The Cayman Islands information commissioner and the former senior investigator of the ill-fated Operation Tempura police corruption probe have alleged that top local officials took steps during the last two years to block public access and scrutiny to records related to the Tempura probe.
In a Feb. 15 ruling, Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers said Police Commissioner David Baines “impeded” his access to crucial police investigative records during Mr. Liebaers’s court-mandated review of a 2012 Freedom of Information request related to the Tempura case. Mr. Baines conversely accused Mr. Liebaers of seeking information from former Tempura senior investigator Martin Bridger that was “outside his remit” to pursue in the course of the information commissioner’s duties.
That February 2012 Freedom of Information request seeks certain documents related to the Operation Tempura probe and has so far been delayed, mainly due to the fact that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is investigating the conduct of Mr. Bridger in connection with the filing of a 2013 criminal complaint. The former Tempura investigator alleged that he was misled by two top Cayman Islands officials and a member of the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the course of the Tempura investigation, an allegation the three officials have denied.
Mr. Bridger, meanwhile, has alleged that Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick supported Mr. Baines in essentially passing off the complaint Mr. Bridger made about activities of top Cayman Islands and U.K. officials in relation to the handling of the Operation Tempura probe. Mr. Bridger said Sunday that the investigation into his allegations had not been conducted “to an acceptable standard.”
The tables turned on Mr. Bridger following the dismissal of his criminal complaint, and he found himself under investigation over the allegations he made against the Cayman Islands former governor, Stuart Jack, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin and a U.K. foreign office official named Larry Covington.
“[The governor’s] response was and remains that it is not in the public interest to have the complaint investigated,” Mr. Bridger said in a statement sent to the Cayman Compass on Sunday regarding his claim that the initial investigation of his 2013 criminal complaint was not handled properly. “I cannot understand how the person responsible for policing in the Cayman Islands has made the decision that it is not in the public interest to investigate a legitimate complaint against her commissioner of police.
“It does seem that the rhetoric of openness, transparency and good governance is being compromised by the continued and ongoing efforts to keep material away from public scrutiny.”
Police Commissioner Baines and Governor Kilpatrick were contacted regarding allegations that the review of the open records request had been impeded. The governor’s office declined to comment. The commissioner’s office did not respond.
The general dispute is over records sought by retired U.K. journalist John Evans that relate to a complaint made by Mr. Bridger back in 2010, involving the conduct of certain high-ranking Cayman Islands officials in the judiciary and the attorney general’s office. The complaint made by Mr. Bridger was dismissed in 2011 by then-Governor Duncan Taylor who refused to release it, claiming some of its assertions were defamatory.
In addition to Mr. Bridger’s complaint document, Governor Taylor’s 185-page evaluation of that 2010 complaint is also sought via the open records request. Mr. Taylor withheld that evaluation from release as well.
On Jan. 15, for the third time, the information commissioner ordered the governor’s office to release the records sought with a relatively small portion redacted. The previous two orders to release the same records were challenged in court by the governor and the courts ultimately ordered a further review of the matter.
In the latest instance, the governor’s office sought to prevent the records’ release due to the ongoing criminal investigation involving Mr. Bridger and his 2013 allegations that the initial Tempura probe was misled by the actions and statements of then-Cayman Islands Governor Jack, Attorney General Bulgin and Mr. Covington.
Mr. Liebaers said he endeavored to “gain a general understanding” of the RCIPS investigation of Mr. Bridger via a two-day review of the records police held. During the review, the information commissioner stated he was “not able to confirm any specific connection between the RCIPS investigation [of Mr. Bridger] and the information contained in the records” that were subject to the Freedom of Information request.
Mr. Baines indicated to Mr. Liebaers that he also was uncertain of any links between the two, but that the investigation was not complete and that he was unsure “where the evidence might lead” the investigation into Mr. Bridger.
“The non-committal nature of [Mr. Baines’s] answer was somewhat concerning, considering the investigation had apparently been going on for some time,” Mr. Liebaers said.
The information commissioner then asked to continue his examination of the RCIPS investigative records related to Mr. Bridger. A few days after this request, an information office staff member was told Mr. Baines had “just appointed an investigation team” which would need the files related to the criminal investigation against Mr. Bridger. The information commissioner’s office could therefore not examine the police records further for “an unspecified period of time.”
The appointment of the police investigative team referenced by Mr. Liebaers appears to have been done in August 2015, more than a year after the criminal probe involving Mr. Bridger started.
In a later response to the information commissioner’s office, Mr. Baines expressed some concern that Mr. Liebaers had asked Mr. Bridger for more information regarding the retired U.K. lawman’s complaint to the RCIPS. Mr. Liebaers said he clarified what he sought from Mr. Bridger to Mr. Baines and explained his investigative powers under the Freedom of Information Law with regard to information requests in the case. Those investigative powers, Mr. Liebaers said, allowed the information commissioner to order the release of information from public entities during the course of a dispute over an open records request.
Mr. Baines replied that he believed Mr. Liebaers’s attempt to compel records from the RCIPS was done from a legally “flawed” position and referred the entire matter to the attorney general for further review. Attorney General Bulgin was accused in both Mr. Bridger’s 2010 complaint to then-Governor Duncan Taylor and his 2013 allegation of crime against the Cayman Islands government.
“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’ and was willing to go to court to prevent me, essentially, from fulfilling the judge’s order and my mandate under the FOI Law,” Mr. Liebaers said.
Having no other recourse, Mr. Liebaers withdrew his formal order to Mr. Baines seeking to compel him to release the investigation documents and ended his office’s investigation of the
RCIPS evidence against Mr. Bridger.
“My own investigation in this matter was drawing to an unexpected close as I was being impeded from examining the police investigation binders by the police commissioner,” Mr. Liebaers said.
Attempts to speak with Mr. Bridger regarding his criminal complaint against the former governor, the attorney general and the U.K. foreign office official failed in 2014. The RCIPS said in 2014 that a representative had attempted to meet Mr. Bridger in the U.K. to get his statement, but that meeting had not occurred because Mr. Bridger declined to be interviewed.
“I informed the RCIPS that I had other evidence to support [his allegation of crime against former Governor Jack, Mr. Bulgin and Mr. Covington] and I would need to be seen to explain the complexities and interconnectivity of the evidence and that a full witness statement would be required to be taken from me,” Mr. Bridger said in a statement to the Cayman Compass. “In a relatively short period of time, the allegations I had made were dismissed by the RCIPS. No reasons as to why those allegations were dismissed have been provided to me.”
Conversely, what Mr. Bridger refers to as the “counter allegations” made against him over the filing of the criminal complaint have been under investigation for “30 months,” he alleges.
Mr. Bridger has said on a number of occasions that the RCIPS never interviewed him in connection with the criminal case against him.
“On the face of it, this seems to be an exorbitant length of time to complete the investigation,” Mr. Bridger said.