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Premier had meeting with Qataris while in Washington

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David Burt at a press conference on September 21, before he departed for Washington DC (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A meeting at the Qatari Embassy was a “pivotal” feature of a trip to Washington taken by the Premier in the days after Bermuda was hit by a cyberattack that rocked government services.

David Burt, while there, also secured help from IT experts to support systems restoration efforts after the September 20 incident.

The information was revealed in an entry on the Travel Calendar, which showed that the trip cost $3,811.58.

Air travel cost $1,833.40, the ground transportation bill was $391.08, accommodation totalled $1,458.56 and the price tag for meals was $128.54.

The online entry said the Premier went to Washington “for a series of high-level meetings and engagements” from September 21 to 25 accompanied by Karen Grissette, the US Consul-General, and leaders from the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers.

It added: “This visit coincided with the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, a gathering of legislators, senior policymakers and industry leaders from the insurance and digital assets sectors.

“Premier Burt hosted the inaugural Friends of Bermuda Breakfast reception at the Bermuda Washington DC office.

“The breakfast served as a key platform to reinforce Bermuda's position as a reputable business jurisdiction and to advance initiatives that enhance the island's economic landscape.

“A pivotal aspect of the visit was the meeting at the Qatar Embassy.

“The Bermuda delegation received a warm welcome from Mrs Asma al-Amri, Minister Plenipotentiary-Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, and other senior Qatari diplomats.

“The discussions centred on exploring avenues of collaboration and investment, opening a promising chapter in the relationship between Bermuda and Qatar.”

When he announced the appointment of Alexia Hefti as a government policy adviser on Middle East affairs in May, Mr Burt pointed out that previous administrations pursued interests in the Gulf region and that the island signed treaties and memoranda of understanding trade agreements with Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The Travel Calendar entry said: “Further strengthening Bermuda's international business ties, Premier Burt engaged in discussions at the US Department of Commerce arranged by the US Consul-General's office.

“These talks focused on expanding trade links between Bermuda and minority-owned businesses in the USA, highlighting the Premier's commitment to fostering strategic economic relationships.”

A US Consulate spokeswoman told The Royal Gazette in September: “The US Consulate organised meetings with Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Minority Business Development Jessica G. Cavazos and senior officials from the International Trade Agency, which are both agencies of the US Department of Commerce.

“The Minority Business Development Agency promotes the growth of minority-owned businesses through the mobilisation and advancement of public and private sector programmes, policy and research, and is interested in sharing best practices with Bermuda and promoting additional US-Bermuda trade.

“In the same meeting were senior leaders from the International Trade Administration, which has a focus on promoting US exports and attracting inbound investment.”

Karen Grissette, the US Consul-General (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Travel Calendar entry, published within the past several days, said that Mr Burt and Ms Grissette supported Bermudian artist Gherdai Hassell at the Mehari Sequar Gallery in Washington.

It added: “Hassell's exhibit, inspired by Bermuda’s unique heritage and history, underscored the island's rich cultural legacy.”

The entry said: “While in Washington DC, the Premier also secured assistance from international IT experts in dealing with cyberattack recovery and restoration to support Bermuda’s restoration efforts.”

Mr Burt kept his plans to travel to the US capital after he told a press conference on September 21 an incident that knocked out government IT systems appeared to have its origins in “an external source, most likely from Russia”.

The disruption was later described by Rena Lalgie, the Governor, as a “major cyberattack”, and she confirmed that Britain’s National Cybersecurity Centre and the National Crime Agency were supporting Bermuda authorities.

Ms Lalgie said then: “While there was an early indication of the geographical source of that attack, any further speculation on the possible source or motivation for the attack would be unhelpful.”

Government IT systems were still affected this month by the attack, while the exact nature of the hack and whether personal data was stolen remained a mystery.

It was reported last week that travel expenses for nine ministers ran to more than $70,000 in 12 overseas visits over the past three months.

Some trips made by the Premier were not included in the list at that time, but a government spokeswoman confirmed that the information would be provided later.

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Published December 19, 2023 at 8:58 am (Updated December 19, 2023 at 5:41 pm)

Premier had meeting with Qataris while in Washington

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