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Top civil servant must repay $1.9m in ‘gifts’

Found owing: Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Lamb (File photograph)

A former commanding officer of the Royal Bermuda Regiment and his wife have been ordered to pay back almost $3 million to his mother-in-law in outstanding loans and interest.

Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Lamb and Ruby Lightbourne-Lamb received $1,921,443 from Mrs Lightbourne-Lamb’s parents — Gwyneth and Willard Lightbourne — in four payments between 2003 and 2009. The vast majority of the funds was to be invested in property.

A court heard this year that by 2010 the couple had paid off just $116,000 of the loan.

Colonel Lamb served for 26 years in the regiment, heading the force between 2006 and 2009. He then became Commissioner of Corrections — a post he held for 12 years — before securing a number of top-level Civil Service positions. At present he is the Permanent Secretary of National Security.

In earlier testimony, Colonel Lamb and his wife maintained that $1,556,447 transferred in September 2009 had been a gift from Mrs Lightbourne-Lamb’s terminally ill father. They also claimed that, at the time of the gift, Mr Lightbourne had said he would write off what the couple still owed on all their other debts, which stood at about $250,000.

Mrs Lightbourne-Lamb told the court: “My father was the dominant and controlling figure in the family to decide on the finances that family members would receive.

“My father made all of the financial decisions of the family, having for years been the driving force of entrepreneurship and industry in the family. He was the one to make all the decisions on how his money would be spent, for personal and business reasons.

“He was adamant that I did not have to continue paying on these loans as he recognised the financial challenges that Eddie and I were having with the bank.”

Mr Lightbourne, who owned and ran the Brightside apartment complex in Flatts with his wife, died in January 2011, and the two families have been in a legal wrangle over the payments ever since.

Mr Lightbourne’s widow maintained that none of the loans were absolved and that the single payment of more than $1.5 million — which came out of her and her husband’s joint account and represented their life savings — was never intended as a gift.

In a ruling handed down this week, Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams agreed.

She noted that the couple had signed an agreement to pay back some of the money, and questioned why they had continued to make monthly payments after Mr Lightbourne had supposedly written them off.

She dismissed claims by Colonel Lamb and his wife that they felt pressured to continue making payments to appease Mrs Lightbourne.

She said: “These payments are particularly significant because they were made during the period that the defendants say the deceased was alive and well and of sound mind.

“I accept the agreed evidence that the deceased operated as a financial patriarch during his years of healthy living.

“It is implausible that the defendants would have continued to make loan payments after September 2009 during the interim period when the deceased was well and after he had supposedly forgiven the loans.

“So, on my assessment of the evidence before this court, the defendants would not have been vulnerable to the mother’s fury and persistence if it was for a cause contrary to the financial wishes and decisions of the deceased.”

Mrs Justice Subair Williams also noted that Mr Lightbourne refused to sign a written statement writing off the loans at the request of Colonel Lamb shortly before his death.

She also pointed out that Mrs Lightbourne “was clearly distressed” after the $1.55 million was transferred to her daughter’s account and wrote to her several times to discuss the issue. In response, Mrs Lightbourne-Lamb was evasive and used delaying tactics, according to the judge.

In her ruling, Mrs Justice Subair Williams noted that there was “a profound family divide” between mother and daughter.

She said: “Both sides, however, agree that the daughter was always particularly close to the deceased, her father.

“Examples of their bond was evidenced at trial, and there was no dispute that the daughter played a major role in his care during his terminal stage of illness. The warmth and adoration between the deceased and the daughter seems to have been extended to embrace the son-in-law.

“By sad contrast, it was plain to see on the evidence before this court that the daughter never enjoyed an emotionally close relationship with her mother for any prolonged or significant period, even during her childhood.”

The judge concluded: “In my judgment, the defendants’ assertion that they owe no monies on the basis that this loan was forgiven in 2009 is a desperate concoction designed to escape the cloud of financial liability lurking.

“While I accept that the deceased would not have likely prosecuted these claims himself in a court of law. I also find that he never truly intended to relieve either defendant from their liability under the law to make full repayment.

“It is more likely than not that he was simply prepared to show the defendants some leniency by extending the time frame within which payment could be made.”

Mrs Justice Subair Williams ordered that Colonel Lamb and his wife pay Mrs Lightbourne $1,804,591 — the outstanding balance from the $1,921,443 originally borrowed.

Interest on those charges will push their final bill over the $2 million mark.

Mrs Lightbourne was also awarded costs.

In a separate corporate claim, Mrs Lightbourne-Lamb will have to pay a further $82, 991 plus interest to Brightside Enterprises Ltd, the umbrella organisation that ran Brightside Apartments.

Lawyers for the company said that the firm gave Mrs Lightbourne-Lamb and Colonel Lamb a cheque for $90,000 in September 2010 made out by her father, Willard Lightbourne.

Again, Mrs Lightbourne-Lamb claimed that this had been a gift from her father — a claim that Mrs Justice Subair Williams rejected.

She agreed with the plaintiff’s claim that “even if [Willard Lightbourne] had intended to gift the $90,000 cheque, he would have had no unilateral right to do so because those monies were the property of the company, not him personally”.

She added: “Further, any such gift would have amounted to a breach of [Ruby Lightbourne-Lamb]’s fiduciary duty as she, a director of the company, knowingly engaged in a transaction which personally benefited her and conferred a burden on the company.

“In my judgment, the daughter’s receipt of a $90,000.00 sum, if it had been made as a gift, would have been a clear misappropriation of company assets and a breach of her fiduciary duties under statute and at common law, resulting in the unjust enrichment of both defendants.”