Moniz: ‘The whole thing is murky’
Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz yesterday accused Cabinet Ministers of “tangling themselves up” over the Auditor General’s damning report on inappropriate public spending.
Mr Moniz said statements released in recent days by Premier Paula Cox, Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess and Attorney General Kim Wilson represented “another case of Government being at war with itself”.
The One Bermuda Alliance MP’s remarks came after Government revealed that comments attributed to Mr Burgess in Wednesday’s Bermuda Sun were not said by him at all, but were written in a letter by the Canadian lawyer representing him and former Premier Ewart Brown in a private civil suit.
The Sun article quoted Mr Burgess as saying that he wrote to the Attorney General in August 2010 pledging that neither he nor Dr Brown would profit from the $4 million defamation suit, which Government was funding.
The story said the Transport Minister “showed the Sun the email reply he sent to the Attorney General in August 2010”.
But a Government spokesman said yesterday the story contained several errors and that the newspaper was actually shown an extract from a letter sent by lawyer Charles Scott to Dr Brown in December 2011.
The spokesman said Mr Scott wrote the following to Dr Brown: “In August 2011, I received an inquiry from the Attorney General about the matter and I responded to that inquiry.
“As part of that response I advised him that both the (then) former Premier and Minister were not proceeding with the action for any personal gain and that they undertook to remit to the Government of Bermuda any proceeds from the litigation.”
Bermuda Sun editor Tony McWilliam said yesterday: “It’s correct to say that there are inaccuracies in the story.”
An amended version of the article was later posted on the Sun’s website.
The Royal Gazette asked Government to share the December 2011 letter from Mr Scott to Dr Brown but it did not do so by press time.
We also e-mailed Mr Scott, of Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP of Toronto, Canada, to ask for a copy but did not hear back.
Attorney General Kim Wilson said on Tuesday evening that she had reviewed the “entire matter” and could “confirm that there is no record of an agreement for damages to be paid back to Government by any party”.
She did not respond when asked in an e-mail yesterday whether lawyer Charles Scott’s August 2011 letter was on file and, if so, whether she considered it to be “record of an agreement”.
Senator Wilson was Attorney General in February 2010 when Mr Scott’s law firm was engaged in a retainer agreement with Government.
The agreement detailed the client in the case as Government but said Dr Brown or his designate would give instructions.
Sen Wilson was still in the post three months later when Cabinet approved payment of the legal fees and when the agreement was signed by the Solicitor General on behalf of Government in June 2010.
The legal action in Canada began in January 2011, by which time Michael Scott had taken over as Attorney General.
Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews began investigating what she describes as the “improper and unjustified” spending on the legal fees in April 2011 and in September the retainer with the law firm was terminated by Government.
Michael Scott was replaced by Sen Wilson when she returned to the post of Attorney General on November 2, 2011.
The Auditor’s Special Report on the Misuse of Public Funds reveals that Government spent more than $31,000 on the legal fees, representing what Mrs Matthews calls a “blatant disregard for the public purse”.
Dr Brown and Mr Burgess are still pursuing their case against Canadian architect Sam Spagnuolo and Bermuda Government’s Chief Architect Lawrence Brady, the brother-in-law of
Royal Gazette editor Bill Zuill, for defamation and conspiracy over fake cheques found in the files of the Ministry of Works.
Finance Minister Ms Cox has said spending on the legal fees was justified and in the public interest but has not explained why Government stopped paying for the action in September.
Mr Moniz said yesterday: “The whole thing is murky, with individuals constantly backtracking and changing their stories. Whatever these people say today they are going to say the opposite tomorrow. They will say they were misquoted or misunderstood.”