Simmons casino claim criticised by Schuetz
A reason given by tourism minister Jamahl Simmons for why he had to take control of the island's independent gaming commission has come in for renewed criticism in the wake of a public access to information disclosure.
Mr Simmons told Parliament that the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission had failed to participate in a national risk analysis carried out by the National Anti-Money-Laundering Committee in the run-up to an assessment this year by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.
He made the claim on November 10 last year, but information released in response to a Pati request has shown the commission had no statutory duty to complete assignments for the NAMLC or participate in its meetings until November 3.
Richard Schuetz, the former executive director of the commission, questioned how the BCGC could be said to have failed in the space of a week.
He said the Pati disclosure showed “the minister needed to justify his actions and he grabbed at this”.
Mr Schuetz added: “The problem is, the facts just don't meet the narrative and to use NAMLC in this way — that is, to politicise it — is contrary to the whole point of NAMLC.”
Mr Simmons highlighted the commission's alleged failures in relation to the NAMLC as a key reason why he needed to table an amendment to the Casino Gaming Act to give himself the power to sack commission members without cause.
He added that he had been unable to oust Alan Dunch as chairman, despite three requests for him to resign.
He criticised Mr Dunch in the House of Assembly on November 10 and suggested to MPs that the commission chairman was unable to accept the Progressive Labour Party's landslide General Election win in July.
The minister said: “That attitude may perhaps be further seen in the recent non-participation by the gaming commission in the National Anti-Money-Laundering Committee's national risk analysis, failure to provide the requested presentation for the related workshops, and failure to provide the analysis and conclusions of the working group that this commission was chairing.”
Mr Simmons discussed the NAMLC “situation” with Bernews.com on November 20.
He said: “When you have a body of that magnitude that needs to be able to get responsiveness from parts of government and they were not getting that level of responsiveness, I was not in power to say ‘could you please provide this information' and so that flagged something that could be a problem down the road and would need to be addressed.”
The Royal Gazette asked the Ministry of Finance for records of which agencies attended NAMLC meetings, and which completed assignments for the advisory body and indicated an interest in the gaming commission's participation.
An information official said: “By law, BCGC did not become a member of NAMLC until November 3, 2017, when the Proceeds of Crime Act was amended to include them.
“Therefore, prior to that date, any attendance of the BCGC at NAMLC meetings was by invitation, not by requirement.”
The official added: “Given the fact that BCGC was not a statutory member of NAMLC until last month [November], producing those records prior to that would not by themselves paint a true picture because if the records show them to have been absent at a meeting prior to November 3, this would suggest that they weren't participating, rather than indicating that they might not have been invited to attend.”
Mr Simmons said last night: “We stand by the reasons articulated for seeking change and are moving forward to execute the people's business.”
He added: “The successful completion of the national risk assessment tracking document under the new leadership at the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission demonstrates their commitment to working with the Government to meet our international obligations and protect our economy.
“Despite this, much work remains in this area. I am confident, however, that under the current leadership the excellent staff at the BCGC will deliver.”
Cheryl-Ann Mapp, appointed by Mr Simmons to replace Mr Dunch as commission chairman after he resigned, said: “Under the previous administration, the commission did not complete the national risk assessment tracking document to meet the NAMLC deadline. Under the new leadership, this work is now complete.”
Ms Mapp would not reveal the date on which the tracking document was submitted to the NAMLC or comment on whether the commission's relationship with the committee was voluntary before November 3.
Commission lawyer Deborah Blakeney said: “The commission has no further comment.”
Mr Schuetz believes Mr Simmons owed commission staff an apology. He said: “I am upset by the suggestions that we were not actively engaged in the NAMLC process.
“Myself, Julie Grant, Deborah Blakeney, [commissioner] Derek Ramm and other members of the commission started attending meetings long before they were required and this involved a great many meetings.
“I had numerous conversations with NAMLC representatives and asked for them to clearly communicate with me if we were ever not holding up our end of things. None ever communicated that there was a problem with the commission.”
Mr Schuetz said it was true the commission was late completing the voluntary tracking document from the NAMLC in October 2017.
But he added the reasons for the delay — the medical absence of a key executive and a heavy workload related to the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club's application for a provisional casino licence — were explained to the committee.
“If there were issues with the commission's performance with NAMLC, they were my problems and not that of Alan Dunch,” Mr Schuetz said.
“Moreover, for the minister to make this claim is a serious slight to the many hours the commission staff put into this effort. He should apologise.”
Mr Schuetz added: “Since July 18, 2017, the Government or the minister never said one word about our anti-money-laundering efforts or our participation in NAMLC.
“Then, when the minister cannot get away with illegally firing Alan, he suggests that he needs to change the law — becoming a gambling tsar — and in his speech he discusses that the commission has not completed some tasks for NAMLC.
“This is a totally inappropriate use of NAMLC.”
The former executive director, who quit his post last July, said the commission's involvement in the national risk analysis was not critical as the CFATF assessment will cover a period when the money-laundering risk in Bermuda's casino industry was zero because it had yet to be launched.
Mr Dunch said he never received any communication from the NAMLC or the tourism ministry about a BCGC failure in its duties in relation to the NAMLC or the national risk analysis.
He said he did not want to comment on anything else about the commission.
Ms Mapp said: “The gaming commission acknowledges the concerns expressed by the Government in relation to participation on these committees.
“The commission is working diligently to ensure that our legislative framework will also meet the timeline set by NAMLC. We are moving forward in collaboration with NAMLC and other participants.
“As the new commission chairman, I have met with all of our stakeholders, including the chairman of NAMLC, and have advised her of our commitment to the preparations for the upcoming CFATF assessment. We have agreed to work towards meeting all of the required deadlines.”