Jetgate: Premier Craig Cannonier and Nathan Landow. *File photo/iStock/Photo courtesy of Leesburg Today & Loudoun Business
Jetgate: Premier Craig Cannonier and Nathan Landow. *File photo/iStock/Photo courtesy of Leesburg Today & Loudoun Business

Nathan Landow, the American businessman at the centre of the so-called JetGate controversy, has acknowledged he was part of a group of businessmen who donated an estimated $300,000 to aid the OBA’s 2012 election — but denies there was any quid pro quo in his dealings with Premier Craig Cannonier.

His admission to the political contributions, however, raises fresh questions about where exactly that money went and how it was spent.

Speaking to the Bermuda Sun over the phone yesterday, Mr Landow, a wildly successful real estate mogul and Democratic fundraiser, vehemently rejected a media report that says the Premier asked him for $2 million in “facilitation money” to help him make casino gaming a reality in Bermuda. 

Citing anonymous sources, local journalist Ayo Johnson, who recently launched independent media outlet Politica (www.think.bm), reported earlier this month Mr Cannonier made the $2 million request while meeting with Mr Landow at Dulles Jet Center, in March, 2013. The Premier has denied any wrongdoing and Mr Landow has chalked up that assertion to dirty politics.

“No, that’s ridiculous. We were never asked, nor would we consider anything like that. For what?” asked Mr Landow. “From what I heard that’s that political opposition down there; the people who don’t agree with Mr Cannonier and what he’s trying to do. They’re just snipping at his heels and trying to stab him in the back.”

Mr Landow acknowledges meeting the Premier at least twice. Mr Landow has been linked to potential casino development on the island, something he says he no longer is interested in. Specifically, he was interested in prospective development at the old Club Med property in St. George’s. 

Asked if he is still interested in developing casino gaming here, Mr Landow said: “No, I think too much time has passed. From what we gather there’s not a great deal of support for something like that.”

He did acknowledge that he, along with a group of half-a-dozen real estate developers, builders and entrepreneurs from the greater Washington D.C. area, gave about $300,000 in total to help the OBA’s election campaign in the run-up to the 2012 election.  He said there were seven political donors who contributed in the range of $40,000 to $50,000 each. He did not identify the other political donors.

“Everybody shared the same amount,” he said.

Mr Landow said the political contributions were made after an OBA political consultant solicited him for the donations through a Maryland-based lobbyist. After that solicitation, Mr Cannonier flew to the US to meet with Mr Landow and made a pro-jobs, pro-investment pitch, Mr Landow told us.
“We didn’t know OBA from the WPA,” he said.  “What we knew was this was a really good guy and we were asked would we listen to him in hopes of considering helping him in his effort to become, we thought it was prime minister, but it was premier. That shows you how much we knew at the time. And we said ‘yeah’.”

The money was not wired directly to the OBA campaign, he said. It was wired to a group called the Bermuda Political Action Club. It’s unclear who is behind that organization or how the money was spent. The OBA would go on to defeat the PLP in the December 2012 election. The Premier, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment for this story.

“We were told that it was campaign contributions and it was what you might say an underground campaign for getting out the vote, getting people to the polls,” Mr Landow said.

 “… We had absolutely no knowledge of anything or where the money was  going to go other than it was campaign contributions and this was some sort of underground campaign.”

Earlier this week, OBA Chairman Thad Hollis announced his party never received any political contributions from Mr Landow. He said the party would launch an internal investigation into the matter. 

There is no law in Bermuda requiring political donations and expenditures to be publicly disclosed, and as a result, campaign financing is rarely revealed on the island. It has been suggested that money might have been paid into a trust fund, rather than directly into an OBA account. We wanted to ask party chairman Thad Hollis about this but he declined to comment (see story below).

While it is perfectly legal to make and receive political donations in Bermuda, Section 111 of the Criminal Code Act of 1907, which deals with “official corruption”, states any public officeholder who asks for any benefit in exchange for government action or lack of action is guilty of a misdemeanor that can come tethered to a $50,000 fine or five years in jail. The Department of Public Prosecution did not return several phone calls this week seeking to clarify that law.

Earlier this week, Opposition Leader Marc Bean called for the Premier to come clean and explain whether there was any quid pro quo in his dealings with Mr Landow.

The Premier has rejected that notion. Yesterday, the American real estate mogul joined him.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

During their meetings with Mr Cannonier, Mr Landow said he and his associates liked the Premier’s “leadership style and his agenda”.

“He was very personable,” he said. “We thought he was very straightforward and honest. We were very tuned in and liked very much the issues that he has raised of the needs of Bermuda. 

“He had hopes of trying to help and making it better for the people of Bermuda. He was very convincing. 

“His heart and his head were in the right place.”

Asked what he expected from the donations, Mr Landow chose his words carefully. He said he never expected anything, but added the Premier made sure to communicate “that he was for bringing business and jobs to Bermuda for economic development and he had hopes of making it easier for investment from outside Bermuda to come to Bermuda and create business and economic development. In turn, his hopes were to create jobs”.

One of the chief political controversies underpinning the so-called JetGate fiasco was Steven DeCosta’s presence on a trip to meet Mr Landow in the US with Bermudian government officials. Mr DeCosta is Mr Cannonier’s business partner, which prompted a burning question: what was he doing attending the government meeting with American businessmen such as Mr Landow?

Mr Landow said Mr DeCosta was present for at least one meeting he had with Bermudian politicians. 

He said it was assumed Mr DeCosta, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, was part of Mr Cannonier’s political entourage.

“We didn’t know Steve,” he said. “Didn’t know who he was. We took for granted he was involved in the campaign in some way. 

“The candidates, when they come to you and you have meetings with them, they always have an entourage. People that work for them and that’s what our thought was as far as Steve was, that he was associated with the campaign.”

Was it ever clear what Mr DeCosta was doing there?

“No, we didn’t ask,” he said. “It was irrelevant to us.” 


Related stories:

OBA top brass surprised by chairman’s announcement

‘Premier not in danger’

Investigation will help Cannonier, says OBA source

Viewpoint: Are you happy with Craig Cannonier as Premier?

Some may not want donations made public

Bean: Premier should dissolve Parliament

Former premiers disagree on seriousness of allegations

JetGate: A timeline

Jetgate roars on social media

Opinion

JetGate: As I see it, codes were broken

JetGate: It’s a cheap, sordid and murky affair

JetGate: Mr Premier, I hope it’s not true

Kudos to journalist Ayo Johnson