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The ex-leader of Bermuda has been charged with corruption, potentially ending a decade-long mystery about the controversial US ad agency GlobalHue
Ewart Brown, the former Premier of Bermuda.Wikimedia, CC
The charges, which Brown denies, shed new light on the history of the GlobalHue scandal.
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The ex-leader of Bermuda has been charged with corruption, potentially ending a decade-long mystery about the controversial US ad agency GlobalHue

The charges, which Brown denies, shed new light on the history of the GlobalHue scandal.
  • Ewart Brown, the former Premier of Bermuda, was charged with 13 counts of corruption. He denies the charges.
  • Prosecutors say he took improper payments from GlobalHue, a US ad agency that handled Bermuda's tourism business.
  • The charges potentially solve a lengthy mystery over the relationship between GlobalHue and Brown.

Ewart Brown, the former Premier of Bermuda, was charged with 13 counts of corruption by the island's director of public prosecutions on January 20, according to the Royal Gazette newspaper.

The charges bring to an end a more than decade-long mystery about the leadership of the Bermudian government between the years of 2006 and 2010: Just how corrupt was Brown, really?

The answer, prosecutors allege, is that Brown's graft was routine. He received more than $4 million in bribes that went to him, a business he owned, or as political contributions to the Progressive Labour Party that he led at the time, according to Reuters.
Brown did not respond to two messages sent to his personal accounts requesting comment.

Why did the country's leader defend his ad agency so fiercely?

The charges also shed light on a decade-old mystery about Brown's relationship with the US ad agency GlobalHue, which handled the government's tourism marketing account. (While Brown was the Premier, he was also the tourism minister.)

Two of the counts allege that Brown "corruptly obtained" $125,000 in campaign donations from GlobalHue.

Allegations about the strangeness of GlobalHue's ad spending began in 2009, when an audit found that GlobalHue had been spending large sums of Bermuda's media budget on US outlets with relatively small audiences. An initial audit found GlobalHue had overbilled Bermuda by $1.8 milllon. A media-buying subcontractor on the account had charged commissions of up to 181 percent on ads placed - an excessive margin. GlobalHue was accused of keeping credits and discounts for itself rather than returning them to the client whose money had generated them.

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Yet rather than ordering an investigation into the discrepancies, or switching the business to another agency, Brown fiercely defended GlobalHue, repeatedly levelling false accusations of racism against reporters, politicians, and local officials who raised questions about spending.

Since then, the question of how GlobalHue came to be running Bermuda's ad business - and why payments to it looked so excessive - has fascinated both islanders and US ad agency insiders. Bermuda spent $41 million on tourism advertising through GlobalHue in the period. Tourism is Bermuda's main economic growth driver, and so the control and effectiveness of its tourism marketing is one of the most important issues on the island.

GlobalHue, which no longer exists, was a big deal in its day. It was once the lead agency for Jeep and created ads for the Super Bowl. The Bermuda account was a midsize jewel for any agency that could win the contract, in part because it generates expenses-paid trips to the island for staffers working on it.

GlobalHue tried to get a government employee fired

GlobalHue went out of business in 2016, leaving some of its staff unpaid.

The Southfield, Michigan, company had been founded by Don Coleman, a former New Orleans Saints and New York Jets player in the NFL and a longtime friend of Brown's. Brown and Coleman were once so aligned that the ad agency issued statements through Brown's press secretary. Coleman once gave Brown a ride on his private jet.

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GlobalHue had such pull inside the Brown government that at one point it threatened to end the career of a civil servant who had raised questions about its invoices, the Royal Gazette reported.
Most of the charges against Brown relate to Lahey Clinic, a non-profit teaching hospital in Massachusetts that has two clinics on Bermuda allegedly owned by Brown. A lawsuit filed by Bermuda in Massachusetts federal court alleges that Brown took payments from Lahey and in return gave the clinics preferential treatment on government contracts and repeatedly and unnecessarily referred Bermudans for medical scans they did not need.

Brown denied the charges

Brown has previously denied corruption allegations. When his businesses were raided by police, he wrote on Facebook:

"Anyone who has ever legitimately requested documents from our businesses has always been provided with them. ... We are not weak, we are not afraid, and this campaign of harassment and intimidation must end."

In another statement about the investigation, from 2017, he said, "I am offended, saddened, dismayed and alarmed, but not surprised ... We will fight with our last cent and to our final breath."

Racism allegations

Prior to that, Brown had insisted that his critics were motivated by racism. In a conversation about the scandal with Insider in 2013, he told this reporter: "My experience has taught me that people who write like you do are usually committed to a Racist agenda. I pray that you will stop practising Racism."
Read more: The ex-Premier of Bermuda thinks I'm a racist because I criticized his ad spending

He then added, "Also, if you ever wish to debate these issues in Bermuda, I will cover your expenses to do so." Insider declined the offer.

Brown demanded loyalty oaths from his cabinet members

Brown's reign over Bermuda was a chaotic and tumultuous one. The island's opposition party, the United Bermuda Party, once cited GlobalHue in an attempt to bring down the government. UBP leader Kim Swan's remarks on the controversy were later struck from the government record. At one point, in an attempt to prevent members of his own party from moving against him, Brown required members of his own cabinet to sign loyalty oaths.

Yesterday, Brown - who owns property on Martha's Vineyard, New York, and Turks and Caicos - said nothing during a court hearing conducted by Zoom video conferencing. He was released on a $250,000 bond and his case will eventually be heard by Bermuda's Supreme Court, according to Reuters.

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