Attorney-General Trevor Moniz yesterday denied suggestions that the Bermuda Government had committed a breach of treaty over the Lahey Clinic lawsuit.
The civil action, which alleges the Massachusetts hospital ran a bribery-based scheme with Ewart Brown, the former premier, to profit at the expense of Bermudians, brought sharp criticism in the House of Assembly throughout Friday.
With tensions becoming increasingly fiery as the day went on, Progressive Labour Party members repeatedly questioned Mr Moniz, specifically asking if the US Department of Justice had contacted the Government about alleged breaches of the Mutual Legal Assistance treaty between the two nations.
Jamahl Simmons accused the One Bermuda Alliance of “digging 65,000 graves” and drafting an “international suicide note”; Derrick Burgess warned he was hearing on the streets that “fires would continue” and “this Government is fuelling the flames”; Zane DeSilva warned of jeopardising the relationship with the US.
Mr Moniz said several times that he was unable to speak on the subject, citing legal privilege, requirements under the treaty for confidentiality and the rules of the House regarding matters before the court.
However, he maintained that there had been no breach of treaty, adding: “The members of the Opposition are charging down the wrong road at full speed. There has been no breach of treaty. They can rest easy on that front, and the public can rest easy.”
Criticism of the civil action began during parliamentary questions yesterday morning, and continued in the Motion to Adjourn later in the day.
Shadow Attorney-General Michael Scott began the Motion to Adjourn debate by saying the action filed in a Boston federal court “implicates the entire government” and potentially breaches an agreement with the United States.
News of the Bermuda Government’s complaint produced “a flurry of reactions” — including queries about Bermuda’s Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States, Mr Scott told the House.
The civil proceedings filed on Tuesday, which materialised from a US-based criminal investigation, will have caused “serious concerns” within the US Department of Justice, the MP said, calling for “clarity on what is going on”.
He said: “The alarm we have is that the United States Department of Justice was unaware of this suit and may be potentially embarrassed, and the relationship between Bermuda and the United States embarrassed, by the taking of this suit ... the content of the suit is something that offends the relationship, and offends the treaty.”
He called it “regrettable” that Mr Moniz had “escaped to the comfort of unsubstantiated legal protections”.
“This announcement that linked Dr Brown as the operator of two clinics here is part of a running battle between the Bermuda Police and Ewart Brown ... it began with the efforts by the Bermuda Police to block a judicial review application by Dr [Mahesh] Reddy to challenge search warrants at his private residence,” Mr Scott said, alluding to the arrest last year of the director of Bermuda HealthCare Services last year, as part of a “financial investigation”.
That action was followed by “an indication from senior police officers that some corruption civil action was in the offing”, Mr Scott said, followed by the police raid on two of Dr Brown’s local clinics last weekend.
“Search warrants were executed, and materials taken. Again, the police failed when a judge, Mr Justice Hellman, ordered that all documents seized had to be returned forthwith. The police again, in their effort to advance the case against Dr Brown, came to nought.”
Mr Scott called on Mr Moniz to “clear the air”, saying the investigation was coming “under the microscope and scrutiny, from the top”.
“We understand it has created considerable tensions in the Department of Justice in the US and has potentially breached the mutual legal assistance treaty between ourselves and the United States. There could not be a more serious allegation.”
Mr Scott said the Attorney-General could not retreat to the protections of sub judice of privilege.
“He is under an absolute obligation in justice fairness and transparency to tell the country, make a complete clear hand of what contact he has had with the Department of Justice, or they with him.”
Mr Moniz responded that Mr Scott was “indulging in the politics of distraction”, saying the real matter of interest was the investigation of a former premier.
“I have no obligation to inform the Department of Justice of any suits by the Bermuda Government,” Mr Moniz said, saying there was no breach of “any obligations under treaty or otherwise”.
“People really want to know what went wrong in that Government, that they got so sidetracked into these allegations of an independent police force, an independent Director of Public Prosecutions,” the AG said.
The independent DPP makes a decision whether a person is to be prosecuted, Mr Moniz said, before taking his seat.
However, Walton Brown, the Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, noted the island’s special links with the US, including visa waiver access.
“We have this long standing, respectful relationship with the US. I’m afraid this relationship will be questioned to some extent,” Mr Brown said.
“We have reliable information out of Washington that there is concern within the Department of Justice that the treaty has been violated. If you call the violation of a treaty between countries a distraction, then we have an altogether different view of what is important.”
Under the Mutual Legal Assistance treaty, signed in 2009, both nations can make requests of information or evidence from each other with some limitations. Article 3 of the treaty states that parties can refuse requests for several reasons, including if the request relates to a “political offence”.
Meanwhile, Article 7 of the treaty limits how the information received is used. The requesting party is not allowed to use or disclose any information or evidence obtained under the treaty for any purposes other than for the proceedings stated in the request without prior consent. The sending party can also request that information is kept confidential, or used only subject to specific terms or conditions as may apply.
Mr DeSilva also emphasised the importance of Bermuda/US relations while emphasising the good work that Lahey does. He asked: “If Lahey is that bad are we still in partnership? Is the agreement still in place?”
Mr Burgess focused on his perception that the suit is politically motivated as it is an election year “and the government will do anything they can, even if it is not true, to make allegations against anyone on this side ... to distort the minds of people who don’t know better”.
He also warned the Government to “be careful” as “fires would continue”. “I’m not making threats,” he said, “but that is the tone of what I am hearing on the street. This Government is fuelling the flames.”
Mr Simmons quoted Chinese philosopher Confucius to say: “When you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Believing the motive of the lawsuit against Dr Brown was an act of revenge against the Opposition party, he said that “instead of digging two graves the Government dug 65,000 graves” describing the lawsuit as “an international suicide note”.
Despite Mr Moniz’s statements to the contrary, Opposition leader David Burt said the Attorney-General’s actions had put the treaty “at risk”.
“When it comes to a criminal matter, there have been no charges filed in any country,” Mr Burt said.
“We now have a civil complaint, which has been filed in the United States, which seems to contain information that could have only come from a police investigation. And the question is, how on earth would the Government and the Attorney-General have access to police information or information that would be obtained by law enforcement if no criminal charges have been filed?”
Mr Burt said it was “without question” that the United States Department of Justice had contacted Mr Moniz about a “possible violation of the treaty”.
“And do you know how we know it’s a fact? Because nobody in this Parliament has risen to defend that.”
Addressing the “interesting yarn” “spun” by the Opposition, Michael Dunkley, the Premier, said the Government had worked to protect the reputation of the nation.
“I think by the actions of the Opposition today, they have hurt Bermuda, as they call into question what has been done without any facts to it,” he said.
The Premier said the Government continued to have a “strong relationship” with the United States, Bermuda’s “closest and best trading partner”.
He also confirmed that Cabinet had been aware of the matter for “quite some time”.
The Premier said that the Government would not “wither away” by “misinformation” from the Opposition.
“We will stand and protect Bermudians and our reputation at every step,” Mr Dunkley said.
Stating that he has family members who use the Lahey Clinic, he called suggestions that the Government wanted to jeopardise the health of anyone “shallow and low”.
“This is a matter that has to be dealt with in a court, not in an operating room or a doctor’s office.”
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UPDATE: includes the conclusion of the Motion to Adjourn debate on the Lahey lawsuit