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Researcher claims she was penalised for whistle-blowing

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LeYoni Junos

A researcher claims in court papers she was subjected to “retaliatory action” by the Government after she blew the whistle on alleged cover-ups and bad practices at the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses.

A judge is expected to hold an initial hearing today on LeYoni Junos’s civil lawsuit against the Premier and the commission he appointed to probe past land grabs.

Ms Junos has also complained to the Governor that police failed to investigate her allegation that she was financially penalised by the Government for flagging up her concerns.

David Burt, the Premier, and members of the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses.Pictured, front row from left, David Burt, the Premier; chairwoman Norma Wade-Miller; Wayne Perinchief.Back row, from left: Maxine Binns, Jonathan Starling, Frederica Forth, Lynda Milligan-Whyte.Not pictured: Quinton Stovell

She made her criminal complaint in February 2021 under a law passed a decade ago by former Premier Paula Cox to root out corruption – but she was not contacted by detectives or told the outcome until The Royal Gazette asked questions last month.

Darrin Simons, the Commissioner of Police, told the RG that police didn’t pursue her grievance because prosecutors said it was a matter for the civil courts.

Mr Simons also revealed that to his knowledge there has not been a single prosecution under the Good Governance Act 2012, which came into effect exactly ten years ago.

Ms Junos was working as an investigator for the Commission of Inquiry in November 2020 when she and fellow researcher Judith Chambers wrote a letter outlining a raft of concerns with the way the inquiry was being run.

The pair told chairwoman Norma Wade Miller and the five other commissioners that they were worried “about the integrity of the commission’s proceedings and that the commission may not be operating in the public interest”.

Ms Junos claimed in a draft police statement that a week later her desk was “raided and a slew of sensitive documents in my care and custody were taken and copied without my knowledge or consent, including personal documents …”.

She said the documents were later returned by a former police officer who was also working for the commission.

Ms Junos said the clerk to the commission signed off on contracts and invoices for her and Ms Chambers for work done in September, October and November that year but payment was never made.

According to correspondence seen by the Gazette, she e-mailed the clerk in January 2021 to complain that the lack of payment was “not acceptable”.

On February 1 that year, she made the criminal complaint to police, noting that the Good Governance Act 2012 created criminal offences of “terminating a contract with, or withholding payment from, certain whistle-blowers …”

Commission counsel Dirk Harrison wrote to Ms Junos on February 4 claiming she had failed to submit “file notes and other materials” and this put her in breach of the agreement she had with the Government as a service provider.

He wrote: “It is, and has always been the intention of the commission to pay your approved fees, provided that you perform your contractual duties.”

Ms Junos alleged in her police statement: “ … I am a whistleblower, whose payment for services rendered for the months of September, October and November 2020 has been unlawfully withheld from me and whose contract has been constructively, but not actually, terminated – both as a form of retaliation for making protected disclosures as defined under the Act.”

She claimed that withholding the payments was “retaliatory and bordering on cruel … This is a deliberate tactic to inflict financial harm and anxiety – and bully us into submitting incomplete work – as we all have financial commitments to make.”

She has now asked Rena Lalgie, the Governor, to appoint an independent investigator to look into how Bermuda Police Service handled her complaint.

Ms Junos asked: “How could they investigate it when they never spoke to me?”

Background to the case

LeYoni Junos and fellow researcher Judith Chambers set out concerns about the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses in a November 15, 2020 letter.

The pair raised fears of a lack of procedural fairness and said vulnerable claimants did not have access to legal advice and representation on an equal footing, even though the commission rules allowed for such.

Later that week, Ms Junos and Ms Chambers met with the clerk to the commission and Dirk Harrison, who replaced Ivan Whitehall QC as senior counsel to the commission.

They insisted Mr Harrison could not represent the interests of all parties and witnesses and that claiming to do so was a “deliberate misinterpretation of his role”.

The pair also raised concerns about conflicts of interest by the commission chairwoman and said more time was needed for investigations.

They were not alone in their criticism.

Raymond Davis, also known as Khalid Wasi, and Myron Piper, have asked for a judicial review of the commission and a hearing is under way.

Mr Davis and Mr Piper alleged that the commission’s refusal to let them give evidence was illegal.

They also claimed the scope of the commission – laid out by David Burt, the Premier – was too broad and that it acted beyond its powers when it redefined what its remit should be.

Last month, she filed an application as a public interest litigant to have the COI’s report quashed on the basis that it “does not represent a full, faithful and impartial report on its commission”.

Ms Junos named the Premier and the COI as respondents.

Assistant Justice Hugh Southey, who is presently hearing another civil action challenging the legitimacy of the Commission of Inquiry, is expected to consider her judicial review application this morning.

LeYoni Junos claims in her civil lawsuit against the Premier and the Commission of Inquiry that the latter acted beyond its powers so its report should be quashed.

She says there was a general failure by the commission to fulfil its statutory obligations and alleges that its report contained misleading statements and untruths, citing various examples.

Ms Junos claims the commission failed to notify some people who were “implicated in its proceedings as named in its report”. She says that was not in the public interest because it “deprived the commission and the public of information that could help in determining the actual facts …”

Ms Junos says former Cabinet Minister Wayne Perinchief was not properly appointed as deputy chairman or acting chairman and decisions he made were unlawful, including ordering some hearings to be held behind closed doors.

The researcher says the commission should not have determined its own scope of inquiry and it was unlawful to do so.

Police commissioner Mr Simons told The Royal Gazette: “I can confirm that the complaint from Ms Junos was received and acted upon.

“At the time it was raised, the matter was immediately addressed with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, for guidance on the way forward.”

Mr Simons said as a result of the Gazette’s queries, he looked into the matter and was told the DPP had determined that Ms Junos’s complaint “did not meet the criteria for action under the Good Governance Act … as it was essentially deemed to be a civil matter”.

The Commissioner added: “Disappointingly, I can find no evidence or record that this was communicated to Ms Junos at the time.

“I can appreciate Ms Junos’s frustration with this turn of events and I have written to her and informed her of the outcome and apologised for the delay in responding to her.”

The Commissioner said typically a referral for an investigation under the Good Governance Act came from either the Office of Project Management and Procurement or the Auditor-General.

He added: “We initiate our own investigation if we become aware of an offence under this Act. To my knowledge there has not been a prosecution under this Act.”

A Government House spokeswoman said there was "no comment at this time“ on Ms Junos’s request to the Governor.

A Government spokeswoman said: “We cannot comment on matters before the court.”

It wasn’t possible to reach Cindy Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecutions, for comment.