The Premier of Bermuda Craig Cannonier resigned Monday amid growing controversy over his dealings with a wealthy U.S. developer who wanted to bring a casino to the island.
Mr. Cannonier, who led the One Bermuda Alliance party to a dramatic election win in December 2012, has insisted that he did nothing illegal or unethical.
But he owned up to a “lack of transparency” over his dealings with developer Nathan Landow, a mega-rich fundraiser for the Democratic Party in the U.S.
Mr. Landow acknowledged in an interview with the Bermuda Sun newspaper on Friday that he and his associates had contributed $300,000 to assist Mr. Cannonier’s party in its 2012 election campaign.
There are no campaign finance laws in Bermuda that require political parties to declare large donations.
But Mr. Cannonier’s failure to be up front about his links to the developer, as his party attempted to push through legislation to legalize gambling, proved difficult to withstand.
Mr. Cannonier said in a statement: “Nothing illegal was done, but I accept there was a failure over time to be completely transparent. This is a fundamental component of good governance and a core principle upon which the One Bermuda Alliance was founded.”
Michael Dunkley, a dairy owner who had been Mr. Cannonier’s deputy, was sworn in as the new premier of Bermuda on Tuesday morning.
The revelation about the campaign donation was the latest twist in a long-running political controversy that has become know in Bermuda as the “JetGate” saga.
Questions were first raised by opposition MPs in March last year when it emerged that Mr. Cannonier and two of his Cabinet ministers had accepted a trip on a private jet owned by Mr. Landow to a meeting to discuss gaming and tourism.
Mr. Landow had expressed interest in bringing a casino to Bermuda. Gambling is banned in the territory, but the government was looking to introduce legislation to change that in an effort to stimulate tourism development.
The crisis was reignited earlier this month when an independent investigative journalist published a lengthy report on the matter. The report suggested the premier had asked Mr. Landow for $2 million in “facilitation money” to get gambling legislation passed. It also suggested, citing anonymous sources, that Mr. Cannonier had solicited a $300,000 campaign donation from the U.S. developer.
Both Mr. Cannonier and Mr. Landow flatly denied the bribe allegation, and the government initially dismissed the entire report as a “sideshow.”
But Mr. Landow, in an interview with the Bermuda Sun on Friday, confirmed that he and his associates had wired a $300,000 campaign contribution to a One Bermuda Alliance-linked organization called the Bermuda Political Action Club.
That revelation sparked a weekend of intense meetings among the One Bermuda Alliance membership, culminating in the premier’s resignation on Monday.
Tony McWilliam, editor of the Bermuda Sun, said Mr. Cannonier had acknowledged a “failure of transparency” as questions emerged about his dealings with Mr. Landow.
He said, “Cannonier’s One Bermuda Alliance supports the loosening of gambling restrictions in Bermuda and Landow was interested in developing a casino here.
“The scope and chronology of their interactions have been the subject of debate for many months and the issue was re-ignited by a recent, online report by an independent, investigative journalist.
“A Bermuda Sun revelation last week, which saw Mr. Landow confirm that he and business associates wired roughly $300,000 to Bermuda to help the OBA’s 2012 election campaign, appears to have been the final straw for many of Cannonier’s erstwhile supporters in his party.”