Black Immigrant Daily News
A new offshore player, Countach Technologies Ltd., sent a scathing letter to the Government of Belize just one day after attorneys of Brads Gaming Group Limited responded to CEO Narda Garcia’s letter with a 12-page missive. That document is currently being reviewed by the government’s legal team, PM Briceño says.
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Jan. 25, 2023
A 12-page letter from the lawyers representing Brads Gaming Group Limited (BGGL) was sent to the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, on January 20, 2023, in response to a letter, dated December 23, 2022, that was sent to the company by the Lotteries Committee’s chairperson, Narda Garcia. In the January 20, 2023 letter to the government, former Prime Minister and Senior Counsel Dean Barrow of Barrow and Williams law firm addressed each of the alleged breaches of the terms of the contract granted to the company that had been outlined by Garcia in her letter, in which she alluded to a possible revocation of the company’s license due to those breaches.
Among the breaches listed by Garcia was the company’s failure to develop a system, in coordination with the Income Tax Department and the Lotteries Committee, for the collection, recording and reporting of sales data, as is mandated. The letter further stated that there was no indication that the company had made any effort to compile, record and verify accurate sales data, or that it attempted to reach out to consult with the Income Tax Department and Lotteries Committee on the creation of the system.
The letter also pointed to other lapses in the company’s financial reporting. While all licensees must submit a statement of monthly revenues to the Commissioner of Income Tax and send a copy to the Lotteries Committee, in addition to presenting a statement at the end of the financial year outlining how the government’s share of the profits was calculated, the financial reports submitted by Brads, according to Garcia, were either late or incomplete. She made mention of instances when monthly reports were sent more than a year after the specified deadline. The company allegedly submitted monthly reports for the period between March 31, 2020, and October 31, 2021, in November of 2021, according to the leaked letter. Those reports were to have included data on sales, commissions paid to agents, and the company’s expenses.
Other breaches outlined by Garcia included the absence of a system for the electronic sales of tickets (something the company was to have set up) and the lack of any evidence indicating that the company contracted the services of an independent lottery expert to audit the lottery processes—which was to have been done in consultation with the Lotteries Committee.
The Response to Garcia’s Letter
In addition to Barrow’s letter which attempted to address those breaches, a second letter was sent the following day by a new shareholder which acquired a portion of the company and which is also being represented by Barrow. That company, Countach Technologies Limited, is an offshore company that is said to be registered in Grand Cayman, a British overseas territory.
In its letter, the Cayman offshore shareholder of BGGL threatens to invoke the 1982 bilateral agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Belize for the Promotion and Protection of Investments, also known as the UK-BIT treaty, if the Government of Belize revokes the license granted by the previous Barrow administration to Brads Gaming Group Limited. They claim that it would “constitute a wrongful interference with Countach’s holdings in Brads Gaming Group Limited.”
The treaty provides protection to British investors in Belize. (The offshore company, registered in Grand Cayman, a British overseas territory, is covered by the treaty.) And the letter claims that revocation of Brads’ license would “amount to seizure/expropriation of Countach assets and could result in our client’s recourse to the protective provisions of the BIT.” Article 8 of the BIT treaty obliges parties to settle disputes via arbitration.
The same treaty has been referenced by Lord Michael Ashcroft, who, in a January 2022 letter to the Prime Minister, made mention of it when he warned the government of possible litigation if approval was not granted to Waterloo Investment Holdings’ proposal for the construction of a cruise terminal at the Port of Belize.
The Accusations, and the Looming Face-off
At this time, PM Briceño said, the government’s legal team is going over the lengthy letter. The government has not yet issued a response to the company, but it seems that both parties are preparing for likely litigation.
When questioned by local reporters about the possible lawsuit, Prime Minister Briceño remarked, “I think it’s the mother of all ironies that the former prime minister is going to be defending something like this. He knows that Belizeans would want us to be able to benefit more from that, so he has responded, and now the technical team, the attorneys are looking at it and whatever recommendation they might give, then we will look at it as a Cabinet and make the final decision.”
He further stated, “I think the first thing that needs to be asked to the former prime minister, how can you give the Belize Boledo to an offshore company? Who are the beneficiaries of that company? I mean, he should be ashamed of something like that. But he can enact anything that he wants; we are a country and we live by rules of law, and if the company is not living up to the commitments, it could have been the King of England who has ownership on that—it does not matter, you are not living up to the commitments.”
Former Prime Minister Barrow believes that the government is determined to revoke the 10-year license granted to the company in 2020 – a few months before the UDP administration headed by Barrow was defeated at the polls by the PUP in the general elections in November of that year. He also claims that the current administration had been alluding to revocation of the license while it was still the Opposition, and referred to its efforts to now carry out such a revocation as a sort of “vendetta”.
“We believe that the government will cancel the license via the Lotteries Committee. We believe that they will be entirely wrong to do so. We believe that when we go to court to challenge that revocation that we will have, we will be in an excellent position to be able to show that in and of itself, the justification offered cannot stand, but that over and above that, you look at the history, you look at the background, you look at what was said. You look at the other action of the government in terms of trying to tax Brads, the license, out of existence, that all that is material upon which we think a court will decide that any revocation is improper and would therefore support a claim for damages,” Prime Minister Dean Barrow said in an interview this week.
As mentioned previously, PM Briceño considers Barrow’s legal representation of BGGL ironic since it was under his administration that the exclusive agreement was awarded to Brads Gaming Group Limited on April 1, 2020. “We wrote to them late [last] year, and to the end of [the] year we wrote to them again saying, ‘well we believe that you still have not lived up to the commitments that you made in the contract’,” PM Briceño said.
When asked by 7News’ director Jules Vasquez about the striking similarities between the tactics being deployed by Countach and those brandished by Lord Ashcroft-related companies, which includes a strategy through which they “concatenate their holdings in a series of offshore companies, shell companies where it is impossible to determine who the legitimate owner is and then simultaneously invoking an international treaty and arbitration if it follows to bring the government to its knees,” Barrow noted that the offshore company became a partial owner of Brads Gaming Group Limited after the license had been granted to the company by the Barrow administration.
When Vasquez responded by asking, “But might it have done so as a hedge against what it knew the Briceño administration might want to [do to] it and in so doing is that not an Ashcroft Alliance-type strategy?” Barrow replied, “Well, I don’t know if you can call it an Ashcroft Alliance strategy. I don’t know what motivated Countach to invest in Brads, and so I am not in any position really to unravel that particular arrangement. The fact is that because there is the right of Countach to invoke the treaty, avoid the international arbitration, avoid any prospect of being dragged before any of the other international arbitration tribunals and settle with these people.”
Barrow was also asked about allegations that a close relative of his has been a partial owner of Brads Gaming Group Limited.
It must be noted that former Brads Gaming Company shareholder, Good Lee Ltd., is no longer in the picture. That company was dissolved just days before the 2020 general election. While under similar ownership, Brads Gaming Group Limited is, in fact, a new company, a second rebranded version of Brads, with additional offshore shareholders.
Senior Counsel Barrow has said that the government should state what he believes is its real position: “We think that Brads ought to have never to have gotten this license. We are taking it away,” and simply fulfill its obligation to compensate the company for the lost license. Barrow further insisted that the company “got the license transparently.”
The PUP administration, which referred to the granting of the license as a “sweetheart deal” and suggested that Anwar Barrow, former prime minister Dean Barrow’s son, is a majority shareholder in the company (which has not been proven), is yet to state what position it will take in response to the legal threats. Barrow argued this week that even assuming his son was involved, a legal precedent was set in a case involving the Prime Minister, his brother, and their interest in Speednet LTD with a ruling by the court that as long as a contract is “properly awarded there is no basis for any kind of legal complaint.”