Banks bogged down in Belize

Barbadian company, Banks Holdings Limited, has become embroiled in fresh controversy involving its multi-million investment in the Belize citrus industry.

Barbados TODAY has learnt that relations between BHL, a minority shareholder in Citrus Products of Belize Limited, and its partner in that company, the Citrus Growers Association, have so soured that the CGA has turned to the Dean Barrow administration there for help in buying out Bank’s 47 per cent stake in the company.

And indications from BHL Chief Executive Officer, Richard Cozier, were that his organisation was open to an offer to buy, saying the relationship had been faced with difficulty for the past two years.

The situation in Belize has become so contentious that last week the CGA’s membership publicly protested against Banks, the running of CPBL, and some members of the Government.

In a statement sent to this publication, the CGA said: “Today we find ourselves in a lopsided and dysfunctional relationship with Banks Holdings Limited of Barbados, an entity that … has failed to deliver on its side of the bargain, as all value added projects are losing money and yet to turn a profit.”

It also accused the Barbadian company of colluding “within Belize Citrus Mutual to take actions to bankrupt the CGA by attacking our revenue streams and having CPBL owned Groves to resign from the membership of the CGA”.

As a result of this and other issues, the company publicly called on Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his cabinet to “tangibly support the CGA and its growers in their vision to transform our industry from a citrus juice industry to a tropical fruit juice industry by assisting with the buying out of the Banks Holdings Limited shares in CPBL”.

But speaking in an interview with Barbados TODAY, a surprised Cozier said Banks wanted the investment it got involved with in 2006, and in which it had invested millions of dollars to work, but that it appeared the CGA saw them as enemy number one.

This, he added, was despite the fact that CPBL was making money.

“They see us as the great Satan, or so it would appear, because everything that has gone wrong has in some form or fashion been Bank’s fault,” he said. He also disclosed that his company was open to any offer to sell its shares, but was yet to receive one after receiving signals about it for the past year.

“Banks has not made a decision whether it is going to sell or not, but if an offer comes in we would have to consider it, as we would any offer that comes in. So if they want to buy our share make us an offer and then I will carry the offer to the board, and the board will look at the offer in the context of what is on our books and what the future prospects are and so on and then get back to them,” he said.

“But we have received no offer, all we can tell them is ‘If you want to buy our shares, make us an offer!’. We tried going through the route of signing off a letter of intent, where if you want to buy our shares these are some of the things we need to see. We couldn’t agree on that so we are still at phase one in that respect.

Cozier described the current issues which led to last week’s protest as “unfortunate”. Belize’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture also

expressed surprise at the turn of events involving the citrus growers, since one day before their protests the CGA’s members met with the ministry and held discussions which ministry officials called “respectful and positive”.

“The ministry is aware that tension surrounding ownership and operations of CPBL has been brewing for some time, including protracted legal actions in the courts of Belize. However, we urge maximum restraint and positive dialogue as the means to bridge these differences. The Government of Belize will continue to act as facilitator to help resolve these issues as quickly and amicably as possible,” the ministry said in a statement. (SC)

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