Pound of Flesh

Hilly Bennett


By Hilly Bennett

Thursday, May 23, 2019

“Go with me to a notary, seal me there your single bond and in a merry sport if you repay me not on such a day, in such a place, such sum or sums as are expressed in the condition, let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me.” (Merchant of Venice)

In an uncanny Shakespearean twist regarding the Sanctuary Belize saga, the Prime Minister, Dean Oliver Barrow is seemingly committing to a “pound of flesh or two” as victims compensation. This is in regard to the unfolding revelation behind the biggest real estate scam in US history. The question is whose pound of flesh. Developing concerns are that the citizens of the Jewel will once again be asked to bear the brunt for something which they were not party to.

During 2015-2016, the international banking community was jolted by the loss of corresponding banking relationships (CBR). The Banks scurried to find replacement CBRs and alternative ways of processing cross border transaction.

Recommendations were made to support the recovery of CBRs and restore investor confidence in Belize’s financial institutions. It was recommended that steps be taken to strengthen regulatory oversight, banking resolution and anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) frame works.

The apparent failure and total disregard of adhering to the check and balance recommendations have placed Belize and the entire banking system in the crosshairs of an economic threat.

There are three categories of threat to small vulnerable sovereign states including Belize – Territorial, Political and Economic. The likelihood based on court transcript of implicating government in this episode of a “bad cable movie” could cripple Belize’s economy as it relates to the foreign reserve at the Central Bank of Belize. The very remittances that the ordinary Belizeans depend on for their sustenance could be affected with another CBRs cut off. This torrid scenario could result in Dean Barrow and the UDP government frenzied request of a sovereign guarantee from the citizens. This would be a travesty for Belizeans especially the disadvantaged lot who are trying desperately to make ends meet

The major cast of characters involved are Sittee River Wildlife Reserve (SRWR), Sanctuary Bay, Echo Futures, Atlantic International bank (AIB), Professional Advisory Services Limited (PASL), Central Bank of Belize (CBB), former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources Gasper Vega, and Barrow and Williams Law Firm.

SRWR obtained a transfer certificate of title (TCT) for land. SRWR made application to Ministry of Lands to subdivide. Ministry of Lands is responsible to oversee subdivision, to look at plans which includes roads and other infrastructure. Sanctuary Bay (Echo Futures) conducts telemarketing to potential investors in Canada and USA. Deposits or whole payments were accepted for property. The monies were paid to a US company in California. Was the Exchange Control Regulation violated? Was the Law of Property followed?

AIB issues loan facilities/mortgages. What was accepted as securities for the land transaction? Did PASL as legal advisor do a proper investigation into the various land transaction included in AIB portfolios? What advice was given by PASL?

PASL is responsible for legal advice and relating services to AIB and Atlantic Bank. Sandra Bedran, Ricardo Pelayo are both attached to AIB and Atlantic Bank, Aldo Salazar is legal counsel to the Bank. These individuals have interest in PASL. Can their involvement be considered a conflict of interest?

There are indications, PASL outsourced legal services to Barrow & Williams whom represented Santuary Bay in initial proceedings. Is there the existence of a conflict of interest?

The regulatory body, the International Financial Services Commission (IFSC) headed by Rodwell Williams was clearly absent from the multi-layered financial transactions.  The IFSC have been capacitated to properly licence, supervise and when necessary enforce sanctions against licenced registered agents and financial services providers. The central purpose of IFSC is to reduce money laundering and terrorism financing and other financial risks.

Additionally, the Central Bank of Belize should have conducted risk-based supervision of the banking transactions as it relates to the Central Bank Act and the Exchange Control Regulation. It is this writer’s opinion that AIB triggered CBB to lift its licence. CBB should have sought guidance from the court as an interested party and not as litigant or party to the case. Any misstep on CBB/Government behalf could attract liability.

Interestingly, depositors are treated as unsecured creditors, unfortunately they will be the last to be dealt with. Evidently, necessary due diligence was not being followed and the non-adherence to the relevant regulatory procedures resulted in this Sanctuary Bay quagmire. There is also apparent political connectedness between relevant regulatory authorities, business entities and interest of conflicts in between.

The underlying reality is that ordinary Belizeans have nothing to do with this disgraceful real estate fraud, which has put scorn on the nation. The liability for any compensation is the burden of those individuals “bloated with greed, vanity and arrogance.” Let them pay with their own “pound or two of flesh.”