By Aaron Humes
The Government of Belize removed the International Merchant Marine Registry (IMMARBE) and International Business Companies Registries from the control of the Michael Ashcroft-allied Belize International Services Limited (BISL) in June, alleging that the previous administration had signed an invalid extension to the original agreement.
Despite charges that Government officials knew and signed off on the extension, the Government justified the takeover on the grounds of not running a foul of international sanctions.
Another thorny subject is the tax regime for the two registries. GOB charged that the company owed 22 years of taxes adding up to $30 million dollars.
BISL charged that they in fact only owe taxes from 2007, and say GOB is unlawfully trying to collect taxes that successive administrations had agreed not to collect under the 1993 Master Agreement, a tactic used previously against companies standing in the way of this administration.
BISL has now taken GOB to court for an injunction to block the collection. According to Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, attorney for BISL, the Income and Business Tax Act puts the onus on the company to pay what it owes before filing a grievance.
“It is clearly an unlawful and arbitrary assessment and we have challenged it,” Courtenay said, adding, “you have to pay to play and we are saying that is unconstitutional because the effect of that is to bar a party who does not have $30 million or someone who doesn’t have $10,000.
“You cannot then dispute an assessment and you are obliged to pay. Under the income and business tax, once an assessment is raised by the commissioner, the commissioner is obliged to collect it and therefore, you have a situation where you can’t pay to have your matter challenged but at the same time he is obliged to collect it from you and the income and business tax has very coercive powers that are available to the commissioner to deploy against Belize International Services.”
In court before Justice Rita Joseph-Olivetti, the Government agreed to hold back on the collection.
The Government made a formal objection to the application and in return for an undertaking to not proceed with the assessment, agreed to hear both the issue related to the objection and the injunction held at a date to be set.
Courtenay told reporters that it would be “a while” before the case is next heard, and did not indicate whether a challenge to the nationalizations of the registries will be filed.