Operation Tempura: What's the $500,000 secret?

Operation Tempura, the $10 million-plus, U.K.-orchestrated, Cayman Islands–financed fiasco, is back — and there’s a lot of “plus.”

The initial special investigation into Cayman police (and one judge) concluded more than four years ago. While there have been long stretches of quietude since then, don’t be deceived: Beneath the surface, Tempura’s hot embers have continued to smolder, threatening to ignite with revelations the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office wants to avoid at any cost — especially if the cost is borne by someone else’s treasury (meaning ours).

The latest news is that the government’s tab exceeded $500,000 just to continue the concealment of records sought in a Freedom of Information request.

For background, Operation Tempura’s former senior officer Martin Bridger filed a complaint over Tempura. That led government to spend $335,000 for U.K. attorney Benjamin Aina to evaluate Mr. Bridger’s complaint. In response to an open records request, former Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert then ordered that the Office of the Governor make Mr. Bridger’s complaint and Mr. Aina’s evaluation public. The governor, who didn’t like what he read in Mr. Bridger’s complaint, responded by challenging Mrs. Dilbert’s decision in Grand Court.

There, judge Sir Alan Moses ordered that some of the issues around the court challenge be sent back to the information commissioner for further consideration.

Mrs. Dilbert’s office spent nearly $175,000 to litigate the challenge, including fees for outside local counsel which was assisted by a U.K. attorney. Unknown is how much the Attorney General’s Office (for the governor) spent on its own outside counsel.

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When government lawyers hire private lawyers to battle another government entity in court, the verdict is predictable: The lawyers win, and the taxpayers lose.

Tempura was an operational nightmare, and a financial black hole. The U.K. messed it up and ever since has been covering it up. The ill-fated investigation produced two criminal trials, zero convictions and a $1.275 million settlement in favor of Grand Court Justice Alexander Henderson for unlawful arrest.

Still to be resolved is a behemoth of a lawsuit filed by former Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan, who lost his job in the debacle.

We know that both the U.K. and Cayman governments have their reasons for covering up Tempura. For example, Mr. Bridger’s complaint names Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, Justice Henderson and Grand Court Justice Sir Peter Cresswell. An additional criminal complaint, also filed by Mr. Bridger, names former Governor Stuart Jack, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin and FCO advisor Larry Covington. That complaint resides with Police Commissioner David Baines but, to date, remains unacted upon.

The governor’s office argues that releasing Mr. Bridger’s allegations would undermine public confidence in local judges. On the other hand, the information commissioner contends that what is really causing the harm is the “continuing secrecy” around Tempura and the related Operation Cealt.

We fully expect that the shroud over Tempura will eventually be lifted — perhaps not through the legal process but through the journalistic process. Frankly, too many reporters know far too much for the secrets to remain buried much longer.

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  1. As the original applicant and appellant I think this editorial needs to be viewed in the context of two previous stories –


    This simply shows that the costs of the Judicial Review could have been avoided if one person had decided to cooperate.


    This raises some serious questions about the way the ICO handled the whole appeal. I have a copy of the complete FCO case for non-disclosure as prepared in the UK back in 2011. What it clearly shows is that the arguments put forward by the ICO for disclosure in the Cayman Islands were weak and incomplete because the FCO was simply going to outflank them.

    The question here is why was I shut out of this? Not only did I have the relevant documents needed to properly prepare for the Judicial Review but I also have over 10 years experience, including previous tribunal hearings, of preparing FOI appeals.

    In the wake of what can best be described as yet another expensive post-Tempura fiasco I think there needs to a serious review not only of the role of applicants and appellants in the FOI process but also of the financial implications of pursing matters beyond the appeal stage. Right now the system seems to give the lawyers a blank cheque, with no cap on how much they can bill CIG for their work and that is clearly wrong.

    I hope, to quote one of Duncan Taylor’s favourite phrases, lessons have been learned here but I somehow doubt it.