Operation Tempura: Against legal advice, ex-governor pursued probe

Former Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack decided in early 2008 that there should be a “full investigation” of a police-directed entry into a local newspaper publisher’s office, contrary to legal advice that stated such a probe would not be in the public interest.

The then-governor’s decision to pursue the infamous Operation Tempura investigation is revealed in a now-unredacted review of that probe done by a U.K.-based Queen’s Counsel in 2011. The review document – totaling more than 180 pages – was partially released in 2016, but was made fully public this week following open records requests by the Cayman Compass.

The Operation Tempura investigation lasted more than two years and cost the Cayman Islands more than $10 million. No one was convicted of any criminal wrongdoing after two Grand Court trials connected with the case.

In September 2007, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service high command authorized a warrantless search of former Cayman Net News publisher Desmond Seales’s office, using former Net News employee John Evans to effect the search. The search was undertaken to determine whether Mr. Seales had engaged in a “corrupt relationship” with Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Ennis, exchanging sensitive police operations information that senior officers believed might have placed other RCIPS officers in danger. It was later revealed that then-Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan and his Chief Superintendent John Jones organized the search.

Veteran U.K. Metropolitan Police officer Martin Bridger was dispatched to investigate the situation and quickly disproved allegations against Mr. Seales and Mr. Ennis. Unredacted records show Mr. Bridger, as early as October 2007, drew the Cayman Islands solicitor general’s attention to the Sept. 3, 2007 newspaper office entry indicating he had “concerns” about it.

Legal advice given by special counsel Andre Mon Desir regarding the Sept. 3, 2007 Net News entry indicated there was “insufficient evidence” to establish that Mr. Seales’s office had been burgled. However, Mr. Mon Desir advised that there appeared to be a separate case that could be investigated against the senior RCIPS officers who directed the search.

“Having arrived at this evidential position, Mon Desir advised that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute either Evans, Jones or Kernohan for any criminal offenses arising out of the events of Sept. 3, 2007,” according to the review of Operation Tempura penned by Ben Aina, QC.

Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, whose office directed criminal prosecutions at the time these events were occurring, advised in a memo to the Operation Tempura investigation team that any decision to proceed with the investigation of the Net News office entry was “one for the [police] officers.”

“On Jan. 25, 2008, Governor Jack, having seen the advice of Mon Desir and the attorney general’s memo, decided that there should be a full investigation into the events of Sept. 3, 2007,” Mr. Aina’s report further stated.

Some of the reasons given for the former governor’s decision are documented by Mr. Aina’s review, based on a March 2008 report of an appointed body which oversaw the Tempura investigation between 2007 and 2008. Mr. Jack’s commentary indicated he, as well as members of the Operation Tempura oversight group, was concerned about community confidence in Cayman’s judicial process if the probe did not continue.

“When it becomes public knowledge that the investigation was discontinued without being fully investigated, it may very well promote feelings of suspicion and of impropriety by the governor’s office and the judiciary,” the oversight group report stated. “It is our belief that the potential impact of halting the investigation at this stage [January 2008], based on the advice of one person [referring to Mr. Mon Desir], could be interpreted as capitulation by the governor’s office and be subject to adverse criticism both nationally and internationally.

“We believe the circumstances of this case could lead to allegations of state interference [with] freedom of the press.

“Finally, if the events of Sept. 3, 2007 are not proceeded with, the two remaining suspects are both Caymanian and therefore such a decision will undoubtedly attract allegations of racism in that U.K. officers being investigated by officers from the U.K. have been allowed to walk free before a full examination has taken place.”

The last comment is a reference to former RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Rudolph Dixon and former Cayman Net News employee Lyndon Martin, who were both separately under investigation by the Operation Tempura team. Both men were acquitted after jury trials in late 2008.

1 COMMENT

  1. What I find curious is why fairly uncontroversial comments like this were redacted in the first place. Governor Jack, who later conceded that my use as a ‘participating informant’ complied with the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (commonly known as RIPA), appears simply to have made decisions that he felt were in line with his role. He may have got it wrong but at the end of the day he was just doing the job the FCO paid him to do. About the only thing these passages contain is confirmation of my long-held contention that the investigation was needlessly extended for reasons that had little or nothing to do with law enforcement.

    It almost looks like all the FCO was worried about is that revealing the full story might undermine the credibility of both the Governor’s office and the whole investigation even further. If so they’ve wasted a lot of time, money and effort for nothing because long before the redacted version of the report was released almost two years ago the whole Tempura/Cealt fiasco had already been revealed as complete waste of public money and resources.

    What we need now is details of what else was redacted. In total 24 redactions were made before the initial release of this document in March 2016 – nine of those (roughly 40%) relate to the activities of Larry Covington. They could reveal more about what he got up to during the investigation. The other section with substantial redactions refers to the Henderson arrest. Considering how much money this foul up cost the Cayman Islands I’m sure a lot of people would be interested in reading the passages relating to this that the FCO clearly didn’t want us to see.

    Hopefully, the Compass will be following this story up.