EDITORIAL: UK Parliament must initiate a ‘public inquiry’ into Operation Tempura

Martin Bridger leaves the Cayman Islands Grand Court in February 2015. – Photo: Brent Fuller

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.

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  1. I have to agree that this mess and destruction of so much of public money needs to be exposed publicly .
    I believe that there are many more that was not mentioned in this scandal that needs to be exposed so that this kind of behavior can be stopped in the future.
    Just look at the amount of money that has already been wasted and lots more are going to be . By the time this Tempera scandal is over the final cost would be 50 millions of dollars . Think about what that kind of money could have done for the Islands infrastructure .

    I really believe that no one should be above the Law and should be punished just like everyone else .

  2. FYI – UK magistrates are lay members of the judiciary, they’re not members of the legal profession, so the inquiry would need to be headed by a Judge. Also it needs to be repeated that the object of the 3 September 2007 search was to establish whether or not the documents actually existed or were a figment of the original complainant’s imagination – as I discovered it turned out that the latter was true but at that point the FCO had already enlisted the services of the Met to launch what became Operation Tempura.

    Otherwise I’m inclined to give qualified support to Mr Bridger and the writer of the editorial that this whole stinking mess needs to be aired in public.

    When I was pushing for a completion of Dan Duguay’s 2009 Tempura/Cealt audit the FCO made it very clear (and this was in a 2013 face-to-face meeting in their Kings Charles Street offices) that Mr Duguay’s replacement, Alistair Swarbrick had ‘better things to do with his time’. Taking aside the consideration that the original audit had been compromised by misinformation, the fact that nobody knew how much money had been spent, why it had been spent and who had authorised it effectively killed off a major part of last year’s RCIPS investigation. I obviously can’t prove it but my take on this is that the re-audit, which was justified after the interference in the original audit was uncovered, was blocked by either the FCO or the Governor’s Office. The big question is – ‘Why?’

    And the questions don’t stop there. Tempura/Cealt looks like a classic case of a complete failure of effective oversight. We don’t know how much the services of Mr Bridger and his associates or BGP Global eventually cost the Cayman Islands but worse we don’t know why all this money was paid over. At the end of the day somebody signed the cheques and again we don’t know why they did this. When I was interviewed in April 2016 one of the stumbling blocks RCIPS had hit was the issue of differentiating between fraud, which Bridger and Coy had apparently been accused of, and simple incompetent oversight by CIG.

    The big problem is do you really want to throw more public money down the drain pursuing this? The figure to date quoted here is, ‘$15 million of Cayman Islands’ money.’ I’d say you can safely double that and bluntly, bearing in mind the drawn out fight over my FOI request for the Aina report, if you go down the Public Inquiry route you’ll probably be able to at least double that again.

  3. I was one of the ex Tempura investigators who was interviewed by the RCIPS officers who were allegedly investigating Martin Bridger. The officers said to me they had only recently taken charge of the investigation at the direction of David Baines. This was more than two years after Mr Bridger was first put under investigation.
    The whole of my meeting with the officers was recorded and a copy remains in my possession.
    I was left with the clear impression the officers knew little about operation Tempura and some of the questions they asked me left me with the impression that they were ‘fishing’ for evidence that would implicate Martin Bridger.
    I told them that in over 30 years of policing Mr Bridger was one of the most professional and able senior investigators I had ever worked with and the way he had been treated was a disgrace. All of our interviews and meetings were recorded – be they office meetings or meetings with witnesses, police officers or government officials etc – it is so important that all of this material is preserved for any future inquiry.
    I think a full Public Inquiry is a sensible way forward where all the facts can be examined. Such a process will give the Cayman Islands the answers they have to date been starved of. I to would be willing to attend the inquiry and give evidence under oath.

  4. @ John Kemp
    I can tell you for a fact that a lot of the meetings I had with the Tempura team in the period September 2007 to March 2008 were not recorded and, unless they were being recorded covertly, I also had several meetings in the four months up to my departure from Grand Cayman on 31 July 2008 that weren’t on the record.

    In addition the recording techniques being used when the operation was being run out of hotel rooms fell way short of what I would as regard as acceptable standards of evidence. The officers involved were using a small hand-held solid state recorder (dictating machine really) that held about 40 minutes of conversation. When that filled up it had to be downloaded to a laptop and wiped for re-use. If you tried telling that to a Judge in the UK he’d throw out any case you thought you had on the spot.

    Those laptop files were then used to generate written statements, which I was asked to check and sign. Some of the material that was handed to as a record of our recorded meetings looked like it been written by a 10-year-old. If you don’t believe that check it out – I’m sure the statements are still on file somewhere.

    There’s also another pronlem relating to record keeping. By the door in the Fort Street office there was a large shredder. I was in there waiting to see Martin Bridger one day when someone was feeding computer discs (CDs or DVDs) into that machine – I hope you kept a shredding log.

    I’m also more than willing to participate in an inquiry. However, I still think it’s a complete waste of time and money, and I don’t you’d like to hear what I’m prepared to reveal under oath.