Premier McKeeva Bush was merely hitching a free ride on a plane going his way when he flew on a private jet owned by a bank involved in the controversial Cohen and Company lending deal, he told a Public Accounts Committee on Friday.
Mr. Bush and his entourage were photographed disembarking in Cayman from the Gulfstream IV aircraft on New Year’s Eve last year, raising questions about his relationship with Banque Havilland, which, along with Scotiabank, was one of two banks with which Cohen and Company arranged short term loans of US$128.5 million last year.
Asked by Opposition member Kurt Tibbetts if he wished to clear up the issue of the plane trip, Mr. Bush said he had been given a ride on a plane owned by Banque Havilland, when he made a trip to Nassau, Bahamas to attend a meeting with a potential investor who was interested in making “a huge development for this country”.
“They gave me a ride, one the government did not have to pay for,” said Mr. Bush, who added the trip to Nassau had “nothing to do with Banque Havilland”.
“It was their plane, but it had nothing to do with them. They have a representative on the island … They came to pick him up and they gave us a ride – nothing wrong with that,” he said. Mr. Bush said raising questions about the plane trip was typical of scandalmongers who wanted to make people believe “there is something unsavoury, something nefarious going on”.
Mr. Bush was appearing as a witness before the Public Accounts Committee to answer questions relating to the Auditor General’s report into how the government manages its procurements. One of the case studies considered by the Auditor General was the Cohen and Company deal, which occurred as the government was trying to procure a US$185 million loan.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick described the process used to acquire the contract with Cohen and Company, which was cancelled in January 2011 as lacking in transparency and fairness, failing to offer value for money and costing the government an extra CI$450,000.
Cohen and Company had arranged for Scotiabank to provide a US$92.5 million bridging loan on 22 October, 2010, and for Banque Havilland to provide a US$36 million loan on 14 December, 2010.
Mr. Swarbrick, in his report, said Banque Havilland was owned by the Rowland family of Great Britain and had opened in September 2009, offering private banking to high net worth families and individuals.
The Auditor General said the practice of the government in previous borrowing activities had been to deal with top-tier banks and institutions, but that from the Audit Office’s review of worldwide financial institutions, Banque Havilland was not a top-tier bank or lending institution.