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GOB takes Ashcroft Alliance for 100 Million Dollars Print E-mail
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Thursday, 10 May 2018 00:00

Justice Courtney Abel has heard opening arguments in the first of a three-day trial in the claim that the Government controlled company, Sunshine Holdings Limited, has made against the Government of Belize and the Ashcroft Alliance.

The company is seeking restitution, and it is asking trace the monetary compensation, to the tune of over 100 million dollars, which the Government paid to the Ashcroft-allied, Dean Boyce and the Trustees of the BTL Employees Trust in the settlement of the fight over BTL. They want the money to be paid to Sunshine, instead of the BTL Employees Trust, which means that they want the Ashcroft entity to pay them that money which they assert was never theirs.

The fight over this compensation money dates back to the settlement agreement, which the Barrow Administration finalized in November 2017. That’s when GOB paid the last installment toward the 500+ million dollars to Lord Michael Ashcroft. It signaled the end an 8-year series of legal battles over the company which the Barrow Government famously nationalized on behalf of the people of Belize.

The BTL Employees Trust was paid that 100+ million dollars in compensation for shares belonging to Sunshine Holdings Limited. This was a company that was under the Ashcroft Group up until the Government took over control of BTL in 2009. The Government acquired the shares belonging to Sunshine, and from that moment on, it became a Government controlled company. Sir. Manuel Esquivel and Nester Vasquez were later named as directors of the company, and according to Vasquez, at this time, he is the only director of Sunshine.

The Government controlled Sunshine of today is asserting that the Barrow Government made a big mistake when it paid the Employees Trust that money in compensation. They say that the way the company operated under the Ashcroft Alliance is that there were only 2 shares in Sunshine: 1 for Dean Boyce, and the other for the Employee’s Trust. The Government acquired those 2 shares, and that’s how the company came under their control. Nestor Vasquez and Sunshine asserts that Dean Boyce and the Employees Trust never owned the 11 million shares in BTL for which they were compensated by the Government. They say that these BTL shares belonged to the company itself, and not to those who once controlled the company. So, from their perspective, the compensation for BTL shares should have gone to Sunshine, and not to Boyce and the Trust, who are the previous owners of Sunshine. Their stance is that the compensation payment was to be paid to Sunshine, which is being directed by Nestor Vasquez.

Sunshine’s attorney, Rodwell Williams, spent the morning of Wednesday, May 9-which was the first day of this case-laying out Sunshine’s reasoned arguments. His job is to try to convince the judge to order the restitution of those tens of millions which were paid to Dean Boyce and the Trustees of the Employees Trust. Justice Courtney Abel listened intently and challenged him on the merits of his argument, and why it was that Sunshine didn’t make a claim for compensation, which all claims were being taken by the Government during the settlement period. He explained that Sunshine tried to join the litigation over BTL which ended up all the way at the Caribbean Court of Justice, but they were not allowed because by that time, it was already too late. He added that Sunshine’s principals were satisfied with a promise that Government will properly compensate them when the time came for that. They realized that the Government did not do as they promised, and so, this case was brought to seek the proper recourse.

Two witnesses were called to testify, including Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, and under cross examination, Eamon Courtenay, attorney for the BTL Employees Trust, challenged him on the true nature of the relationship between the Government and the Sunshine of today. It appeared that he was attempting to make the point that Sunshine suing the Attorney General’s Ministry is the Government suing itself. He also questioned Waight about the fact that Sunshine and its director, Nestor Vasquez, never submitted a claim for compensation, which they ought to have done. Also, in previous comments, Courtenay told the press that the stance of the Employees Trust on this issue is that this Sunshine issue is already covered in the BTL Settlement Agreement.

It’s an important case for Sunshine, and by extension the Government, because Sunshine has a debt of 20 million dollars that it has to pay to the Social Security Board, and the Government itself. These were loans which Sunshine, under the Ashcroft Alliance, made back in the days of the Said Musa Government Administration, so that the company could buy the shares in BTL. The company is broke, and it needs part of the compensation payment, at the very least, to pay those debts off.

The case continues on Thursday, May 10, and it finally concludes on Friday, May 11, when judgment will be reserved.