March 27, 2005 — Political and legal turmoil continues to prevail in the ongoing, three-sided battle for the control of Belize Telecommunications Ltd., the once and perhaps future cash cow for Jeffrey Prosser, owner of the Virgin Islands Telephone Co.
The situation, reported upon in great detail and passion by the Belizean media, seems to be as follows:
The Government of Belize (GOB), deeply in debt, has, at the moment, operational control of the phone company, described by some as the most prosperous company in the Central American republic.
Lord Michael Ashcroft, a member of Britain's House of Lords and formerly in control of BTL, is making a major effort to buy back shares in the company. He had sold his controlling interest to GOB about a year ago.
Prosser has secured rulings in a U.S. court in Miami that his directors should be reinstalled in Belize; on Feb. 9 GOB had ousted his directors on the grounds that Prosser and his companies had not paid GOB the $57 million owed for the block of shares controlled by Prosser.
On Wednesday the Belizean Prime Minister, Said Musa, announced that GOB had signed an agreement with Lord Ashcroft to sell him "fifteen percent of BTL. The shares . . . to come out of the fifty-two percent of the company that GOB repossessed from Jeffrey Prosser for nonpayment" according to News 5, a television station owned, co-incidentally, by Lord Ashcroft. 7News Belize.com, a rival TV station, added that the "settlement agreement with Ashcroft's Carlisle Group [will] write off the $12 million in business tax that the Belize Bank [also owned by Ashcroft] owes."
Meanwhile, on the judicial front, two different courts took two quite different stands on Prosser's claim to the local phone company. Sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages has granted a temporary injunction ordering GOB to restore control of BTL to directors appointed by the Florida-based Innovative Communication Corp.; currently Prosser's attorneys are arguing that Belize should be cited for contempt of court for failing to do what the judge ordered, while attorneys for Belize have argued, in a brief obtained by the Source, that GOB is technically not in contempt of the court order.
Earlier, the Supreme Court of Belize had ruled that the Miami court's decisions did not apply to Belize, a sovereign nation. The two sets of decisions, at a time when much of America is paying attention to basketball, gives new meaning to that sport's term "home court advantage".
Lanny Davis, Prosser's attorney is quoted by Channel 7 as saying that GOB's "sale of the shares to Ashcroft is not valid."
The report continued: "… Davis insists that the Government will have to answer to a Miami court on Monday [March 28] for contempt."
Meanwhile, the Belize print press is paying a substantial amount of attention to the story.
Two publications, that routinely disagree on everything, both printed the same photograph in their most recent editions.
The publications are the "Belize Times," a steady supporter of the Prime Minister, Said Musa, and "The Guardian," which is owned by the opposition party. Both printed a photograph of a poster created by BTL employees, all union workers, which read, in Creole:
"Ashcroft and Prosser Back Off !!!!! We Noh Want Uno Yah!!! G.O.B. Resolve This Issue And Mek We The Employees Get BTL Now !!!"
With "Uno Yah" probably being the second person plural, a local version of "you all" or "youse guys."
"The Guardian" also carried another graphic, a photocopy of what it described as an invoice dated June 30, 2004 from ICC's office in Florida to BTL for $BZ4,179,800 for what the paper termed "unnecessary and perhaps phantom services provided to BTL in 'obtaining new Belize Licensing' for BTL."
The Belizean dollar is worth about fifty cents in U.S. currency, so the invoice came to over US$2 million. The newspaper did not report on whether the invoice had been paid or not.
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