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Transport minister dodges questions over PLP premiers banking issue

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The Minister of Transport, Wayne Furbert, deliver remarks at the Hamilton Ferry Terminal concerning ferry routes. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A government minister has refused to be drawn on claims by a fellow Progressive Labour Party MP that Butterfield Bank has told two premiers that it is closing their accounts.

Wayne Furbert, the transport minister, was the first member of Cabinet to hold a press conference since Derrick Burgess, Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, made the allegations in Parliament, but he would not address the issue.

Alex Scott, a former PLP premier, has ruled himself out of being involved in the situation.

Asked if David Burt was one of the two PLP premiers Mr Burgess was referring to, Mr Furbert, who was at a press conference about increased Pink Route ferry services, said: “I’m here to talk about the Pink Route.”

Pressed if he was concerned about the situation involving Butterfield and two PLP premiers, Mr Furbert repeated the same line.

Mr Furbert also declined to answer when he was asked to comment on a statement released by the bank about account termination, which stated: “Butterfield conducts ongoing reviews of customer account balances and transactional activity to ensure compliance with applicable local and international laws and regulatory standards.”

The Government has failed to comment on the situation for six days since The Royal Gazette reported Mr Burgess’s extraordinary claims to Parliament in which he suggested that the British Foreign Office or Government House could have “ordered” the accounts to be discontinued.

Michael Dunkley, who was One Bermuda Alliance premier between 2014 and 2017, dismissed such ideas as “absurd”.

He told The Royal Gazette: “Members of Parliament should be very careful about using the privilege of the House to get involved in judicial or private banking matters.

“It is absurd to say that the Foreign Office or the Governor could have been involved in this. Banks are governed by strict ‘know your client’ rules.”

Butterfield Bermuda's head office on Front Street, Hamilton (Photograph supplied)

Mr Burgess sparked controversy when he told MPs Butterfield Bank had terminated the accounts of four people, including two PLP premiers, without giving them a proper reason.

A Butterfield statement added: “Any decision to terminate an account is consistent with Butterfield’s general terms and conditions and within the bank’s contractual right.”

Mr Scott, who was PLP premier between 2003 and 2006, said the situation did not involve him. Attempts to contact other former premiers have been unsuccessful.

The people involved have been told their accounts will terminate tomorrow, The Royal Gazette understands.

Neither Rena Lalgie, the Governor, nor the Foreign Office responded to requests for comment by press time.

The PLP has also been contacted for comment on the claims.