Posted: Saturday, July 20, 2019. 12:34 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes:The Supreme Court has ruled that 400 thousand dollars paid in compensation to Andre Vega, son of former Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega, for private land he originally bought for 15 thousand from an associate but which was private and should not have been sold, must now be repaid.
Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel made the oral ruling, a considered victory for the Government, on Friday evening following final submissions. Written reasoning will be handed down at a later date. The Attorney General asserted, and the court agreed, that Andre Vega benefitted from unjust enrichment, contrary to public policy.
A one-acre parcel of land near the Haulover Bridge, between the sea and the Philip Goldson Highway, was sold in January 2013, under Gaspar Vega’s tenure, for a discounted $2,500 to Hilmar Alamilla, a long Vega family associate. He later sold it on in two pieces, one to Andre Vega and the other piece to attorney Sharon Pitts Robateau.
But Lands Department personnel specifically warned their bosses that this was private land, not available for the Government to sell. Because they did so anyway, the Lands Ministry’s compensation policy was triggered, and by negotiation, the Lands Ministry agreed to pay Andre Vega, through his girlfriend, Dominque Gomez, $400,000.
Shortly after the scandal broke, Gaspar Vega resigned and the Government sought to get back its funds. Hilmar Alamilla, represented by attorney Estevan Perrera, managed to get this case struck out against him many months ago. But while Pitts’s case is in mediation, Vega’s defense, Perrera says, is insisting that the duplication of paper ownership which passed from Hilmar Alamilla to Vega, is an error that the Government made. He argued that the compensation agreement of $400,000 is a release agreement between the two parties in which Vega waived his right to sue the Government, in exchange for compensation. But the court ruled it cannot be enforced.
Speaking after the judgment, Perrera says they will review the written ruling, but are inclined to appeal on several grounds.
One, he said, was that “I do believe that as an investor or a buyer or any Belizean in Belize, once the government prints out and issues a Minister’s Fiat grant there has to be some confidence by investors and buyers and the Belizean public that those ministers’ fiat grants that are issued are valid. And if it is that these errors can persist or continue or occur without any repercussions for the government, compensation someone who receives these ministers fiat grants in error, it is a sad state of affairs for those persons. I think it is important for these types of cases to be brought forward so that the government can take more responsibility in ensuring the ministers fiat grants that are issued are valid because the general public needs to be able to rely on these because that is what we consider good root of title once we see a ministers’ fiat grant, that’s a good root of title.”
Perrera also made note that there was nothing before the court concerning Gaspar Vega’s actions as a minister, though it was a consideration for the court’s decision.
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