Zane DeSilva, right, and Zarah Harper, his daughter, when they appeared at an earlier hearing (file photo by Akil Simmons)
A former national security minister told a court there were no ‘settlements’ for the early months of the coronavirus pandemic and agreed the events were being considered for exemption from large group limits s they were for charitable purposes.
Wayne Caines was the first witness in the trial of Zane DeSilva, his daughter, Zarah Harper, and another woman, Angela Caldwell.
The three deny giving false information to a public officer in July 2020.
Mr DeSilva, who is a Progressive Labor MP for Southampton East, Ms Harper and Ms Caldwell are accused of providing information to a Department of National Security official which they did not believe to be true.
The prosecution added that there was an intention to induce the public official to do something he would not otherwise do, “namely that he provided a letter indicating that an event would be a dinner of charity in order to obtain an exemption to hold a large-group gathering under the Public Health (Covid-19 Emergency Powers) Regulations 2020”.
Supreme Court jurors heard the case related to correspondence exchanged before an event at the Blu Bar and Grill in Warwick on July 3, 2020.
Mr Caines, who was then Minister of National Security, told the court: ‘Before the Covid-19 crisis in Bermuda, this country had never seen a set of circumstances like this in our history.
He pointed to the social, political and professional ramifications that resulted from the measures put in place to try to limit the spread of the virus.
Mr Caines said: ‘The Department of National Security received over 1,500 waiver requests in the first week.
The court heard that by the end of June 2020, the number of infections was decreasing and a decision was made to “start systematically reopening events towards Cup Match 2020”.
Mr Caines said: “There were a number of businesses complaining, lamenting that they could not survive because the country was closed.
“We have received indications from the third sector, the Bermuda charities, that our people are hungry and the third sector is running out of money.”
Mr Caines, the MP for Devonshire North West, added that he held talks at the time with his parliamentary and Cabinet colleagues.
He explained: “If we were indeed to organize events or consider events, there must be something that we can give to charities to help people who needed to be fed.
“I didn’t have a rule book, I couldn’t watch what they did in history.
“I had to make decisions every day for the good of my people.”
The court heard that permission for the July 3, 2020 event was issued by Mr Caines in his ministerial role.
Alan Richards, representing the Crown, asked the witness what convinced him that the exemption should be granted.
Mr Caines said: ‘Looking at all the circumstances, this was an event that allowed a restaurant to get back to business…which, among other events, got our economy back on track.’
He added: “The second part – there was an opportunity to raise funds for the third sector.”
The court heard earlier that requests had been made to the Department of National Security for permission to assemble a group exceeding the number permitted by Covid-19 rules.
Zane DeSilva, 63, Zarah Harper, 38, both of Southampton, and Angela Caldwell, 44, of Warwick, are charged with one count of giving false information to a public officer.
It is alleged that they “on or about July 1, 2020, in the islands of Bermuda, gave a public official of the Department of National Security information which they did not believe to be true, with intent to provoke or knowing that it is probable that they would thereby cause a public official to do something that such a public official would not otherwise do, namely that he provided a letter stating that an event would be a charity dinner in order to obtain an exemption to hold a large group gathering under the Public Health (Covid-19 Emergency Powers) Regulations 2020”.
All three have denied the charge and the trial in the Supreme Court continues.
Mr Caines agreed when Mr Richards told him the restriction could be lifted if the Minister was satisfied that there were exceptional circumstances.
The court heard that Mr Caines received an email from Ms Caldwell, described in correspondence as being with the marketing department of MEF Ltd, which includes Blu among its establishments, on June 26, 2020.
Jurors were told a letter, signed by the restaurant’s general manager, was attached to the email and listed reservations totaling 130 guests for July 3.
Mr Caines read his reply – although it was mistakenly sent to someone else – which read: “As you know, the MEF must receive an exemption to host the party.
“We are happy to chat with you to make sure everything is in order for the event.”
The witness told the court that he personally approved the request.
Another email from Ms Caldwell, 44, to Mr Caines was dated July 1, the court heard, and also contained a follow-up letter from the chief executive.
The court heard the letter say the event “will be a unique fundraising dinner for Meals on Wheels”.
Mr Caines agreed when Mr Richards said: ‘Meals on Wheels was not mentioned in the previous letter.’
Mr Richards told jurors earlier, in his opening remarks: ‘We anticipate you will hear that Meals on Wheels knew nothing about it at all.
“It is the Crown’s case, respectfully, that it was a fiction, a ploy to overcome the need to demonstrate exceptional circumstances in order to obtain from the Minister an exemption from the large group limit.”
Mr Richards added: ‘In what the Crown says is this misrepresentation, these three defendants performed, shall we say, different roles.’
Mr Richards added that Ms Harper, 38, was a partner of Zarabi Entertainment, who hosted the dinner.
He said the jury would be asked to consider evidence which he said “will show that this was not genuinely a charity event; that it was a cover for the fact that, with all due respect, they wanted to party”.
Cross-examined by Jerome Lynch, KC, Mr. Caines told the court that he was aware of the charitable efforts of Mr. DeSilva, 63, and Ms. Harper.
The witness said he recalled a “please donate here” invitation at the event, where guests were told that “all proceeds will go to Meals on Wheels”.
Mr Lynch pointed to a message from Blu’s chief executive, in which the court heard he had asked Ms Harper to ask her father ‘what to include in the letter and who we were sending it to’ .
He asked the witness, “Did you ever realize then, rather than now, that his father was involved in writing one of those letters?”
Mr. Caines replied: “No.”
Mr. Lynch told the witness that the gist of his response to the initial email sent by Ms. Caldwell was “I’m not rejecting this at all…make it a charity event and we can allow this”.
Mr. Caines said, “That’s right.”
He told the court he was not aware of any emails or letters sent to the defendants at any time telling them that their application had been denied.
The trial, before Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams, continues.
*This story has been updated to include evidence from Wayne Caines, a former national security minister.
• He is The Royal Gazettethe policy of not allowing comments on stories regarding criminal cases. This is to avoid the publication of statements that could jeopardize the outcome of this case.