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September: Facing the music

On the run: Savvy Entertainment chief executive Anthony Blakey, from Atlanta, Georgia, convinced David Burt, the Premier, and Jamahl Simmons, then the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, along with their Cabinet colleagues, to agree to an $800,000 loan in April 2018 to pay for recording equipment for the historic Moresby House, on Pender Road, in Sandys (Photograph via Facebook)

David Burt apologised to the public for overseeing an $800,000 loan from the public purse to an American music promoter who disappeared without paying it back.

The Premier issued a lengthy statement on Facebook on September 24 – the day after The Royal Gazetterevealed that the Government had been unable to track down Atlanta-based Anthony Blakey and had failed to recover the funds.

Mr Burt wrote that only public officers, not government ministers, could release public funds, if they were satisfied that “all is according to financial instructions”.

But he admitted: “The Cabinet I lead is responsible for the actions of the Government and, although the proper process was followed for the granting of a loan for this project, the end result is a less than flattering view of competence and accountability.”

He said the buck stopped with him and he understood why members of the public had criticised the loan decision.

“No part of me feels good about the fact that this did not work,” wrote Mr Burt. “I fully get the anger and frustration – it is deserved and I am sorry.”

The loan was given to Mr Blakey and his Bermudian employee, Danilee Trott, operating as Savvy Entertainment Ltd, in April 2018 to create a recording studio at historic Moresby House in Sandys.

But the studio was never set up and only about $22,000 of the loan was paid back.

The Gazetterevealed in July 2019 that the Government had issued a demand for payment to the registered office of Savvy to try to recover the public funds.

On September 23, 2020, the newspaper reported that lawyers for the Government had failed to find Mr Blakey in Georgia to serve him with a legal demand to return the outstanding loan amount, plus interest.

The article quoted a government spokeswoman, who said: “The Bermuda Government has initiated the appropriate steps to engage both the local and US authorities regarding a criminal complaint as part of the recovery effort of these funds.”

But the Bermuda Police Service responded by saying it had not been asked to investigate.

The next day, civil servants met with detectives and filed an official complaint.

The subsequent police inquiry saw Ms Trott and former tourism minister Zane DeSilva arrested, questioned and released on bail.

Ms Trott told the Gazette she never received any of the funds and Mr DeSilva said he had “absolutely no involvement” in the deal.

A police spokeswoman said in October: “It would not be prudent for the Bermuda Police Service to give specifics on which agencies are involved in the Savvy Entertainment investigation, but there is a transnational component.”

He declined to give an update on the inquiry last month.

The spokesman said on December 15: “If the BPS believes the release of information will assist with an investigation, we will do so through official channels.”

September also saw hundreds of hotel workers facing unemployment because of the closure of the Fairmont Southampton.

The hotel said it would have to lay off about 750 people, roughly 500 of them Bermudian, in order to renovate the resort over an 18-month period.