After more than 10 years and the expenditure of more than $15 million of Cayman Islands’ money, Operation Tempura remains a book which will not close.
The latest chapter was reported on the front page of this newspaper Nov. 24 with the announcement that former Chief Investigator Martin Bridger and his one-time second in command, U.K. police officer Richard Coy, had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.
The announcement followed a four-year investigation into Mr. Bridger’s activities and, according to a statement from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, “The case is now closed.”
Well, not quite. In fact, not at all.
The facts and circumstances surrounding Operation Tempura comprise one of the most sordid sagas in modern U.K./Cayman relations. The magnitude of the wrongdoing – and the clumsy attempts to cover it up – would be worthy of a Greek tragedy.
Too many millions of dollars have been spent, too many lives have been left in shambles, and too many of the U.K.’s and Cayman’s most prominent public officials are yet to answer for their roles in the Tempura affair.
Nothing less than an impartial public inquiry, conducted ideally under the chairmanship of an august British magistrate, will ever be able to remove this stain from Britain’s and Cayman’s historical record.
The readers of this newspaper may believe that anything that is relevant or significant about the Tempura affair has already been reported and is well known. But they are wrong.
At every juncture, major participants in Tempura have been silenced or dissuaded from telling their stories through “confidentiality clauses” built in to settlement agreements or other means, such as extensively redacting documents obtained following long- and hard-fought Freedom of Information battles.
The decision by Cayman’s Office of Public Prosecutions not to move forward (again we reiterate for emphasis, after four years) with charges against Mr. Bridger raises two possibilities:
First, there was no case to be made. If that is so, the investigation over time became more punitive than probative. Eventually, the time had come for the prosecutors to either put up or shut up – and they decided to shut up.
Or second, no one in the Cayman Islands or the U.K. had the appetite to put Mr. Bridger on the witness stand where he was likely to “name names” and reveal all he knew about this sordid affair.
Now that Mr. Bridger is out of legal jeopardy, he, too, is calling for a public inquiry. He told the Compass last week: “I would be a willing witness, give evidence under oath and answer any question asked of me.”
Most readers are aware that Operation Tempura was initiated in 2007 following an after-hours entry into the office of publisher Desmond Seales (now deceased) who ran the now-defunct Cayman Net News. While only one reporter actually entered Mr. Seales’s office, he and a colleague were in search of documents they suspected Mr. Seales had in his possession relating to sensitive ongoing police operations.
Then-Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan initiated a request to then-Governor Stuart Jack to bring in an undercover team from the U.K. Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) to investigate the leaks. Mr. Bridger led that team. The investigation metastasized from there.
Despite the massive allocation of financial resources and interminable and multiple investigations, Operation Tempura yielded no convictions but did lead to the arrest of a sitting Grand Court judge, Alex Henderson. Shortly after his arrest, Justice Henderson settled his case, receiving more than $1.275 million in damages.
Many of the most sensational issues regarding what actually took place during Operation Tempura have been purposely withheld from the public. The documentation detailing the roles of U.K. and Caymanian officials participating in Tempura still exists and must be preserved – preferably by court order.
The financial cost, the cover-up and the reputational carnage engendered by Operation Tempura remains unaddressed on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a tale that many powerful people do not want told.
But it must be told, and a full public inquiry, initiated by the U.K. Parliament, is the proper forum for its telling.