Tuesday, February 7, 2017
United States District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Monday, February 6th authorized a motion made by BCB Holdings Ltd. to have an arbitral award of US$27.4 million (with interest) enforced even as the Government of Belize seeks to avoid payment.
The order by Judge Kollar-Kotelly follows on the US Supreme Court’s refusal on January 10, 2017 to review the matter upon request of the Government of Belize (GOB). It also comes despite last Friday’s urgent injunction granted by Belize Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana to prevent BCB from getting the order enforced.
According to Law360 online news, after hearing from both sides, the Federal Judge ruled that sufficient time has passed since 2015 when US courts confirmed the award against GOB. The effect of Monday’s judgment by Judge Kollar-Kotelly is that the Ashcroft alliance can now move to attach Belize’s property in the US. At the same time, according to Law360, the Judge “denied BCB’s bid for an anti-suit injunction barring Belize from going to its local courts to restrain BCB from enforcing the award, saying such an order wasn’t necessary since they are generally meant to protect a court’s jurisdiction and that was no longer at risk.” Judge Kollar-Kotelly cited that “although the actions of the [Government of Belize] are apparently aimed at preventing petitioners from enforcing the judgment of this court, at this time they do not interfere with this court’s jurisdiction.”
With the authorization for enforcement, no other issue is outstanding in US courts as it relates to this case. However, it is left to be seen how the situation unfolds as the Government of Belize has signed into law two pieces of legislation that criminalize any move by any person or company registered in Belize to attach foreign assets of Belize. The effect of such a move, as described by GOB’s attorney, Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, would be economic chaos.
Speaking after Friday’s court session, Barrow clarified, “a Court in Belize does not tell a Court in the United States…what it can do or what it cannot do. It tells only persons who have the jurisdictional connection in Belize, in particular Belizean nationals, which these two companies are, what you can and cannot do in relation to the jurisdiction of this court.” He added, “we did not give away the rights of our court to say to BCB Holdings that you are bound by the decision of our legal system. So, if there is a judgment of our legal system which says to you, companies, that you must not seek to enforce the judgment that you have gotten abroad, then that decision of our court binds those persons who are subject to our jurisdiction.” According to S.C. Barrow, “if they disobey this judgment—this injunction, then all sorts of consequences can happen” including the punishment outlined in the legislation.
The other Ashcroft company, Belize Social Development Limited (BSDL), has filed a similar suit to have their US$22.5m award enforced in D.C. but on Sunday, the Government of Belize asked that the request be denied arguing that it was overly broad and vague. A similar brief was filed the same day in relation to the BCB matter with the now known outcome as per Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s order Monday.