The Government of Belize did another pair of nationalizations – and this time, it’s Immarbe and the IBC Registry – both foreign owned entities that control and operate the entire offshore business sector in Belize.
Let’s start with Immarbe – that’s the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize, which sells the Belizean Flag as a flag of convenience to international vessels. That’s the one that we’ve been reporting on as causing much distress for Belize with the European Union. It’s gotten to the point where Belize was blacklisted by the European Union and our fisheries product could face trade sanctions because of the activities of the international vessels that carry Belize’s flag.
And then there’s the IBC Registry, or International Business Companies Registry. That’s the entity that registers so-called offshore companies which are given tax-free status and assured secrecy in their corporate affairs.
Both entities are at least partially owned by a company called Belize international Services Limited – which is believed to be part of the Ashcroft Alliance.
In the case of Immarbe, Belize international Services Limited owns 50% along with a Panamanian Law Firm Morgan and Morgan.
So why the takeover? Well, a terse official release from government this evening simply says, quote:
“The Ministry of Finance announces that the Management Services Agreement between the Government of Belize and Belize International Services Limited, to manage the International Business Companies Registry and the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE) comes to an end, today, 10 June 2013.”
“Accordingly, the Government will assume control of the two Registries with effect from tomorrow, 11 June 2013.”
The Prime Minister will have a press conference on Wednesday to explain it all – but in the meantime – the Financial Secretary is expected to assume control of the operations tomorrow – though we can’t say for sure what will happen to the local staff of both offices – which are both housed at the Marina Towers Building in Belize City.
Government’s explanation for the Immarbe takeover is likely to be that the likelihood of trade sanctions against Belize fisheries product forced its hand. The possible explanation for the IBC registry is not so clear, but government is taking the interpretation that both the contracts ended today.
However, it’s not that clear cut. 7News has received reports that that former Prime Minister Said Musa signed a ten-year extension for the companies in his second term of office – with the last extension going from the year 2013 to 2023. While this is sure to end up in another legal battle – Government’s position is likely to be that the Musa extension is invalid because he took future executive action – which was not within his powers. As we understand it, Government did not even have a copy of the Musa extension in its records – and had to be provided with one by Immarbe.
Both registry’s were established in the early 1990’s. In other countries, ship and IBC registries are typically run by the government. They can generate quite substantial revenue – and in this case government is sure to try and win public support by explaining the takeover as a direct source of incremental revenue.
Read the IBC act
Many offshore setups are done to evade taxes in the originators native country and for money laundering.