The litigious fallout from the ill-fated Operation Tempura corruption probe, which ended nearly a decade ago, was blamed last week for running up a $2.7 million consultant’s bill within government’s Portfolio of Legal Affairs.
The additional expenses were noted in Auditor General Sue Winspear’s report that tallied up $35 million in central government consultant’s bills between 2012 and 2017.
The total legal-related consultant expenses were about $8.2 million across government, but the largest single expense – about 33 percent, or $2.7 million – was incurred by the Portfolio of Legal Affairs.
The Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee Chairman, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, asked portfolio officials Thursday why so much money had been spent on outside lawyers during the period. “Why is that necessary when we have a fully staffed legal department?” Mr. Miller asked.
“There was a significant volume of what I would say was unprecedented litigation arising out of the [Operation] Tempura matter,” said Acting Solicitor General Reshma Sharma. “The demands on the department at that time as a result of those cases was quite significant.”
Although the original Operation Tempura investigation was all but complete by the end of 2009, Ms. Sharma noted that “spin off” litigation resulting from the probe went on for years afterwards and, therefore, showed up in the auditor general’s report covering consultant expenses between 2012 and 2017. She said the matters involved were complex and required specific counsel with expertise to carry them forward.
One of those lawyers, a former assistant solicitor general who had handled most of the Tempura-related claims, left to join a private law firm in 2013 and was kept on as a consultant by government to finish up pending cases, she said.
Ms. Sharma identified several of the court cases during Public Accounts Committee proceedings where outside counsel had to be retained. Those included former Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan’s 2009 wrongful termination lawsuit against the government, which was not settled until 2014. A separate case where Mr. Kernohan brought proceedings against Operation Tempura’s former lead investigator Martin Bridger, also settled out of court in 2015.
There were two other matters brought against Mr. Bridger in the U.K. by former Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines regarding the recovery of documents Mr. Baines believed Mr. Bridger held. Those cases were heard before the U.K. High Court in 2012 and 2014.
“There was a long history to these proceedings,” Ms. Sharma said.
“Does anybody know the total cost of [Operation] Tempura to this country?” Mr. Miller asked.
Ms. Sharma responded that she had read the total cost was “in the region” of $10 million, but added she was “not in a position to confirm that.”
The Cayman Compass has determined via open records requests and other publicly available documents that well over $10 million has been spent on the Operation Tempura probe since it began in September 2007.
However, it is likely that millions more in Tempura-related expenditures have never been made known.
The auditor general’s office has previously reported that the corruption investigation spent $5.7 million between September 2007 and January 2009. The office also estimated another $1.1 million was spent from February 2009 to June 2009.
Any costs of operating the investigation [officers’ salaries, housing, plane tickets, car allowances, etc.] were not measured beyond June 2009, because subsequent auditors declined to review any further expenditures.
The Compass also found that more than $3.1 million was spent on legal settlements and attorneys fees related to Tempura.
The wrongful arrest of former Grand Court Justice Alex Henderson during the Tempura investigation cost government $1.275 million to settle in 2008. However, details of other settlements reached with former RCIPS Police Commissioner Kernohan, former Deputy Commissioner Rudi Dixon and retired Police Inspector Burmon Scott were never made public due to various non-disclosure agreements.
Legal bills for other matters cost nearly $1.8 million as of early 2014, but the figures reviewed Thursday by the solicitor general have now eclipsed that expense.