Sunday, September 27, 2009

Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are!

"If home is where the heart is, then Belize is my home." -Lord Michael Ashcroft

I'm confused.

This is the accurate state of mind for anyone trying to disentangle Michael Ashcroft's usual murky maze of corporate relationships. In this particular case, Ashcroft emphatically claims not to have anything to do with Telemedia, but keeps popping up like the proverbial bad penny.

The Hayward Charitable Trust, reputed owner of 70% of Telemedia, is, if you click on its website, a joke. Proof of the joke is the hastily put together homepage, which states "The Hayward Charitable Trust was set up in 2009 by MAA [Michael Anthony Ashcroft] to help do some good stuff for people who live in Belize. This includes paying for some buildings BLAH BLAH BLAH etc. etc. Insert text here." It also has "Our current projects include building a shrubbery, one that looks nice, and not too expensive." It is interesting to note that while we've been hearing about the Hayward Trust for some time, it is only in 2009 that it was set up.

This 'joke' is apparently tied in with several companies having links to Ashcroft, and has lawyers in common with Ashcroft. According to his spokesman, Ashcroft helped set up the trust for the benefit of charities and Telemedia employees. Now, according to this week's Reporter newspaper, their lawyers are pressing for action using the UK-Belize Bilateral Investment Treaty of 1982, Article 5 of which apparently states that "investments of nationals or companies of either Contracting Party shall not be nationalised, expropriated or subjected to measures having effect equivalent to nationalisation or expropriation."

So my question here is, who is the UK national or company bringing the action? Those of you who live overseas may not be familiar with Ashcroft's typically opaque way of doing business, but here we have the brand-new (2009) Hayward Charitable Trust owning approximately 70% of Telemedia, supposedly for Belizeans and therefore by inference Belizean, but there has to be a UK national or corporation involved in order to bring suit under the terms of the UK-Belize BIT. A release from Hayward Charitable Belize Trust sent to local media and posted on the blog Developing Telecoms Watch (and probably a million other places) states that Hayward indirectly owns 70% of Telemedia and "is entitled to protection of its interests under international law and it will invoke the Investment Treaty between the United Kingdom and Belize to ensure that it is afforded such protection." However, searches for a UK-based Hayward Charitable Trust do not yield anything that mentions aid to Belize charities or Telemedia employees. Hopefully someone can clear up this omission.

Now that you're as confused as I am, let me summarize: an unheard-of Belizean or UK charity, which has zero visibility except as the reputed owner of Telemdia, is invoking its rights, which it may or may not have under a treaty our successive governments forgot to cancel. Michael Ashcroft may or may not be involved, but while he's highly visible in the matter, says he has nothing to do with the thing, except as advisor. Ashcroft, a dual citizen, is able to use his dual nationality to absolute advantage in two countries, which reminds me: don't we have a suddenly silent question still pending on dual citizens in high places?

I can't wait for the next few chapters.

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