Giovanni Caporaso Gottlieb, an offshore banking attorney based in Panama, in an open letter directed to Grant and Prime Minister Dean Barrow, alleged that the Central Bank Governor did not comply with the laws of Belize in relation to the Choice Bank situation.
Gottlieb claims to represent a large number of Choice Bank’s clients and further claims he had requested Central Bank’s intervention but went without an answer for six months before the regulator finally decided to revoke Choice Bank’s license. The bank has since been put up for liquidation.
Gottlieb alleges that Grant has shown “ineptitude” in performing her duties and called her “inefficient” before demanding her removal. He urges: “We await your quick response and we beg you to not oblige us to unleash an international campaign against Belize.”
Following reports of the allegations in the media, the Central Bank released a statement on Tuesday clarifying the Choice Bank situation, however, the release never directly addresses Gottlieb’s allegations.
According to the Central Bank, Choice Bank’s license was revoked by the Minister of Finance (PM Dean Barrow), in accordance with Sections 25 & 27 of the International Banking Act, Chapter 267, Revised Edition 2011 of the Substantive Laws of Belize. It added that PM Barrow has been involved in the Choice Bank situation from the onset and continues to be apprised of developments on the matter.
It explains that Choice Bank was placed under “enhanced supervision” in January 2018 after an on-site examination raised concerns over the operations of the bank. The Central Bank says it implemented corrective actions for Choice Bank to follow, however, the financial institution remained non-compliant in a number of instances. Central Bank further asserts that Choice Bank’s prepaid card processor also reported that the bank failed to address Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) compliance issues that dated back more than three years.
The Central Bank says the prepaid card processor suspended its services to Choice Bank on April 2, 2018; and eventually terminated its services completely. This, according to Central Bank, caused Choice Bank to suspend customer withdrawal of deposits on April 9.
The regulator says even after opportunities to comply with two sets of preventative measures, Central Bank was still dissatisfied with Choice Bank’s level of compliance.
Following an unannounced on-site visit to Choice Bank on June 25, Central Bank finally decided that the institution was not acting in the best interest of its clients and revoked its license on June 29. Cedric Flowers has since been appointed as the liquidator for the bank’s assets.
The Central Bank described the Choice Bank situation as “ongoing and sensitive.” Other sources have indicated to the Reporter that several transactions from Choice Bank to countries in the middle-east including Syria, may have raised red flags when they were discovered by the Central Bank, which has the responsibility to regulate and monitor AML/CTF violations.
The Reporter reached out to both Grant and Gottlieb for further comment on the matter, however, up to press time no response from either side has been forthcoming.