Dramatic announcement: Traditionally, press conferences in Bermuda are small affairs shared between a minister and a few journalists. For yesterday's announcement, Premier Ewart Brown gathered his entire cabinet to watch proceedings with the island's media. The overall mood in the Cabinet Office was one of surprise and mild scepticism. *Photo by Tim Hall
Dramatic announcement: Traditionally, press conferences in Bermuda are small affairs shared between a minister and a few journalists. For yesterday's announcement, Premier Ewart Brown gathered his entire cabinet to watch proceedings with the island's media. The overall mood in the Cabinet Office was one of surprise and mild scepticism. *Photo by Tim Hall
Premier Ewart Brown and minister Derrick Burgess yesterday claimed they have fallen victim to an extraordinary and sophisticated smear campaign.

The Government pair confirmed that the Auditor General and police hold two cheques made out to a 'D. Burgess' and a 'Dr. E. Brown.' The cheques were issued by LLC Bermuda Ltd., the company handed a $78 million Government contract to build the new court and police building in Hamilton.

­In an unprecedented move, Dr. Brown and Mr. Burgess assembled the entire Cabinet yesterday, along with the island's media, to state publicly they believe the cheques are forgeries. Major question marks remain today over who would have the motive, the technical know-how and the political access to be able to forge the two documents and place them amid official Works and Engineering records.

Mr. Burgess confirmed the existence of two cheques made out by LLC. Ltd. - cheque number 0123, "in the amount of BD$14,780, in favour of 'Dr. E. Brown'"; and cheque number 0170, "in the amount of BD$10,000 in favour of 'D. Burgess.'"

Copies of the cheques were contained in Ministry of Engineering records and came to light when documents were handed over to the Auditor General, Larry Dennis, as part of his ongoing scrutiny of public projects. Enquiries from Mr. Dennis prompted Mr. Burgess and his permanent secretary, Robert Horton, to launch an internal investigation. Mr. Burgess said yesterday the investigation revealed the names in the 'pay to' line had been changed after deposit. He said: "The copies contained in the ministry's records were, without a shadow of doubt, fabrications of the true originals."

Scorpio

He said Mr. Horton had spoken with LLC Bermuda Ltd., and with "senior members of staff" at the Bank of Bermuda and concluded original cheques with those numbers had been paid into the bank with the real beneficiaries being Scorpio Construction Ltd. and Chester Management. Mr. Burgess said: "The funds arising from these cheques were never deposited into the account of any cabinet minister. These funds reached their intended destination [the two construction companies]."

He added: "Finally, Landmark insists that no cheque has been issued, and no payment has been made, by them to any cabinet minister at any time." Mr. Burgess said rumours circulating the island about the cheques in recent weeks, and newspaper stories about their existence, have "caused deep distress to our families."

He continued: "To say that I am outraged at this discovery would be a gross understatement. Some of the allegations, speculation and innuendo which have been rampant in this community over the past few weeks have been very hurtful indeed. With the deepest outrage and feeling of insult, we come immediately to the public via this press conference in order to reveal this information."

Dr. Brown said: "I cannot begin to tell you how offended I am by this violation. We thought it right to bring this matter to the public's attention immediately. The matter will also be the subject of a thorough police investigation to determine what crimes may have been committed by the fabrication and falsification of these documents and their distribution by a person or persons unknown. These acts were clearly committed with the intention that they should be used to sully the reputation of this Government and to damage - if not permanently destroy - reputations."

Foul acts

He continued: "Let the word go forth that no stone will be left unturned in this Government's efforts to uncover the source and purpose of these foul acts. Yesterday afternoon I visited His Excellency the Governor Sir Richard Gozney and asked that the matter be investigated immediately. The Governor expressed his deep concern about the issue and I expect that we will hear more from Government House as the investigation proceeds. I imagine the goal of the culprits in this matter was to destabilize this Government or to undo the will of a vibrant democracy. With that being the case, this crime is an affront to every Bermudian. Whoever is responsible must be uncovered and brought to justice."

Mr. Horton told the Bermuda Sun after the press conference he had "no idea" how the forged cheques could have got into his records. He admitted that the very presence of the cheques should have set off "alarm bells," long before the Auditor General began querying them. Mr. Horton said he cannot dismiss the possibility that someone within his own department is responsible for changing the names on the documents.

The Bermuda Sun approached the Bermuda Police Service to ask if they could confirm who received money from the cheques. The BPS had not responded by press time last night. The Bank of Bermuda said it could not comment since the matter is under police investigation.

We reached a representative of Scorpio Construction, who initially confirmed knowledge of the cheque in question. However, when asked about dates and amounts the representative was unable to provide details. Scorpio Construction later failed to return phone calls. There appears to be no record of a Chester Management based in Bermuda. There are many companies in other countries this could refer to but Government did not provide more specifics in order that this company could be contacted.