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Jury clears Zane DeSilva and daughter over Covid-19 party

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Zane DeSilva and daughter Zarah Harper found not guilty after being charged with misleading a public officer over a fundraising dinner. Pictured: Zane DeSilva is embraced by Wayne Caines and Derrick Burgess after court ruling. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A government MP and his daughter were yesterday both found not guilty of charges relating to a party held during the pandemic.

After more than three hours of deliberations, a Supreme Court jury found Zane DeSilva, 63, and Zarah Harper, 38, not guilty of providing information to an official at the Ministry of National Security that they did not believe to be true.

The charges related to an application for a large group exemption sent regarding an event held on July 3, 2020 at the Blu Bar and Grill.

While the letter stated that the event would be a one-off charity dinner to support Meals on Wheels, prosecutors alleged that the event was simply a party with the veneer of a charitable purpose added to allow the event to go ahead.

However, the eight female, four male jury cleared both defendants with a unanimous verdict.

The verdict sparked an emotional response in the courtroom, with Ms Harper becoming physically ill moments after the jury exited.

Outside the court, Mr DeSilva expressed his gratitude to his friends, family and supporters. “This is something that should never have happened. Should never have happened,” he said.

“This could have been any one of my colleagues. Our premier. Any member on either side of the aisle. It could have been any one of us. And it shouldn’t have happened and cannot happen.”

Asked if he believed the case had been “personal”, he said that was a matter for the public to decide.

He added that he was happy the matter was over, and that he and his family had been “through hell and back”.

“I will continue to serve my country and my people,” he said.

Ms Harper declined to comment other than to say it felt “amazing” to have the case behind her after more than two years.

Zane DeSilva embraced by a friend after being found not guilty.(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The court had heard that the event was intended to be a launch party for Zarabi Entertainment Limited, an events organising company cofounded by Ms Harper.

On June 26 2020, a letter was sent on behalf of the restaurant’s general manager to Wayne Caines, the then Minister of National Security, about a booking for 130 seats on July 3.

Mr Caines sent the letter to Sergeant Lyndon Raynor, who recommended that a large group exception should not be granted on the basis that it appeared to be an overbooking and there were no exceptional circumstances.

On July 1 a second letter was sent which requested an exemption for a “one-off charity dinner” to benefit Meals on Wheels, which was approved.

Zane DeSilva and daughter Zarah Harper found not guilty after being charged with misleading a public officer over a fundraising dinner. They are pictured with their lawyer, Jerome Lynch KC. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Prosecutors alleged that while the second letter was not sent by Mr DeSilva or Ms Harper, they were involved in the document’s production and knew its contents were false.

Alan Richards, Crown counsel, highlighted communications from Ms Harper in which she said they would simply add a basket with a sign near the entrance of the party and lamenting that only about $200 was raised because no one knew it was a fundraising event.

Zane DeSilva and daughter Zarah Harper who were both found not guilty after being charged with misleading a public officer over a fundraising dinner. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

He also noted that Mr DeSilva had told police he did not regard the event as being a “charitable event” in an interview.

Jerome Lynch, KC leaves the Supreme Court after Zane DeSilva and his daughter Zarah Harper were cleared of charges. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Jerome Lynch, KC, counsel for the defendants, accepted that the charitable element was added extremely late in the day to meet requirements, but said that doing so was not illegal.

He said that while the description of the event in the second letter as a one-off charity dinner was “ambiguous”, there was nothing in the evidence to tie the wording to either defendant.

Mr Lynch added that while Meals on Wheels was not aware of the fundraiser until after the fact, it did not mean the fundraising effort was not legitimate as charities often receive “surprise” donations.

No case to answer for third defendant

A third defendant charged with the Blu party was acquitted last week because the judge found she had no case to answer, The Royal Gazette can now report.

Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams ruled that while there was evidence to link Angela Caldwell, 45, from Warwick, to the letter at the heart of the case, there was not enough evidence for a jury to find that she believed the contents to be untrue.

“I accept that there is insufficient evidence against Ms Caldwell on which a jury could find that she knew that no genuine attempt would be undertaken to convert the event into a fundraising dinner,” she said.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams said that while there was evidence that a jury could use to determine that Mr DeSilva and Ms Harper did not genuinely believe the event would be a charity dinner, the evidence against Ms Caldwell was “not so clear”.

The judge highlighted messages between Ms Caldwell and Ms Harper, in which Ms Caldwell said she would begin to work on signage shortly after the letter was sent.

She also noted a message which suggested Ms Caldwell believed all of the proceeds from the event would go towards Meals on Wheels.

In the circumstances, Mrs Justice Subair Williams instructed the jury to deliver a not-guilty verdict last Thursday.

Details of the decision could not be published until after the trial had concluded for legal reasons.

During the trial several members of parliament, including Mr Caines and David Burt, the Premier, and Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker of the House, sat in the gallery to watch the proceedings.

The party at Blu made headlines after footage from the event spread on social media, including clips of both Mr DeSilva – the Minister of Tourism and Transport at the time – and Mr Caines dancing on a stage without face masks in breach of Covid-19 regulations.

Both MPs subsequently stepped down from their posts after accepting an “invitation to resign” from Mr Burt. The Bermuda Police Service confirmed that an investigation into the event had been launched.

A week later, the Minister of Health shut down Blu for 14 days after finding the venue had broken public-health regulations introduced under pandemic emergency powers.

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.