The controversy that won’t go away

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.  

 

Origins  

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.”  

 

Cost-benefit analysis  

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?”  

 

Bridger   

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.”  

 

Polaine  

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.  

 

Open records   

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.  

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Martin Bridger

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Dan Duguay

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Judge Henderson

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Martin Polaine

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John Evans

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Stuart Kernohan

1 COMMENT

  1. This is an excellent summing up of what has happened so far and I suggest that anyone who is either unfamiliar with Tempura/Cealt or only knows the marl road version of events should read it.

    I regard (and this in an entirely personal opinion not a comment on their validity or otherwise) the timings of both the 2010 complaint that resulted in the Aina report and the latest complaint filed with RCIPS last month to be curious to put it mildly. To me the simple fact that the complainants had apparently been in possession of this material for years raises serious questions about why they waited so long to come forward. In fact this latest complaint just seems to me to be largely a re-hash of the earlier beefs that were dismissed by Aina three years ago.

    Whatever the motivation behind them, they have both conveniently served to divert attention away from two very real areas of concern.

    The first is the lack of any official response to the comments made after the Henderson arrest. In late 2008 Justice Cresswell identified actions by the Tempura team that he described as, ‘the gravest abuse of process.’ If you read Cesswell’s report the conduct identified back then seems not unlike that referred to by Commander Allan Gibson last year when wrote about, ‘misconduct in public office, attempting to pervert the course of justice and possibly wasting police time,’ but nothing was done about it.

    I even filed a formal complaint to RCIPS based on Cresswell’s comments because at the time the officers involved had been Special Constables acting under contract to CIG, they were not Met employees. After gathering dust for months the complaint was binned on the grounds that the people concerned had left both the RCIPS and the Cayman Islands so were effectively untouchable. It was then referred through my MP to Duncan Taylor who backed the decision not to investigate. Yet since then one of the people identified in Cresswell’s criticisms has been able to force through two misconduct complaints of their own, so far costing CIG over CI300K. If a retired police officer can always get his complaints investigated without difficulty it raises interesting issues about RCIPS accountability and why my complaints are always ignored?

    The second issue is the 2009 audit. Thanks to material supplied to me by the Met, backed up by court testimony from last November, we now know a lot more about the recruitment process that led to BGP and four private investigators going onto the CIG payroll in 2008. Based on an official statement emailed to me nearly two years ago there was, despite the statements made to the audit team, no CIG involvement in this process at all. It was presented as a ‘done deal’ having been set up by the Met in February 2008, when Tempura was still in the covert phase and while at least one of the officers later used as a consultant was still a serving Met officer. Again, why does nobody want to follow this revelation up?

    Similarly, is no one curious about the fact that for about a year the person leading Tempura earned GBP787 (over CI1000) a day as a private consultant but in April 2009 his job was handed over to a serving Met Detective Inspector who went on to undertake the same work for the next 12 months while receiving just her normal salary plus reasonable expenses? Or about all the documents that three years ago I discovered were missing from Tempura? In the UK people would be screaming about it but all we hear from the Cayman Islands is a deathly silence, almost as though ignoring it all will make it go away.

    The other thing that seems to make re-visiting the audit essential if this mess is ever going to reach anything like a tidy conclusion is the need for an investigation into the hidden costs of Tempura/Cealt. In 2009/10 RCIPS suffered what amounted to a mass exodus of experienced and highly qualified officers and civilian staff from RCIPS. I know for fact that this was in part triggered by Tempura because the investigation had raised serious questions about who was running the police. Some of the officers who left also resented the fact that their conduct was potentially being investigated by officers not only from a UK force that itself has a long, and well documented, history of corruption but from a unit (CIB3) that had a questionable history.

    Then there are the court actions and other legal costs. We have the failed prosecutions of Lyndon Martin and Rudi Dixon, the on-going claims by Stuart Kernohan and Burmon Scott, two court hearings over the disputed Tempura documents, the Aina report and the subsequent FOI action to be accounted for. Even the cost of the Henderson arrest, normally quoted as CI1.25 million, is still undetermined but I understand the total was nearer CI2million with over CI500K of that going on additional legal costs during unsuccessful attempts to find a way to get the award overturned.

    Right now I doubt that the true cost of Tempura is anything less than CI25million and, as that is increasing almost day by day, there is no way I can see the final bill for this mess coming under CI30million. Spread out over the six years and roughly six months since the Operation kicked off that is already averaging nearly CI4million a year with absolutely nothing to show for it. In real terms we are talking about the equivalent of over a tenth of the annual RCIPS funding for those years and, although I doubt that all the money came out of the policing budget, it clearly could have been better spent.

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