‘Blu Bar party was meant to be a Miami restaurant-style event’
A government MP told police he understood an event partly organised by his daughter when coronavirus restrictions were in place was expected to be like functions held in Miami or Las Vegas, a court heard.
Jurors watched footage from October 2020, when Zane DeSilva, the Member for Southampton East, was interviewed under caution by detectives.
The Supreme Court has heard that, in a letter to the Minister of National Security, it was said the event at Blu Bar and Grill in Warwick would be a “one-off charity fundraising dinner” for Meals on Wheels.
Mr DeSilva, 63, his daughter, Zarah Harper, 38, and Angela Caldwell, 44, deny giving false information to a public officer in July 2020.
Detective Sergeant Leroy Mathurin was a witness in the third day of their trial yesterday.
The court heard that the officer and his colleague, Detective Constable Leanda Johnston, interviewed Mr DeSilva on October 12, 2020.
Footage showed that the MP confirmed he was the Minister of Tourism and Transport when the function was held on July 3 that year.
Mr DeSilva told police his daughter had wanted to hold an event with MEF, a restaurant group, and he thought there was correspondence between himself and Ms Harper where she asked about the maximum number of people allowed at a gathering.
He added that it was likely he made inquiries about the group restrictions with Wayne Caines, then the Minister of National Security.
In the footage, Constable Johnston can be heard asking Mr DeSilva: “What exactly was the reason given to you by your daughter Zarah for having this event with MEF?”
Mr DeSilva replied: “They wanted to hold an event similar to like Miami or Vegas, going to a restaurant and that sort of thing where they have music and food, something different.”
He, Ms Harper and Ms Caldwell are accused of providing information to an official at the Ministry of National Security that they did not believe to be true.
The charge, which they deny, adds that there was an intention to cause the public officer to do something they would not otherwise do, “namely that they provided a letter stating that an event would be a charity fundraising dinner in order to be granted an exemption to hold a large-group gathering under the Public Health (Covid-19 Emergency Powers) Regulations 2020”.
Jurors also heard in the interview that Mr DeSilva provided guidance about what should be included in a letter to Mr Caines, who was responsible in his ministerial role for issuing large-group exemptions.
Sergeant Mathurin asked: “Were you utilising your position as a minister of government to influence the process for the benefit of your daughter?”
Mr DeSilva replied: “I was using my position, as I have done over the past several years as minister, to help someone that asked for my help.”
Jerome Lynch, KC, the politician’s lawyer, who attended the interview, asked at the time whether the MP would ask Mr Caines to do “anything improper”.
Mr DeSilva answered: “Hell no.”
He told the police that money raised at the event was not accepted by Meals on Wheels and, instead, $15,000 went to the Matilda Smith Williams seniors residence.
Sergeant Mathurin highlighted to the MP it was alleged that there appeared to be “some falsification” in obtaining permission for the Blu event.
Mr DeSilva said in the footage: “I’ve been told that there are hundreds of applications that come in and say, listen, if you want to hold this event you have to donate some money to charity.
“So when you say that my daughter falsified a document … even if she appeared to falsify, but she didn’t do it, it was MEF that sent it in.”
Under cross-examination by Mr Lynch, Sergeant Mathurin confirmed he had not seen any document that was sent to any of the defendants or companies involved in the event to reject the first of two letters to the minister.
The court heard earlier that a large-group exemption was ultimately granted.
Richard Horseman, acting for Ms Caldwell, asked the witness about an e-mail exchange between Zarabi Entertainment Limited — which the court heard was the company name being used by Ms Harper in connection with the event — and his client on July 1.
Sergeant Mathurin agreed that, in the correspondence, Ms Caldwell was asked whether all proceeds were going to the charity, to which she replied: “As far as I’m aware. Double-check with your dad.”
The court heard that a response from Ms Harper said: “Yeah, all is sorted with dad.”
Jurors heard from Detective Constable Kendy Swainson, a case officer, who confirmed that she received downloads from mobile phones in the course of her investigation.
Voice notes said to be from Ms Harper were played to the court.
Jurors heard she said: “I had to throw that in there last night in order for the event to happen because Chris Maybury invited Wayne Caines.”
The voice notes added: “Do you know how much money we have in a plastic bag for them? Like 200 bucks because no one knew that it was a flipping charity event.
“We had to add that in there to the letter to Government in order … for the event to happen.”
The notes said: “So now dad is trying to put some money together along with Chris Maybury along with Blu so that we have an actual donation to give but I think 10k’s too much; do five, right?”
Alan Richards, for the Crown, and Constable Swainson together read to the court an electronic conversation said to be between Ms Harper and Mr Maybury, where he said he owned hotels and restaurants.
In a message sent on July 2, Ms Harper provided “details and dress code” for the Blu event.
The court heard that Mr Maybury was advised to “arrive around 6pm for a welcome cocktail” with dinner scheduled for between 7pm and 7.30pm.
The message added: “The party will end around 11.30pm due to curfew.
“Come dressed as if it was a night out in Las Vegas, New York City, Miami etc and be ready to have a great time.”
The trial, before Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams, continues.
Zane DeSilva, 63, Zarah Harper, 38, both from Southampton, and Angela Caldwell, 44, from Warwick, are charged with one count of giving false information to a public officer.
It is alleged that they “on or about the 1st day of July 2020, in the Islands of Bermuda, gave to a public officer at the Ministry of National Security information which they did not believe to be true, intending thereby to cause or knowing it to be likely that they would thereby cause, a public officer to do something which such public officer would not otherwise do, namely that they provided a letter stating that an event would be a charity fundraising dinner in order to be granted an exemption to hold a large group gathering under the Public Health (Covid-19 Emergency Powers) Regulations 2020”.
All three have denied the charge and the Supreme Court trial continues.
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