The Government of Belize is going through an admitted financial lull, and a decision handed down in the Supreme Court yesterday certainly will not be welcome.
On Wednesday afternoon, after a short session in chambers with attorneys for Melonie Coye and the Commissioner of Income Tax; Justice Courtney Abel ruled that GOB must return $2.8 million of the $3.2 million seized in March 2014 from the Coye family assets.
That $3.2 million was demanded by the Commissioner of Income Tax after assessments on monies seized from the Coye family, who were convicted of money laundering in 2012 and released on appeal in 2014. Attorney Eamon Courtenay was retained by the family to file suit against the Commissioner of Income Tax on the basis that there was no basis for him to assess $3.2 million in taxes making the seizure unlawful.
Emerging from Court Wednesday, Courtenay said: “the Judge agreed with us and in fact declared that the decision by the Commissioner to assess them for $3.2 million dollars was unlawful and arbitrary.”
Instead, a new assessment was done which came up with a figure of $699,000 due in taxes. But Courtenay argued that the monies, held so long, had generated interest of $300,000, and thus a final figure due back to the Coye family of $2.8 million was handed down.
The path to this decision, and financial vindication for the Coye family, has been a long and convoluted one. Coye and her father, Michael Coye were convicted of money laundering in 2012 after authorities discovered $1.5 million in cash at their family home on New Year’s Eve, 2008.
In addition to seizing that money, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) also froze cash assets in accounts held under the family’s company, Money Exchange International, totaling approximately $6.5 million. In 2014 the money laundering charge was struck down in the Court of Appeal, and since then, the family has been back and forth to court trying to recover monies which they claimed had been taken from them unlawfully.
The reality, though, is that while a decision by the Court is one thing, actually enforcing that order to pay is quite another. Court precedent has shown that in the past, GOB has held off on payment for years, even after orders to make payment.
Courtenay, a Senior Counsel, has taken that into account, he said. He claims that he will take all necessary steps to ensure that his client receives what is due to her: “We do appreciate that government does not have $2.8 million to give us immediately. We’re in the budget process at the moment so the government is aware of this debt. It is important and we will communicate to the Financial Secretary that at least some provision has to be made in this budget cycle for a substantial payment to the client and then the balance over a period of time.”
Leaving Court, Coye told the Reporter “It has been a very long journey for us as a family and we’re very happy to say that our names have been cleared and also I know my dad is looking out from above and he is seeing that finally justice has been done for us and that we’re happy to get back whatever was taken unlawfully. So we’re happy. I’m happy at this point and I can move forward from here and the family as well.”
Michael Coye died in 2013, five days after he was freed from the Belize Central Prison on bail, pending the eventually success appeal of his conviction.