Government records related to the ill-fated Operation Tempura police corruption investigation have been ordered released, although in partially redacted form, by the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office.
The decision on Tuesday by Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers marks the third time the Cayman Islands Governor’s Office has been asked to release the same records, following a February 2012 freedom of information request made by retired U.K. journalist John Evans.
In the previous two instances, separate governors have taken the information commissioner’s ruling to court, both times eliciting a judicial decision that the commissioner re-examine the records’ release in light of various legal issues raised.
The Governor’s Office has until April 7 to either disclose the records or to challenge Mr. Liebaers’s decision via the Grand Court. The Governor’s Office gave no indication Tuesday of its next move in the case. Previously it has waited until the last possible day to file legal challenges to the commissioner’s orders.
The records sought involve a complaint made by Operation Tempura’s former senior investigator, retired U.K. lawman Martin Bridger, regarding the conduct of certain high-ranking Cayman Islands officials in the judiciary and in the attorney general’s office. The complaint was dismissed in 2011 by then-Governor Duncan Taylor, who refused to release it, claiming some of its assertions were false and defamatory.
In addition to Mr. Bridger’s complaint document, Governor Taylor’s 185-page evaluation of that complaint is also sought via the open records request. Mr. Taylor withheld that evaluation from release as well.
The third decision to release the records varies slightly from the previous two.
It was revealed in 2014 that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was investigating the conduct of Mr. Bridger in connection with his filing an allegation of crime over how various aspects of the 2007-2009 Operation Tempura probe were handled by then-Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack.
Mr. Bridger has alleged that Mr. Jack, Attorney General Sam Bulgin and a U.K. official named Larry Covington withheld information from him that might have brought the corruption probe to a swift end. All three men have publicly denied that allegation.
Although he noted Mr. Bridger had not been charged with a crime in this latest investigation, Mr. Liebaers did accept that certain information in the Tempura complaint relative to the conduct of Mr. Bridger might serve to prejudice the ongoing criminal investigation if it was released.
However, the vast majority of the information in the Tempura complaint and the governor’s subsequent review could not remotely be said to affect any criminal probe that might or might not be proceeding against Mr. Bridger at the moment, the information commissioner said.
“[The records sought in this request] contain very little information on Mr. Bridger’s actions or conduct,” Mr. Liebaers said in his decision. “To the extent that the information in the complaint or the governor’s response [to it] relates to Mr. Bridger’s actions or conduct … I am willing to err on the side of caution ….”
Mr. Bridger has openly doubted in statements to the Cayman Compass between 2014 and 2015 that the police are pursuing any “real” criminal investigation against him. The information commissioner’s decision issued Tuesday stated that it appeared one of the allegations against Operation Tempura’s senior detective involved “misconduct in a public office.”
As part of his review of the records in this case, Mr. Liebaers and his assistant were permitted to review sections of police records involving the investigation regarding Mr. Bridger, but were apparently unable to peruse the voluminous records in the time given.
After two separate reviews, each lasting about two hours, further access to the investigative records was denied by RCIPS Commissioner David Baines, according to the information commissioner’s decision.
“The police commissioner continued to refuse access to the documentary evidence I needed to complete my investigation under the FOI Law because he considered my legal position ‘flawed,’” Mr. Liebaers wrote in his report. “[Mr. Baines] was willing to go to court to prevent me, essentially, from fulfilling the judge’s order and my mandate under the FOI Law.”
Mr. Baines alleged that the information commissioner had improperly communicated with Mr. Bridger regarding the ongoing criminal probe, which Mr. Liebaers denied.
In addition to ordering the records released in redacted form, the information commissioner said he would review – after six months’ time – the redactions to determine whether any police investigation into Mr. Bridger was still active. If it was not, the remaining redacted records would be released, Mr. Liebaers said.