June 17, 2005 — A substantial block of shares in Belize Telecommunications Ltd., once controlled by Jeffrey Prosser's Innovative Communication Corporation, is about to be sold by the Government of Belize to Lord Ashcroft, the British entrepreneur who used to own them, and to individual Belizeans.
ICC, one of the largest employers in the Virgin Islands, is the parent company of Vitelco, the V.I. phone company, now called Innovative Telephone.
According to both Belize television stations Thursday night, the block of shares constitutes 37.5 percent of the BTL stock. This is the block of stock that ICC secured with a promissory note for $57 million; the note was not paid, and in February the Belize Government seized the stock. ICC then sued the Government of Belize in U.S. District Court in Miami.
It is not clear at this point what portion of the 37.5 percent would go to the wealthy Ashcroft and what portion to individuals in Belize. Given that Ashcroft already owns a substantial piece of the company, today's move will presumably give him majority ownership.
"We were not able to determine the actual percentages, but it is virtually assured that Ashcroft will buy enough to give him majority ownership of the company," said News5 in Belize, a station owned by Ashcroft.
This leaves ICC with a minority stake in BTL, which it had purchased earlier with cash.
Regarding the ongoing trial in Miami, a report on 7news in Belize stated that ICC "is suing the Government of Belize, arguing essentially that it is entitled to those shares and if not, it should be awarded damages."
So far the trial in Miami has been an expensive one for the Belize Government. In an unusual move, the government had earlier agreed to accept the jurisdiction of the federal court in order to borrow millions from a Miami bank to buy the stock from Ashcroft for resale to Prosser. Then the court ruled that Prosser's four BTL directors were to be restored to their positions; when the Belize Government moved slowly on this point, the court laid down a $50,000 daily fine for contempt of court.
The Belizean media have been highly critical of the Belize Government for finding itself in this position. Meanwhile, Belize Prime Minister Said Musa has also been widely criticized for the nation's financial condition, which has drawn the negative attention of the International Monetary Fund.
Recently the Belize Government added two new elements to its Miami legal team: the firm of Moscowitz Moscowitz & Magolnick and prominent appellate lawyer Joel Perwin.
Hunton & Williams, the Virginia-based firm that worked alone on the case early on, remains on the case.
The announcement of the planned sale of the stock leaves several issues up in the air: Will the BTL board — now deadlocked 4-4, between Prosser, on one hand, and the Belize Government and Ashcroft on the other — be reconstituted? Also, what happens to a lease that ICC worked out with BTL — a lease that was used by ICC to secure payments of $500,000 a month for 49 months in a proposed agreement between ICC and the former minority shareholders of ICC's predecessor company? (See "Who Owes How Much to Whom in Belize and Elsewhere?".)
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