Premier fires back at Bridger

Calls letter seeking ‘negotiated settlement’ blackmail

Martin Bridger
Martin Bridger

Premier Alden McLaughlin angrily responded in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday to a letter from former Operation Tempura senior investigating officer Martin Bridger, saying that it constituted “an attempt at blackmail and an attempt at extortion of the Cayman Islands Government.”

The letter, which was sent to the premier on June 1 under the heading “Private and Confidential,” warned that the Cayman Islands could face significant reputational damage if facts relating to the Operations Tempura and Cealt investigations were to become public knowledge. Mr. Bridger gave Mr. McLaughlin until the close of business on June 3 to respond, and when the premier did not, he circulated the letter to local media outlets on Tuesday.

Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. Bridger had been “trying to extort and blackmail the Cayman Islands government over the course of some time,” adding that Mr. Bridger “should be in jail for what he has done to the people” of the Cayman Islands as a result of the Operations Tempura and Cealt, which has cost the jurisdiction “upwards of $15 million so far.”

“And now he has the audacity to write to me in terms which I would consider blackmail,” the premier said.

In his June 1 letter, Mr. Bridger asked Premier McLaughlin for a private meeting to bring all outstanding Tempura-related matters to an “amicable resolution.”

“I am sure you can understand that I want to put all of these matters behind me and move on with my life and, if possible, avoid the significant damage that exposure of all the evidence I hold would bring to senior officials, both in the Cayman Islands and the U.K. and the significant reputational damage to the Cayman Islands at a global level as to how they ‘in reality’ deal with issues of wrongdoing,” Mr. Bridger wrote.

Mr. McLaughlin said that if anyone had evidence of corruption of officials in the Cayman Islands, they should present it so that an investigation could be conducted, but he vowed not to give in to Mr. Bridger. He said that as long as he holds the office of premier, Mr. Bridger “will not receive one red cent of my people’s money in settlement of any claim,” adding that Mr. Bridger could sue the government over the matter if he wanted to.

Operation Tempura was a two-year investigation of police corruption allegations that Mr. Bridger led between September 2007 and April 2009. The probe continued until the latter half of 2009, and its remnants were picked up by former Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines.

No one was ever successfully prosecuted in the Operation Tempura investigation, which concerned an effort – led by senior RCIPS officers – to obtain evidence of what they believed was a “corrupt relationship” between a deputy police commissioner and former local newspaper publisher Desmond Seales. A spin-off investigation, known as Operation Cealt, resulted in about half a dozen police officers being removed from the RCIPS for reasons which were never made public.

Mr. Bridger left Cayman under a cloud in 2009, his investigative team having been accused of wrongly arresting a Cayman Islands Grand Court judge and using an attorney who was not licensed to practice in Cayman, among other issues.

The veteran U.K. lawman has long maintained that the failure of the Tempura investigation was the result of an elaborate cover-up by senior Cayman and U.K. officials who did not wish for “the truth to come out” with regard to the matters Mr. Bridger was looking into.

In his letter to the premier last week, Mr. Bridger went a bit further with those allegations than he had previously – at least publicly.

“They know that to allow all the facts to be independently scrutinized would run a very high risk of exposing wrongdoing by individuals, causing significant embarrassment for the FCO [U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office], the Cayman Islands government, etc.,” Mr. Bridger wrote. “Reputational damage would be at a premium.

“All of the evidence considered together clearly supports the assertion I made … that there has been a deliberate concealment of evidence, misrepresentation of the facts and that individuals holding high public office have behaved unethically in their individual and collective desire to have matters swept under the carpet.

“I wish to make you [referring to the premier] aware that the attorney general and director of public prosecutions are, in my humble submission, conflicted in providing any advice to you on these issues.”

Mr. Bridger also indicated that he was sharing information with “a source” in Cayman regarding Operation Tempura and other matters, but he did not name the source.

Mr. McLaughlin said that he had no doubt that Mr. Bridger’s letter constituted an attempt at blackmail and extortion, which he said is a crime in the Cayman Islands and in the United Kingdom, and he expressed the hope that Mr. Bridger would return to the Cayman Islands to answer charges. Regardless, he said, Mr. Bridger was not going “extort more money” from the people of the Cayman Islands.

“Certainly not on my watch,” he said.

East End MLA Arden McLean then rose to support the premier and suggested that the issue around possible extortion/blackmail should be pursued to the extent of international law, and that Mr. McLaughlin should insist the FCO take up the issue as a matter of urgency.

Criminal investigation

In a court proceeding last year, it was revealed that the RCIPS was pursuing a criminal investigation of its own against Mr. Bridger.

The case involves an allegation Mr. Bridger made against former Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack, Attorney General Sam Bulgin and U.K. foreign office law enforcement adviser Larry Covington in 2013. The former investigator alleged the three men had kept crucial information from Operation Tempura investigators that might have led to the two-year probe being wrapped up in a matter of weeks.

All three men have publicly denied this accusation, which was investigated and rebuffed by the Commissioner Baines-led RCIPS. Mr. Bridger later learned that he was being investigated for alleged misconduct and other matters.

In his letter to the premier, Mr. Bridger claims Mr. Baines wrote to him and indicated that the RCIPS had “no intention of affording [Bridger] the opportunity to answer [his] accusers.” Mr. Bridger said he still does not know who made the criminal allegations against him.

Mr. Baines left the RCIPS on May 31. Mr. Bridger’s letter was sent to the premier on June 1.

“[Mr. Baines] has stated that he will submit an uncompleted file of the police investigation to the DPP for consideration as to whether I will be prosecuted or not, without me being given the opportunity to answer the charges against me,” Mr. Bridger’s letter states.

Questions regarding RCIPS officers, who flew to the U.K. this spring to investigate the case against Mr. Bridger, have been raised by at least two witnesses.

Former Tempura investigator John Kemp said the two officers appeared to be conducting a “scoping exercise” for the case. Former Cayman Islands journalist John Evans said the two officers “barely even asked me any questions.” Mr. Evans’s participation in a September 2007 entry into former Cayman Net News publisher Mr. Seales’s office and the apparent police authorization of it, were the focus of the original Tempura investigation,

The probe against Mr. Bridger has been under way for more than two years, the retired U.K. lawman has confirmed.

A statement from the RCIPS issued last week indicated that the police intend to send their case file against Mr. Bridger to the director of public prosecutions for a ruling “in due course.”

The Governor’s Office had “no comment on what appears to be private correspondence between Mr. Bridger and the Premier.”

Despite efforts to contact Attorney General Sam Bulgin for comment, there was no response by press time.

Alan Markoff contributed to this report.