Lawyers clash over meaning of Blu party letter
Counsel for a government MP and his daughter said there was nothing to tie the words in a letter for a large group exemption to his clients.
Jerome Lynch, KC, told a Supreme Court jury that while the letter’s description of the 2020 event as a one-off charitable dinner was “ambiguous”, there was nothing to suggest that the wording came from either Zane DeSilva or Zarah Harper.
Mr Lynch said: “Where is it anywhere in the evidence that these words lie in the mouth of either of these people?”
The lawyer added that while the letter could have been more clear, Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security at the time, was already aware of the nature of the event when he granted its approval.
“The decision maker knew what it was,” Mr Lynch said. “He knew it was a party.”
Mr Lynch said that there was no dispute that the event was intended to be a party from its inception. However, a charitable component had been added in the final days to ensure it would be granted a large group exemption.
While the rules required “exceptional circumstances” for such an exemption, Mr Lynch said that no advice as to what such circumstances were was ever given to the minister, who determined that a charitable component would be necessary given the pandemic’s impact on the third sector.
He compared the approach to the Government requesting a developer include a public bus stop on their property to secure planning permission for a construction project.
“Innovative ministers find ways of advancing these things,” Mr Lynch said.
He said the organisers only discovered the need for a charitable element on July 1 and evidence showed they worked to include a fundraising component in short order.
Mr Lynch asked: “What does it matter that this was a last-minute decision? What does it matter that it only raised $200?
“None of these things matter provided it was a genuine effort to raise some money for charity. That’s what matters. The charitable component.”
He argued there was nothing wrong or improper about Mr DeSilva assisting his daughter, particularly given the shifting rules about events in the midst of the pandemic.
And while Mr Lynch said some of the comments made by Ms Harper were “not attractive” and suggested she did not care about the charitable aspect of the event, it did not make her actions illegal.
Mr DeSilva, 63, and his daughter, Ms Harper, 38, are both 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”.
The charges are related to an event held on July 3, 2020 at the Blu Bar and Grill.
Alan Richards, Crown council, told the jury in his closing remarks that both defendants were involved in the creation of the letter that claimed the event would be a “one-off charitable dinner” intended to raise as much as possible for the needy.
He further argued that both were well aware at the time that the event was actually a party to launch Zarabi Entertainment Limited, an events organising company cofounded by Ms Harper.
Mr Richards highlighted that the first letter submitted to the Ministry of National Security about the event made no references to charity whatsoever and appeared to suggest the Blu Bar and Grill had accepted too many reservations.
While he accepted that a bowl with a sign urging donations was placed near the entrance to the party when the event took place, but argued it was merely a “fig leaf” rather than a sincere effort to raise money.
Mr Richards said messages and voice notes from Ms Harper showed she was only concerned about the appearance of the event.
He highlighted one voice note in which Ms Harper said they would put out a bowl with a sign before adding: “Bang. Done. Who cares? That’s it. That’s what we are doing.”
Mr Richards said that, according to the messages, only around $200 was raised through the event, but Ms Harper and Mr DeSilva offered to donate $10,000 in a “belated attempt to pretend the event was what it was asserted to be”.
“Ms Harper knew full well that a $200 donation from an event like this showed it was nothing of the kind,” he added.
The prosecutor meanwhile argued that Mr DeSilva played a “key oversight role” throughout the process.
Mr Richards noted evidence that Mr DeSilva provided feedback and suggestions for the initial letter sent to the Minister of National Security and, when the message was not received, it was resent by Mr DeSilva.
He said Mr DeSilva told police he was aware that a second letter would need to be sent to add a charitable purpose to the event and that he may have advised his daughter that such an addition would be required.
Mr Richards also highlighted that Mr DeSilva said during the same interview that he did not regard the event to be “charitable event”.
“They wanted to have a party and they were determined that the Covid regulations not get in their way,” Mr Richards concluded.
“They had a party, but in order to do so they submitted false information to the Minister of National Security and the proper verdict is guilty.”
The trial continues.
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