By Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- A former senior detective with London’s Metropolitan Police, who led a high-level corruption investigation in the Cayman Islands between 2007 and 2009, has filed a new criminal complaint against the territory’s current Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, former Governor Stuart Jack and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) adviser Larry Covington.
The ill-fated corruption probe, which collapsed in 2009 without any charges being filed, is still making waves in London and the British Overseas Territory and the latest complaint, filed with the Cayman Islands police follows a similar complaint made to the Metropolitan Police last year by Martin Bridger, the senior detective who headed the controversial investigation known as Operation Tempura.
At issue is what was the trigger for the entire investigation – a break-in at the offices of a local newspaper by two employees in search of what was portrayed as evidence of collusion between the then deputy commissioner of police and the newspaper’s publisher to supply confidential information about sensitive police operations.
The Scotland Yard detectives quickly concluded that no such leak existed.
At the time, there seemed to be three equally plausible explanations for the burglary itself.
First, that it was a hare-brained scheme by the two journalists acting alone and based solely upon the fabricated assertion by one of them that there was such a leak and he had seen the evidence in the newspaper publisher’s office.
Second, that the situation had been referred to then police commissioner Stuart Kernohan and that he and another senior police officer were privy to the break-in as it was being perpetrated by the two newspaper employees. This scenario was widely accepted at the time and was thought to have been validated with Kernohan’s suspension and later termination.
Nevertheless, it seemed uncharacteristic to some observers that an experienced police officer of Kernohan’s seniority would fail to get official and/or legal cover for what was an unauthorised entry into private premises.
However, there was always a third possibility aired by local media at the time but which gained little traction, namely, that knowledge and approval of the break-in went further up the chain of command and included then Governor Jack, the attorney general Sam Bulgin and senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials.
Kernohan has always maintained that knowledge and responsibility for the break-in went above him and released a comprehensive statement detailing his discussions with Jack, Bulgin and Covington prior to the commission of the illegal entry.
Kernohan’s statement, if true, makes it clear that all three knew of and approved the burglary beforehand. According to Kernohan, Bulgin even concluded initially that there were insufficient grounds to obtain a search warrant but apparently nevertheless went along with the alternative plans for an illegal entry into the premises.
Indeed, there was some speculation by Cayman Net News personnel (as documented by contemporaneous records) that, because Bulgin and the newspaper’s publisher, the late Desmond Seales, were not on the best of terms, it would not take a huge leap of the imagination to envisage that he (Bulgin) would have relished the opportunity to pursue something contrary to Seales’ interests.
In fact, it was believed to be entirely possible (even probable) that Bulgin would have wanted to believe that the accusations against Seales were true.
However, new evidence subsequently came to light that then governor Jack may have indeed approved the break-in himself and, by failing to disclose what he knew to the Scotland Yard detectives, allowed them to pursue fruitless lines of investigation that ultimately ended in a debacle.
Bridger now claims that Jack had authorised the illegal search during the earlier local inquiry into the leak, but never told him about it.
This alleged failure by Jack to disclose his decision to approve the warrantless search triggered an investigation of the local police leadership, who were suspected of going “on a frolic of their own”.
Last year, Bridger asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate whether Jack – and other senior FCO officials – misled him and the other Scotland Yard detectives.
Bridger asked the Metropolitan Police to look into the actions of Jack and other senior FCO colleagues for possible misconduct in public office. The former Scotland Yard anti-corruption expert has said he will hand over all the documents that he holds on the case to investigators – which could prove highly embarrassing to officials in both Britain and the Cayman Islands.
Bridger said in his complaint to the Metropolitan Police: “They [Jack and other senior officials] concealed from me, and the Metropolitan Police, the fact that they knew of the circumstances of the entry and that the governor had directly authorised it. As a consequence over a number of months we conducted an investigation on a totally false premise.”
The Metropolitan Police agreed that there were sufficient grounds for an investigation into Jack and the two other senior officials.
The claims against the three, which Jack strongly denies, amount to possible "misconduct in public office, attempting to pervert the course of justice and possibly wasting police time", according to a letter from the Yard's Commander Allan Gibson to the Cayman Islands then governor, Duncan Taylor.
"It is my view the allegations are serious and contain sufficient detail to warrant a criminal investigation," he said.
However, although Scotland Yard called for an inquiry, it said it could not carry it out because it was "conflicted" owing to its former officers' initial involvement. It indicated a non-British force should be brought in.
Cayman Islands attorney general, Sam Bulgin, has denied allegations that he, along with the two other officials, committed misconduct in public office, attempted to pervert the course of justice and lied to police.
“There is not a shred of independent or contemporaneous evidence to support such a scurrilous claim and, to the contrary, the documents from that time demonstrate conclusively that the allegation is not true,” Bulgin said last year.
In response to Bulgin’s denial, Bridger pointed out that the British police had decided the evidence against the three officials was sufficient to justify an enquiry.
“As with all criminal allegations, made either in the UK or the Cayman Islands, it is for the police to decide whether or not there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a criminal offence may have been committed and whether or not an investigation should be commenced,” Bridger noted. “The Metropolitan Police have decided that this threshold has been reached and that the allegations warrant investigation.”
Kernohan’s statement, if true, also makes it clear that all three knew of and approved the burglary beforehand and in fact directly contradicts Bulgin’s assertion that no “independent or contemporaneous evidence” of this exists.
According to Kernohan, such material does in fact exist, including, in addition to Kernohan’s own notes in his “day book”, a number of emails discussing the proposed break-in, written advice from Bulgin that insufficient evidence existed to be able to obtain a search warrant, other correspondence from Bulgin relating to the proposed entry and minutes of meetings prepared at the time by the then head of the Governor’s Office.
Although concluding that there were insufficient grounds to obtain a search warrant, Kernohan claims in his statement that he “discussed the entry into the Net News to copy the crucial police documents by an employee of the Net News” with Bulgin, Jack and Covington and all of them “agreed that was the only way forward at that time other than to do nothing until the arrival of [an outside investigation team].”
Bridger’s request for a full inquiry is supported by Kernohan.
Kernohan said: “At nearly every juncture, these probes have been resisted... this leads to the inevitable question: What are they hiding?”
Any investigation into the affair could also raise difficult questions for senior FCO officials in London about what they knew, and whether or not they were involved in withholding information.
“Show us the truth,” said Kernohan in a statement. “I have nothing to hide.”
The FCO is already fighting in the courts to block release of a document that could expose its attempts to avoid blame for the original bungled police inquiry. FCO officials have declined to release an inquiry report because its "disclosure could lead to a loss of confidence within the international community which could impact negatively on the Cayman Islands' reputation and, more directly, on its financial services industry".