The war of words between Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin and the territory’s Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush intensified as the premier threatened to file a lawsuit this week against Mr. Bush over alleged defamatory comments contained in a parliamentary motion released to the local press.
Mr. McLaughlin said Saturday that neither he nor his attorneys had received any response to a letter delivered to Mr. Bush last Tuesday evening, demanding that Mr. Bush apologize to the premier over the private members’ motion filed in the Legislative Assembly on April 14.
The motion alleged a “conspiracy” to influence the results of the May 2013 general election in the Cayman Islands. The correspondence delivered Tuesday sought an apology from Mr. Bush by close of business Friday.
“We haven’t heard a word,” Mr. McLaughlin said, indicating that he was intending to proceed with the defamation lawsuit against Mr. Bush within the week.
Contacted Saturday for comment, Mr. Bush did not state whether he intended to apologize as Mr. McLaughlin’s letter sought.
“If [Mr. McLaughlin] takes the charges I have made so seriously, then I challenge him to step aside until the case is heard,” Mr. Bush said in a text message.
The private members’ motion filed by Mr. Bush was accepted by Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly last month, but whether the Legislative Assembly’s Business Committee – controlled by the Progressives-led government – would put it onto the governing body’s agenda was unknown. Also, pending litigation could have the effect of delaying or making moot the issues raised by Mr. Bush.
The motion, which makes various allegations against named and unnamed individuals, has been called “libelous” by Premier McLaughlin. The premier warned of pending litigation in a letter sent recently to local press organizations.
Generally, private members’ motions filed with the House are considered absolutely protected speech under what is known as parliamentary privilege. However, Mr. McLaughlin argues that the manner in which Mr. Bush’s motion was made public – in a press conference on April 14, the same date it was filed – exempts it from that privilege. Therefore, anything said in the motion and at the subsequent press conference is subject to claims of defamation, Mr. McLaughlin said – defamation referring to untrue and damaging allegations made publicly by one person against another.
The letter sent to the local media advised that Mr. McLaughlin was asking the press to refrain from publishing the details of Mr. Bush’s motion or subsequent statements about it.
Mr. Bush alleged in April that during 2011-2012, while he was under investigation in various criminal probes, certain meetings were held that discussed removing him as the then-premier from office, and who might form the “interim government” if he were replaced.
Asked to clarify what “irrefutable evidence” he possessed of this claim, Mr. Bush said he had written correspondence between the various parties involved – citing a list of individuals, who cannot now be named for legal reasons – and pointing the finger ultimately at the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Some of the correspondence may be considered legally privileged, Mr. Bush said, but he noted that would not prevent him from discussing it within the Legislative Assembly’s confines.
Some of Mr. Bush’s allegations are based on evidence that came out during his criminal trial on corruption allegations last year. Mr. Bush was acquitted of charges relating to allegations that he used his government-issued credit card to withdraw nearly US$50,000 in casinos in the U.S. and the Bahamas, using at least some of the cash withdrawn to gamble at slot machines.
During the trial, a series of emails were read out by Mr. Bush’s defense team which lawyers suggested showed a conspiracy to “bring down” the former premier.
Former Governor Taylor suggested in one email that a “quiet bottle of bubbly” would be in order if Mr. Bush was charged with criminal offenses. In one email, dated March 20, 2013, Mr. Taylor intimates to an official, named only as Tony, that Mr. Bush is about to be charged that afternoon.
“I’m not opening any quiet bubbly until it is confirmed,” he wrote. “When it is, there will be a huge sigh of relief across the Cayman Islands, including a loud one from this office.” He followed up with confirmation that the charges have been brought, writing “Good day for Cayman.”
Visiting Judge Michael Mettyear, in summing up the trial evidence, said that it was possible the former governor’s comments could be taken in a less negative way.
“If you think the former governor believed, rightly or wrongly, that [Mr. Bush] was corrupt and his actions were to the detriment of the Cayman Islands, you may view his apparent enthusiasm to have Mr. Bush charged and his celebratory attitude … in a different light,” Justice Mettyear said.