Dug the idea: Maryland businessman Richard Cohen, seen here with his wife, Judy, said he was impressed by then-Premier Craig Cannonier’s vision of Bermuda as a place to do business.
Dug the idea: Maryland businessman Richard Cohen, seen here with his wife, Judy, said he was impressed by then-Premier Craig Cannonier’s vision of Bermuda as a place to do business.

An American builder who, along with Nathan Landow, met with Craig Cannonier in the run-up to the OBA’s 2012 election expressed shock at the Premier’s resignation.

Richard Cohen, who, along with real estate  development mogul Nathan Landow was among a group of American businessmen to meet with Mr Cannonier in the run-up to the 2012 election, said he never witnessed  any quid pro quo deals being struck with Mr Cannonier.  

“Let me tell you something: if that ever came up, I would be the first one out the door,” he told us this week.

“I’ve been in business for a long time. I don’t ever seek that or give it. No shot. You know what? I can make money through hard work, dedication and persistence. Not any other way.”

Reached on Wednesday, Mr Cohen, who is the chairman and president of real estate development firm Willco Companies, based in Potomac, Maryland, had not yet heard about the political upheaval here in Bermuda.

“He resigned? Why’d he resign? He just got elected, didn’t he?”

Later, he added, “If I sound a little shocked, I am. He’s not there anymore? Whoa.”

He said Mr Cannonier was pro-business and “from what I could tell, a real stand-up guy”.

“Any discussion that I was involved with, we talked about business because from what I understood Bermuda needed business and he was a pro-business guy and we thought ‘Well, gee, if he’s a pro-business guy, if he gets elected it might be interesting to see what types of business might be available, how much he was going to open this up?’”

He added, “Politicians talk a lot, but he seemed like a pretty reasonable guy, pretty honourable guy and very much pro-business.”

Asked if Mr Cannonier discussed casino or hotel development in the meetings, Mr Cohen said: “He talked about a lot of things. Infrastructure… I understand the highway system is not that good. The speed limit is something like 25 miles per hour. So it needs a lot of infrastructure work and to attract tourism they need hotels and you know businesses are closing up so they want to get tourism in there.”

He acknowledged American businessmen who met with Mr Cannonier made political contributions. 

“It went to the OBA so they could win the election. That’s all I know.”

During the course of the conversation with this reporter he did not specify if he himself contributed funds.

But why would American businessmen give money to a Bermudian political campaign? “He seemed like a real, real, real pro- business guy,” said Mr Cohen, whose portfolio includes the development of office buildings, shopping centres, warehouses and hotels, including the renovation of the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel. “Didn’t seem like a whole lot had been done in the last 20 years in Bermuda to spawn business. And if here’s a guy who is going to be pro-business, maybe if he got elected it would open up Bermuda for business. Period.”

Asked whether he had to deal with Steven DaCosta, Mr Cannonier’s business associate who is at the centre of the JetGate controversy, Mr Cohen said, “Is he the golfer? He liked to talk about golf and I’m not a golfer so we really didn’t have much to say to one another. As much as he loved golf, I despised it.”

He said he did not know exactly how much money the group of Landow-linked American businessmen gave to aid the OBA; Mr Landow told us last week it was roughly $300,000. 

“No idea. None at all,” Mr Cohen  said.