By Alexis R. Milan
The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Government of Belize to unfreeze all the assets of four offshore companies which it seized during a police sweep on September ninth.
On that day Police invaded the fourth floor of the Matalon Building on Coney Drive and carried off computers and truckloads of documents belonging to the four companies.
In handing down his ruling, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin said that all the assets should be unfrozen and returned to the owners because of the total lack of evidence to support allegations of money laundering activity.
Counsel Godfrey Smith, attorney for Bahamians, Kelvin Leach and Rohn Knowles, pointed out that for the FIU freeze to be lawful his clients would have had to be charged. But no charges were ever brought against any of the defendants.
Smith added that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which ordered the freeze will now have to pay a claim for compensation and damages.
“It is our view that this was prompted by the US government. The cost of course will be paid by Belizean taxpayers, not the US government,” Smith added.
Michael Young, attorney representing Canadian businessman Jim Can and Unicorn International Securities, said that the assets that have been unfrozen include money that had been lodged in Belizean banks, as well as other property in the country.
Young said the ruling by the Chief Justice was a significant one. He said it reinforced the view that the property of companies registered in Belize may not be seized based on foreign allegations.
“There are constitutional protections which are enjoyed by persons who live and do business in this country,” Young added.
Young added that the arguments presented by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to the Court did not meet a threshold sufficient to justify the freezing of the companies’assets under the law.
“The FIU has now received clear judicial guidance”, he said, “as to how its powers are to be exercised, because if you exercise powers, which interfere with the citizens’ right to do business, you have to do so in compliance with the law.”
Counsel Eamon Courtenay, attorney for Titan Securities, said he thought the decision handed down was an excellent judgement. Courtenay said his clients were very happy with the unfreezing and added that there will be a claim for damages against the government of Belize to recover losses.
Courtenay, who also represents Kelvin Leach, noted that they still have the extradition request for the two Bahamians to deal with.
Several months prior to the FIU action in Belize, Bahamians Kelvin Leach and Rohn Knowles, Canadian Brian De Wit, Belizean, Andrew Godfrey and American, Robert Bandfield were indicted in a New York federal court on charges of money laundering and securities fraud to the tune of some $500 million.
The companies named in the indictment include IPC Corporate Services, Titan Brokerage, and Legacy Global Markets. All are offshore financial companies doing business on the fourth floor of the Matalon Building on Coney Drive.which are all registered on the fourth floor of the Matalon office building on Coney Drive. Unicorn International Services has its corporate headquarters at Gordon House, a business complex also on Coney Drive in Belize City.