Well there cannot be any criminal sanctions for challenging the law itself, if one wants to make a constitutional application to say that the laws that we have ratified here today are unconstitutional, well then the courts will decide that. If you don’t make that challenge but you attempt to do what the acts criminalize, then you will have to suffer the penalties that the acts articulate in them. Say for example then, there is a move on the reserves at the Central Bank, a mere attempt to do that such as the filling of papers, such as a board resolution, such as any move by any member of that company or person who is a Belizean to go after Central Bank assets, then that person immediately commits an attempt by their attempt to attach the assets. Now the other act is fairly simple, if you go all the way to the CCJ and you win a judgment against the government of Belize and you attempt to attach government assets that is fine because you have won but if you’ve lost and the CCJ has said that that foreign award is no good because its founded on an illegality and then you still nevertheless try to attach crown assets after our highest courts have said that your entire agreement was illegal, then that is just clear mischief and you want to do something that you are not allowed to do and the mere attempt to do that is also an offence.”
According to the Attorney General, only Belizeans and companies registered in Belize will be subjected to this new law. Peyrefitte, if the Belize Social and Development Limited, the Government would have a challenge in enforcing the law since they cannot ascertained
Senator Michael Peyrefitte
“Naturally we can only try to prescribe criminal penalties to Belizeans or Belizean companies and we can ascribe that criminal penalty to you whether you commit that act within the jurisdiction or not. So it would only apply to Belizeans, it would only apply to Belizean companies but naturally we would only go to arbitration for example or we would only be subjected to being sued by companies that are Belizean companies and by Belizean individuals. We don’t anticipate that anybody who would get these judgments against them would want to go still in defiance of the law when it comes to Central Bank’s assets, I don’t think they want to risk going to prison, there is a criminal attachment to it.”
“So in the case of these two companies can you share the background in the sense of being lawfully registered within Belize and so I’m not aware.
Senator Michael Peyrefitte
“You are not aware? Well Michael Ashcroft for example is a Belizean Citizen. British Caribbean Bank is a Belizean Company and registered in Belize. The only company that is the shadiest of them all is Belize Social Development but we cannot find any registration for them here in Belize as yet. We are told that they are registered somewhere in the BVI but other than that we cannot find them so we can determine who are the members and the directors of that company and also because there were several agreements that would be necessary for them to prove how come arbitration awards were given for them that we cannot locate and they refuse to turn over,so that is a challenge. BSDL will be a challenge because it is not a Belizean company however if it contains Belizean directors or Belizean advisors then we know that we can, for a lack of a better term, attach them for any actions that they want to take.”
Peyrefitte called for a division and like what happened in the House on Friday, in a rare occasion the bill was supported by all 13 senators. Tied to the Central Bank of Belize International Immunities Bill is the Crown Proceedings Amendment Act. Like the former, this amendment acts as a firewall against the Aschroft group of companies who are looking to get their hands on Belize’s foreign assets. The bill amends the Laws of Belize to prevent anyone from enforcing an international arbitration award that has been declared unconstitutional, illegal and void by Belizean courts. It makes the attempt illegal safeguarding Belize’s assets abroad. Speaking on the amendment were only UDP Senators, Steven Duncan and Michael Peyrefitte.
Senator Steven Duncan
“It occurs to me that with all that has happened and that all that has been done on behalf of that individual and his group by Belizeans, that it might be appropriate for us at this time to ask those same Belizeans to now go back to Lord Ashcroft and bring it to an end for us. Clearly there is only so much we can do in terms of legislation and litigation but in terms of what has been done in the past and what we now need as a country, those Belizeans that have assisted Lord Ashcroft in getting this far and in getting to where we are today, is it time for us to ask those Belizeans to use their energies, talents and gifts? A lot of which they have acquired through being Belizeans, that they use those now to assist us in bringing this whole fiasco to an end.”
Senator Michael Peyrefitte
“Imagine you have an individual he gets an arbitration award abroad comes to our courts to get it enforce, all of our courts say you cannot get it enforced because it is wrong but you don’t want to hear that. This is an individual who does not accept losing, he does not accept that what he has done was wrong, he doesn’t accept it. So our courts can say whatever they want in the eyes of this individual he believes that he is above everything in Belize. He doesn’t have to respect our courts, our parliament nothing. So what do we have to do? We have to make it clear in legislation that if you don’t respect it, you will go to jail, if you don’t respect our courts how can you lose in our court, all the way to the CCJ and you lose and then you go to some foreign jurisdiction and you become a part of a process where that foreign jurisdiction then turns around and disrespects our own CCJ. What are those foreign courts saying? What is he saying? He is a Belizean but does not want to abide by the laws of Belize and the judgments given by our highest courts. Come on man that is unacceptable.”
Senator Duncan asked for a division and the amendment was supported by all the senators.