Tempura tale: Sordid story, new audience

A change of scenery often offers an enhanced perspective.

Here in the Cayman Islands, local and U.K. officials have striven to keep quiet the ill-fated RCIPS corruption probe known as Operation Tempura. Cayman, at the U.K.’s insistence, has spent millions of dollars on the continuing fallout from the investigation, which ended more than four years ago. The scorecard to date: No convictions and the unlawful arrest of a sitting Cayman judge.

On island, government officials – including several who were involved in Tempura and continue to remain in high-level positions – tend to say as little as possible about the U.K.-orchestrated fiasco, which started out as an investigation into the relationship between police and Cayman Net News publisher Desmond Seales. It then blossomed into a full-blown inquiry into Cayman’s criminal justice system and, after it went bad, has been under government-imposed lock-and-key.

The cover-up of Tempura may be worse than Tempura itself, which in its own right was nastier than any local corruption it revealed. Looking at the principals (not the underlings) tangled up in Tempura, there is nary a Caymanian in sight. The main thing Caymanian about Tempura is the money used to finance the operation and, in its aftermath, keep it quiet.

The Tempura fiasco this week was on display in Miami, where a panel discussed the scandal as part of the annual OffshoreAlert conference. The panel, moderated by Caymanian Compass journalist Brent Fuller, featured names that should be familiar to many people back in Cayman: former Tempura senior investigator Martin Bridger, former Auditor General Dan Duguay and former Cayman Net News journalist (and Tempura participant and witness) John Evans.

Beyond the confines of Cayman’s borders, the panelists agreed that the people of Cayman deserve to know how much taxpayer money has been and will be spent on Tempura, and also to know exactly what happened during and after Tempura, and why.

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It’s important to keep in mind that, although local and U.K. officials have made Mr. Bridger out to be “the bad guy” – the reality is Mr. Bridger worked hand in hand in the investigation with then-Governor Stuart Jack and Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates, then of Scotland Yard. After Tempura soured, Bridger, along with legal adviser Martin Polaine (who was recently vindicated by the U.K. Bar Standards Board), were unceremoniously evicted from the inner circle directing the investigation.

(Governor Jack, a key player in Operation Tempura, has never been charged with any wrongdoing and, in a judicial ruling by Justice Alan Moses, was removed as a defendant in the civil case filed by ousted Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan. That was the suit the government settled in March with Mr. Kernohan for an undisclosed sum.)

One of the several outstanding items in the Tempura inventory exists in the form of a pair of criminal complaints, filed by Mr. Bridger, that currently reside with Police Commissioner David Baines. The complaints make serious allegations against Governor Jack, U.K. FCO adviser Larry Covington and Cayman Islands Attorney General Samuel Bulgin.

Commissioner Baines tells the Compass that the matters contained in the complaints are legally complex, but his office is actively engaged in addressing them.

Working around our own set of legal constraints, the Compass is committed to telling the untold story of Tempura. Frankly, we don’t need to do much, if any, more reporting on this issue. We already know what took place. It is only legal barriers (such as sub judice dicta) that are preventing us from printing at this time.

For now, let us just say that we concur with a comment Mr. Bridger made at the OffshoreAlert conference: “Someone … is not telling the truth.”

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  1. Along with everyone else involved I would like to thank the Compass for their determination not to let this scandal quietly die off. I am sure that there is equal determination on the part of a number of official bodies to do everything in their power to kill off Tempura and bury its unsavoury legacy; these efforts can only be countered by editorial observations like the one above.
    In the past month I have had the opportunity to meet with both Martin Polaine and Martin Bridger. In view of some of the comments I have posted in the past it might surprise readers to learn that we have found a lot of common ground and are now cooperating on a level unheard of a few months ago.
    One of the immediate results of this is the united call for a public inquiry. This was something I had advocated in the past but moved away from last year because of concerns that the process might be misused.
    The Cayman Islands are not exactly unfamiliar with this option. You have already had ‘Chuckiegate’ and the Levers Tribunal, both of which dealt with far less contentious issues, so why should there not be a Tempura/Cealt inquiry? The official line has always been that it is not required or justified, pretty much the same fatuous arguments put forward against re-opening the 2009 audit, but I am certain there is another reason for the reluctance to investigate this investigation.
    Chuckiegate and Levers were entirely domestic affairs. The issues of Tempura and Cealt are in the main non-domestic problems. They directly involve the FCO and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) back in the UK. In the case of the FCO and MPS the potential fallout could reach some fairly high levels. If you read the list of players it resembles a section from the ‘Who’s Who’ of both organisations. The difference is that most of the MPS officers are now retired while at the FCO those involved are either still in post or, in two cases, have been promoted and moved into fairly sensitive jobs where involvement in a public inquiry could prove embarrassing.
    The FCO are probably also more than a little bit concerned about whether they could keep the Aina report out of a public inquiry. They may have succeeded in suppressing it at great public expense under FOI but it will be extremely relevant if the whole thing gets aired in public and I suspect the well worn excuses for keeping it secret will no longer work.
    One area the FCO must be very concerned about is the suggestion that there are actually two Aina reports. The first one (possibly only a draft) being submitted to Duncan Taylor in January 2011 and a final version, completed with input from the Governor’s Office, that was released to Martin Bridger some two months later.
    According to one source some of the contents of the two reports are (in a manner reminiscent of the way Dan Duguay’s 2009 audit suffered major changes before he was allowed to release it) very different. If this is true it alters the concept of the Aina report from a truly independent review of some very serious complaints to findings that were compromised by the involvement of parties who were hardly impartial or independent.
    To most people Tempura has the appearance of a cover up on massive scale and the only real way to move past that is to stop the secrecy. There are no on-going police investigations to compromise and the tried excuse of harming relations between the UK and the Cayman Islands no longer makes any sense. In fact any damage was not only done a long time ago but the continuing secrecy is actually making things worse.
    On her appointment last September Governor Kilpatrick vowed to well and truly serve the people of the Cayman Islands, it would a welcome demonstration of true commitment to that promise if she finally lifted the lid on Tempura.