Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh of Belize has ordered the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to cease its freeze on Carib Sports' checking accounts because the U.S. had requested the freeze before it was prepared prosecute on laundering charges.
The freeze was originally put into place last Thursday because the United States Department of Justice informed Belize's FIU that it had strong evidence indicating that the sports book was engaged in money laundering. The freeze left the company unable to access any funds in any of its banking accounts accounts, making it unable to pay employees, bills, and winning players.
According to Carib's head lawyer, Dean Barrow, the Chief Justice decided that the freeze must be lifted because the United States gave no indication how soon they planned press charges against the company. Belize's law requires an ongoing or imminent prosecution before the assets of any company or individual may be seized.
"While Belize signed a treaty with the US," Barrow told 7News in Belize, "the legislature has not introduced that treaty into domestic laws so the courts cannot consider it. And under the money-laundering act, before a court can seize assets, the applicants, in this case the FIU, must show that a prosecution-- a criminal prosecution-- against whose asset you want to freeze, is either ongoing or imminent. The affidavit they filed yesterday from the United States said that while it is their intention to charge these people, they gave no timeline so they couldn't tell the court, and on that narrow basis the chief justice said the pre-conditions of the act were never satisfied and he threw it out."
The decision means that all have Carib's funds have been completely restored and the company can return to full operations.
Last Friday the company won a smaller victory when Chief Justice Conteh ruled that Carib's funds should be temporarily unblocked so that it could pay its 80 employees.
The Supreme Court hearings both last Friday and today incited Carib’s staff of employees to protest with pickets and placards outside the Supreme Court. One protestor said, "They are trying to take away 80 Belizean jobs from us. All of us have families, jobs, and loans. We need the Belizean government to stand behind its people."