Internal document: Liquor Board approved Sunday alcohol sales at Peanuts

An internal document from the Department of Commerce and Investment appears to confirm that the Liquor Licensing Board granted permission to Red Bay convenience store Peanuts to sell alcohol on Sundays.

According to the document, now in the possession of the Cayman Compass, a DCI official attended the board’s March 28 meeting and took contemporaneous notes which support the initial “draft minutes” prepared by board secretary Marva Scott. Subsequently, the board released revised minutes showing that the Peanuts license had been denied.

According to the DCI notes: “All [board members] agreed to allow sale of alcohol on Sunday with a retail license based on the primary business, e.g., Gas Stations & Convenience stores less than 4,000 sq. ft.” The notes further state: “It was agreed Sunday trading for retail would only be allowed during 1-7 p.m.”

The notes state that DCI Director Ryan Rajkumarsingh attended the meeting and that another DCI staffer wrote the notes. When contacted by the Compass Thursday afternoon, Mr. Rajkumarsingh said he would have “no comment.”

These internal notes have been distributed to a number of government departments, including the DCI, which oversees the Liquor Licensing Board, and to the Internal Audit Service, which is investigating what occurred with the licensing approval for Peanuts convenience store.

Meanwhile, the Compass has learned that Peanuts owner Gary Rutty has asserted, through his legal counsel, that “the loss of sales and associated legal costs … due to the manner in which this license has been processed has now exceeded $100,000.”

Further, it is also claimed that on the same day of the board’s March 28 decision, acting chairman Woody DaCosta personally called Mr. Rutty’s attorney and confirmed that Peanuts’ retail license had been approved.

A side-by-side examination of the newly discovered DCI notes and the draft minutes reveals similar or even identical language and accounts of the meeting, particularly that the license had been approved.

Nevertheless, in another letter, written by the DCI on Sept. 1 and obtained by the Compass, the department continued to maintain that the Peanuts license “is now correctly recorded in our system as ‘refused.’” (Emphasis theirs.)

Following its March 28 meeting, the board sent notification to Peanuts, the DCI and the media that the Sunday license had been granted. Later, acting chairman DaCosta said the notification of approval had been sent in error.

In August, Mr. DaCosta told the Compass that the board had deferred its decision in March and rejected the application at a separate “electronic meeting” held in June. No record of that electronic meeting has ever been made public.

Mr. DaCosta has since been removed from the Liquor Licensing Board.

The Compass reported this week that some political pressure may have been applied to the Liquor Board’s decisions to grant Sunday retail licenses by an influential church group.

On the same day the Liquor Board was deliberating whether to grant permission for Sunday sales, the Cayman Ministers’ Association sent a letter to Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick urging the approval of a Cabinet order halting liquor sales on Sundays.

The letter stated: “We believe that the issue should be considered in terms, not only of what may be strictly legal, but in terms of an application of good civic common sense, bearing in mind the well-known impairment of judgment caused by alcoholic beverages, as well as the serious driving infractions that are already observable on every journey.

“The Cayman Ministers’ Association understands that Cabinet is able to issue a directive in this matter, as it has done in the past, and urges it to do so at this time without hesitation.”

Governor Kilpatrick responded to the ministers’ letter on April 4, stating that she had forwarded their letter to then-government minister Wayne Panton, who had oversight responsibility for the Liquor Board, and Premier Alden McLaughlin. “I agree that this issue needs to be considered with common sense, given the harm that alcohol can cause and particularly combined with driving,” Governor Kilpatrick wrote.

Mr. Panton said he never brought any Cabinet paper regarding the Minsters’ Association request, and Governor Kilpatrick has denied that she was seeking to put political pressure on former minister Panton or anyone else to respond to the Sunday alcohol sales issue.

Additional reporting by Compass staff.

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