Nearly six years after the removal of Cayman’s three top police commanders in connection with a corruption investigation that went nowhere, the ill-fated Operation Tempura probe is still making headlines – and not just in the newspaper. The Journal reports that offshore interests are keeping track of the case.
Ever since March 27, 2008, when former Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan, Deputy Commissioner Rudi Dixon and Chief Superintendent John Jones were placed on required leave, the saga of Operation Tempura has fascinated the Cayman Islands.
From an alleged “break-in” at the offices of a national newspaper, to a public shaming of the territory’s top police officials, their eventual exoneration and then a table-turning on the man who led the anti-corruption probe, the twists and turns have unveiled intrigue and fueled public speculation at every new revelation.
Rather than die out over time, interest in the Tempura investigation appears to have grown in recent years. The United Kingdom-based media latched onto it with stories titled “The Sunshine Squad” – blasting what authors at the Daily Mail described as a Metropolitan Police-led, two-year taxpayer-funded jolly to the Cayman Islands. Other news sources, such as the Financial Times, reported complaints that had been made against the islands’ judiciary with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Now, the story has become the subject of an upcoming panel discussion planned for the Offshore Alert conference in Miami this spring. The former senior investigator of Operation Tempura, Martin Bridger, along with one of the initial probe’s chief witnesses, John Evans, were invited to discuss matters.
“The affair seems to get crazier by the month and is fascinating in terms of what it says about the Cayman Islands and its relationship with the United Kingdom,” says Offshore Alert owner and conference organizer David Marchant. “By any objective analysis, it’s insane.
“You are, after all, talking about a matter that began with something as innocuous and bizarre as a newspaper apparently making up letters to the editor and the judiciary becoming upset at what was relatively mild criticism,” Marchant says. “It then ballooned into a hugely expensive fiasco that, to the casual observer, is difficult to comprehend.
“It’s like a long-running episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’ and shows no signs of ending,” Marchant adds, referring to the British sitcom of the 1970s starring John Cleese.
The investigation that came to be known as Operation Tempura actually began with allegations of a corrupt relationship between publisher of the Cayman Net News, Desmond Seales, and RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis. Ennis was thought to have been providing Seales confidential information about police operations that Seales then allegedly passed on to contacts at Northward Prison.
An initial investigation by Martin Bridger was said to have disproved any and all such accusations. Bridger then turned the focus to why the allegations had been made at all, and whether an offense had been committed by Kernohan or Jones in organizing an entry into the Net News offices on Sept. 3, 2007, looking for evidence of a corrupt relationship between Seales and Ennis. John Evans was the Net News employee used by police during the covert entry.
Marchant’s reference to letters written about the judiciary concerned a different matter that formed an ancillary part of the investigation. A handful of letters that appeared in the Net News during 2007 were said to have made untrue and disparaging comments about the local judiciary and drew the ire of Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, among others.
Making public defamatory statements about members of the judiciary, or anyone else, is a criminal offense in the Cayman Islands. Evans has admitted he was aware at least one Grand Court judge, Alex Henderson, who had concerns that the newspaper letter-writer’s true identity was being concealed to protect the author from prosecution and that the author may have been another Grand Court judge.
As it turned out, no one was arrested in connection with the original Operation Tempura investigation. Justice Henderson was arrested in September 2008 over allegations of misconduct in a public office, allegations which were later found wrongful and for which Henderson was awarded a $1.275 million settlement. RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Dixon and former Cayman Islands Member of the Legislative Assembly Lyndon Martin, who worked for Net News at the time, were prosecuted for unrelated corruption allegations, but both men were acquitted after jury trials.
Former Commissioner Kernohan sued the Cayman Islands government after he was fired by former Governor Stuart Jack, and his lawsuit remains before the Grand Court.
Over time, a number of other issues have been raised, including whether top officials at the U.K. Met Police were really directing Operation Tempura from behind the scenes and whether local members of the judiciary sought to quash subsequent complaints made about them by Bridger and his legal advisor Martin Polaine.
Marchant says, “The specific relevance to the offshore industry is the insight it offers into the Cayman Islands, the quality of law enforcement, the quality of governance and the jurisdiction’s relationship with the United Kingdom, all of which impacts the international businesses doing business on the island.”
Another panelist at the upcoming Offshore Alert conference will be former Cayman Islands Auditor General Dan Duguay, who has expressed his belief that his 2009 audit of Operation Tempura expenses led to the non-renewal of his contract in early 2010.
Cayman’s former auditor general says he would like to see government take another look into the funding for the ill-fated corruption investigation.
Duguay’s October 2009 report only covered a period from September 2007 through January 2009, and Operation Tempura and spin-off investigations continued long afterward.
“We were probably about two-thirds of the way through the investigation … and there were additional investigative costs and there were other costs that people know about,” Duguay says. “I think the people need an accounting of what this actually cost.”
The Journal’s own cost estimates for Operation Tempura between September 2007 and late 2009 total some $10 million. Duguay’s audit revealed that $5.7 million was spent on Operation Tempura from September 2007 to January 2009. His office estimated a further $1.1 million was spent from February through June 2009, but did not specifically review costs for that period.
Several other matters occurred locally related to the ill-fated operation since the time of the first audit.
Those include the continuing use of a British-based law enforcement consultancy firm after January 2009; the cost of Dixon and Martin’s criminal trials, a report done at a cost of more than $300,000 to evaluate a complaint Bridger made to the U.K. foreign office, and the cost of other court cases, including the Kernohan lawsuit.
Initial plans for the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s Office to delve back into Operation Tempura were quashed. Toward the beginning of his first term in office, Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick produced a long-term audit plan that included a second look at “value for money” received by Cayman as part of the Tempura investigation.
Last summer, Swarbrick said he didn’t see any “value” for the public in going back into the matter, as it was likely to involve issues in other jurisdictions outside the scope of the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s Office.
Duguay says it’s his successor’s prerogative as to who gets audited, but he believes there is enough public interest in the matter to sustain another review.
“People keep asking questions about it,” Duguay says. “Some people see it as a failed investigation, and I think the first question is, how much did we spend on this?”
The former senior investigator in Operation Tempura filed a criminal complaint last month with Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines against Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, former Governor Jack and the U.K.’s Florida-based Foreign and Commonwealth Office adviser Larry Covington in relation to the ill-fated investigation.
Martin Bridger’s complaint makes the same allegations regarding Tempura as those he filed with the U.K. Metropolitan Police in 2013. Bridger lodged a formal allegation with Scotland Yard claiming that “very senior Crown servants” lied to him during the course of the nearly two-year corruption probe, thereby drawing out what otherwise would have been a quick investigation.
Police Commissioner Baines has acknowledged receiving the complaint, alleging criminal conduct, from Bridger, adding “it is premature and therefore inappropriate for me to comment further.”
Senior officers with the U.K. Met Police said it was their view that the criminal allegations Bridger made against former Cayman Islands Governor Jack, Attorney General Bulgin and Covington should be looked into further. All three men have previously denied any wrongdoing in connection with the Tempura probe.
U.K. Metropolitan Police Commander Allan Gibson said in May 2013 that, while there is enough information to pursue an investigation into Bridger’s claims, the U.K. Met Police Service would find itself “conflicted” in conducting such an investigation.
“In essence, the offenses being alleged are against Jack, [Bulgin] and Covington and amount to misconduct in public office, attempting to pervert the [course] of justice and possibly wasting police time,” states Gibson’s letter to then-Governor Duncan Taylor, sent on May 9, 2013. “It is my view that the allegations are serious and contain sufficient detail to warrant a criminal investigation.”
There is no word on whether the RCIPS under Commissioner Baines will consider such accusations from Bridger, but former Governor Jack has voiced his opinion that doing so would just be a waste of time.
“I totally reject any suggestion that I acted unlawfully,” Jack said in a recent statement. “These allegations are materially false and defamatory.
“It is high time for [Bridger] to be held accountable for his irresponsible and damaging behavior.”
Martin Polaine, the British lawyer who served as the Operation Tempura team’s legal adviser, who eventually ended up being disbarred in the U.K., partly over his role in the arrest of Justice Henderson, was reinstated last October.
Polaine claimed that his life was ruined after the events of Tempura. He was stripped of his right to practice as a lawyer in the U.K. due to a string of alleged offenses, including giving advice on matters relating to Cayman Islands law without being called to the Bar in the territory.
The U.K. Bar Standards Board quashed its original decision and replaced it with a two-month suspension.
And in yet another ongoing matter before the courts related to Operation Tempura, a court challenge over certain records from the investigation has raised a major unresolved question with the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law.
At stake is the release of a complaint made by Bridger to the U.K. foreign office. The governor’s office has sought to withhold the complaint and subsequent 185-page evaluation of it from public view, saying it is unsubstantiated and would serve to defame three serving members of the Cayman Islands judiciary.
Former Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert ordered the complaint’s release, stating that it was in the public’s interest for the governor’s office to do so.
U.K. High Court judge Sir Alan Moses has asked the Information Commissioner’s Office to go back and review its decision, specifically seeking to clarify whether the release of the complaint “would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.” Prejudicing the conduct of public affairs is one of the reasons a government agency can give for withholding a record sought under Cayman’s FOI Law.
In the case before the Cayman Islands Grand Court, the governor’s office argued that publication of Bridger’s complaint would damage public confidence in the administration of justice.
“The effective administration of justice requires that the public have confidence in the integrity and independence of the men and women who serve within the judiciary,” former governor’s aide Tom Hines wrote in the office’s argument against the release of Bridger’s complaint. “It also requires that this confidence is not eroded by unmerited or unfounded allegations made against them.”
Bridger’s complaint names Chief Justice Smellie, Grand Court Justice Henderson and Grand Court Justice Sir Peter Cresswell, according to court records. The specifics of each justice’s alleged wrongdoing have never been made public and have all been dismissed by former Cayman Islands governor Duncan Taylor.
Justice Moses summarized the governor’s office claims this way: “Raking over the coals of summarily dismissed allegations would … only revive unfounded and malign attempts to undermine public confidence in the judiciary.”
Arguing for the release of the complaint and subsequent evaluation of it, Dilbert, who retired as information commissioner in December, said more harm was being done to the entire territory by not releasing Bridger’s complaint.
“The continuing secrecy surrounding Operation Tempura, [a related investigation Operation] Cealt, coupled with evidence that both investigations achieved absolutely nothing, is doing immeasurable harm to the reputation of the Cayman Islands and public confidence in the police and the [U.K.] Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” she wrote.