Belize court throws out London arbitration ruling; Ashcroft Group to continue debt fight
Belize's Supreme Court has dismissed an application by the Belize Bank seeking to enforce an award against the government granted by the London Court of International Arbitration (LICA).
Attorney Denys Barrow, who represented the government during the hearing, said that when an international tribunal gives an arbitration award, it does not carry the same weight as a judgement of a court in Belize.
"It cannot be enforced by virtue of anything in the authority of the tribunal. It needs the authority of a Belize court which says that that award that you give, you may now enforce it in Belize as if it were a judgement of the court," said Barrow.
In her ruling, Justice Shona Griffith said that because the then administration did not seek the approval of parliament before signing the promissory note, the Belizean government could not be forced to honour the debt.
LICA in 2009 had awarded almost BDZ$40 million to the Ashcroft Group of Companies, owner of Belize Bank, in its case against the government.
Attorney Eamon Courtenay, one of the lawyers for the bank, said the financial institution would continue pursuing repayment of the debt.
"The Belize Bank is out of pocket. So it is not that the court has found that the government does not owe. An arbitral tribunal established that money is owed by the Government of Belize. The sole question was a technical one as to whether there was compliance with the Constitution," said Courtenay.
Privy Council decision
"At the end of the day, I can tell you this: There is no court that has said that the loan note is unconstitutional or invalid. In fact, you will recall that the Privy Council held that the loan note was not a violation of Section 7 of the Finance and Audit Reform Act, so I can expect that very shortly, the Belize Bank is going to institute another claim, and we are going to sue on the loan note to recover the debt that is owed to the bank," he said.
Courtenay also signalled that Belize Bank is prepared to fight the case up to the level of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Belize's final court of appeal.
"So while today is a victory of sorts for the government, it's not the end of this legal war by a long shot," he said.
Barrow said while he was also confident that the matter would reach the Caribbean Court, he believed the government would prevail.
"The government and the Ashcroft Group of Companies have been involved in, for want of a better word, a war - a legal war - and I think it has been going on now for over six years, so one has to put it in that context," said Barrow.
"I think one has to look at the fact that insofar as this particular piece of litigation is concerned, this is round one ... And I am fairly certain in predicting that whoever loses in the Court of Appeal will go to the CCJ," he added.