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Charges dismissed against MacLeans and CoH

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No case to answer: all charges have been thrown out by Puisne Justice Charles-Etta Simmons against former Hamilton mayor Graeme Outerbridge, upper left, Ed Benevides, corporation secretary, top right, and Michael and Yasmin MacLean for offences related to a failed hotel development on Hamilton’s Par-la-Ville car park (Photograph compilation by Akil Simmons)

Criminal charges were dismissed yesterday against former Mayor of Hamilton Graeme Outerbridge, city secretary Ed Benevides, developer Michael MacLean and his wife, Yasmin MacLean.

The four had been charged with offences related to a failed hotel development on Hamilton’s Par-la-Ville car park.

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled yesterday that there was not enough evidence against any of the four to proceed to trial. She dismissed all of the charges against the group and released them.

Mexico Infrastructure Finance, the complainant in the case, said legal actions over the dispute continue in New York.

MIF immediately fired off a letter to the US Consul General urging that business contacts in Bermuda be discouraged.

Mr Outerbridge and Mr Benevides had been accused of agreeing corruptly to obtain property for the benefit of the MacLeans by authoring the release of $15,449,858 from an escrow account at the Bank of New York.

Mr MacLean, Mr Outerbridge and Mr Benevides were also accused of dishonestly obtaining the money in the account, belonging to Mexico Infrastructure Finance.

The MacLeans were further charged with stealing $13,749,858 belonging to MIF and using stolen money knowing that it “in whole or in part directly or indirectly” was the proceeds of criminal conduct.

Before the group were required to enter pleas to the charges, they filed applications on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence for the matter to go before a jury.

Mrs Justice Simmons delivered a decision in Supreme Court yesterday, in which she said there was a “paucity of evidence” against Mrs MacLean.

She told the court: “It seems to have been a presumption by the prosecution that because her name is on the account, and because her husband was involved in business arrangements, that she committed the offences with which she has been charged.

“No reasonable jury could make a finding of guilty in the circumstances.”

Mrs Justice Simmons said Charles Richardson, who represented the MacLeans, argued there was no evidence they acted dishonestly.

She said: “He contends that lawyers for the relevant parties were advising them, that the principal of MIF himself had legal advisers, that three opinions from eminent law firms were required and were received.”

Mrs Justice Simmons agreed there was insufficient evidence of dishonesty, therefore the allegations of corruption against Mr Outerbridge or Mr Benevides could not be stood up.

She similarly dismissed the charges of money laundering and theft against both MacLeans.

Mr Outerbridge and the MacLeans declined to comment on the decision yesterday, while Mr Benevides could not be reached yesterday

Mr Benevides has been on administrative leave from the City of Hamilton since he was charged in May.

The Royal Gazette asked mayor Charles Gosling for comment about the ruling and Mr Benevides’s status, but did not receive a response.

Larry Mussenden, the Director of Public Prosecutions, did not respond when asked about the possibility of an appeal.

After yesterday’s ruling, an MIF spokesman said: “Whether the actions are deemed criminal or not in Bermuda does not change the fact that they occurred and were extremely damaging to MIF.”

All of the charges related to a 2014 bridging loan from MIF to Par-la-Ville Hotel and Residences, which was guaranteed by the City of Hamilton.

As part of the agreement, $18 million was placed in an escrow account at The Bank of New York Mellon.

The sum was released to PLV in October 2014 after PLV entered into a financial agreement with Gibraltar-based Argyle Limited.

MIF has claimed the agreement was not a permanent loan funding agreement as required, but instead a “Trade and Profit Share Agreement”.

London’s High Court heard in 2017 that PLV transferred $12.5 million through a trust to Argyle UAE Ltd, run by businessman Robert McKellar.

It is alleged Mr McKellar used the money to buy a luxury Aston Martin car, an engagement ring and two countryside properties in the south of England.

The developer defaulted on the loan in December 2014 sparking a series of legal actions in Bermuda and elsewhere.

MIF launched legal action against the City of Hamilton and The Bank of New York Mellon in the Supreme Court of New York alleging the money was withdrawn through “fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations”.

Fidelity National Title Insurance Company has filed a writ in the Supreme Court against Bermuda law firm Trott & Duncan claiming that it became involved in the failed hotel project because of advice it was given by the firm.

Delroy Duncan, partner at Trott & Duncan, said the proceedings were “without merit” and would be “contested vigorously”.

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Lawyer Saul Froomkin, front, and former mayor Graeme Outerbridge at a previous court appearance (File photograph by Akil Simmons)