Embattled Metropolitan Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe will be grilled by MPs next week over bombshell claims that Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service were involved in a ‘deliberate cover-up’ of damning evidence of police corruption.
A court was told that the Met and the CPS repeatedly concealed documents suggesting that officers investigating a billionaire Nigerian politician for fraud were paid to leak details of the inquiry that could have helped him evade justice.
One detective was said to have received at least 19 unexplained cash deposits totalling thousands of pounds into his bank account, after illegally disclosing sensitive information, a judge heard.
But when the corruption allegations were revealed by a whistle-blowing lawyer, the lawyer was accused of forging the evidence, and charged with perverting the course of justice. Police privately expressed fears that his devastating claims could undermine the £50million fraud trial.
Last month the charges against the solicitor were dramatically dropped after the CPS was forced to produce crucial papers, which it had always insisted did not exist, that suggest serving Met officers took bribes.
Although the Met insists no corruption took place, the case leaves the Met Commissioner – already under fire over his refusal to apologise for the Yard’s disastrous historical sex abuse investigations – facing difficult questions from the Home Affairs Select Committee next week, as he was personally warned about the potential miscarriage of justice three years ago.
The CPS’s handling of the case, criticised by former police as well as the defendants, will also increase pressure on Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders, who faced calls to quit over her failure to put Lord Janner on trial.
As the full astonishing story is told for the first time, it can also be revealed that a Met Commander, Peter Spindler, who reported directly to Sir Bernard, told the BBC the corruption claims were bogus without having checked if documents were genuine.
Last night the lawyer who had been accused of forgery, Bhadresh Gohil, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I uncovered serious corruption, but when I tried to expose this, I was victimised. Astonishingly, the CPS used the might of the state and all its resources to cover up what had happened, and brought trumped-up charges to persecute me. The truth has finally unravelled.’
MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, said: ‘Members have indicated they will want to ask the Commissioner, when he next appears before the committee, to deal with the latest developments which raise a number of new questions.’
The extraordinary case centres on Scotland Yard’s prosecution of James Ibori, who once worked as a cashier at a branch of Wickes DIY store in West London before returning to his native Nigeria to enter politics and become one of Africa’s richest men as governor of oil-rich Delta State.
Involved: James Ibori is a Nigerian billionaire politician jailed for fraud in a case that is said to be tainted. Alison Saunders (right) is head of the Crown Prosecution Service, which disclosed papers it said didn’t exist
He was jailed for 13 years in 2012 at Southwark Crown Court after admitting fraud and money-laundering following the Met investigation into his vast wealth, with the court hearing that he siphoned off public cash to live a ‘lavish lifestyle’, enjoying a private jet, homes in Hampstead and Regents Park, armoured cars and places at top British boarding schools for his children.
Gohil, who was Ibori’s business lawyer, was also jailed for seven years after admitting fraud, although he claims he was wrongly advised to do so by his then legal team. He was separately found guilty of money-laundering – a charge he continues to deny.
While he was in Wandsworth Prison he was anonymously sent information suggesting police in the case had been in the pay of a British firm of private investigators, RISC Management, hired by Ibori.
Documents were also sent to the Met and the police watchdog alleging that officers had received kickbacks worth thousands of pounds and Gohil told the home affairs select committee in May 2012 that the case was tainted by ‘apparent corruption right at the heart of Scotland Yard’.
Gohil planned to use the evidence of police corruption to overturn his convictions.
But astonishingly on the eve of his appeal in June 2014, he found himself facing another jail sentence as the CPS told him he would be charged with perverting the course of justice for allegedly forging the crucial documents. His appeal bid was duly rejected.
His defence team were desperate to obtain evidence to back up Gohil’s claim that Ibori’s solicitors and RISC had improper contact with the investigating officers, but the CPS repeatedly insisted there were no such documents.
Then, in a shock development, prosecutors were forced to reveal the very documents they had always maintained did not exist.
Just days later they dramatically dropped the entire case without explaining why, only admitting that unspecified new information had come to light.
Ex-Metropolitan detective John McDonald (left) has been accused in court and in legal papers of corruption. Former Yard anti-corruption chief Peter Spindler (right) failed to check if the documents were genuine
In a written submission to Southwark Crown Court last month, days before the charges were dropped, Gohil’s defence counsel Stephen Kamlish QC claimed the prosecution ‘in bad faith failed to investigate’ who had received cash payments.
In a second submission, he accused the prosecution of a ‘deliberate cover-up’.
In open court last week, Kamlish said he planned to fight a renewed appeal for Gohil on the basis that ‘prosecuting counsel misled not only this court but the Court of Appeal in saying there was no disclosable material’.
The result was, he said, that Gohil’s original appeal against his convictions for money-laundering and fraud had been decided on ‘false facts’.
The Department for International Development (DFID) has been involved in the Ibori case since its outset. It paid for the police inquiry, though at the same time it had invested vast sums in businesses Ibori controlled, prompting claims in court of a conflict of interest.
Last week, it was also claimed that DFID would be paid £25 million from Ibori’s assets when proceedings to seize them are complete. DFID denies this.
When the investigation into the Nigerian billionaire started in 2006, DFID was funding the special Scotland Yard unit dedicated to fighting corruption abroad to the tune of £700,000 a year. This sum has since risen by a staggering 600 per cent: DFID has pledged £21 million to the unit, now part of the National Crime Agency, for the period 2015-20.
This sum is defined as foreign aid, and so counts towards David Cameron’s pledge to donate the equivalent of 0.7 per cent of the UK’s economic output to the developing world annually.
But although DFID was effectively paying for the police inquiry into Ibori, at the same time its investment arm, CDC (formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation), had invested hundreds of millions of pounds into banks and other businesses in which Ibori had huge interests. A DFID spokesman said yesterday there was no conflict of interest in the Ibori case, because although DFID did fund the police unit, it did not influence its operations.
If granted, this appeal would make legal history: normally the Appeal Court cannot hear a case it has already turned down.
Kamlish also told the judge: ‘The investigation by the Department of Professional Standards into Mr Gohil’s allegations of corruption was a whitewash and was deliberately designed to find that no corruption of the type Mr Gohil had complained about existed… it was designed to fail.’
Briefing the BBC in 2012, the Yard admitted that if they had found evidence of corruption it would have wrecked the case against Ibori.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal for the first time today some of the dynamite evidence grudgingly handed over by the Crown, and cited in court, that may have led it to drop the charge against Gohil of perverting the course of justice.
One of the more serious corruption claims concerns an alleged meeting between DC John McDonald, who was investigating Ibori, and RISC director Clifford Knuckey, on September 10, 2007.
According to an RISC document, Knuckey claimed £46.75 in expenses for a meal he enjoyed in a pub with a source that day.
Two days later, it was recorded that he held a ‘meeting with confidential source to hand over source payment for information provided… £5,000.’ Telephone records, also newly revealed, include 120 calls from RISC to Met officers during the Ibori investigation – including one to DC McDonald on the day of the pub meeting.
Another document reveals DC McDonald made 19 unexplained cash deposits into his bank account, most of around £500, while he was working on the case in 2007.
After the pub meeting, private investigator Knuckey provided a report to Ibori’s lawyers detailing secret information he had been given about the case.
Their records stated: ‘CK [Knuckey] explained that he had met with a senior officer on 10 September 2007’ and that ‘DC McDonald (DCM) has had a serious fall out’ with other officers on the case.
A RISC list of payments reveals that between 2006 and 2007 the firm paid some £360,000 to a network of confidential sources in Ibori’s and other cases, delivered in cash by couriers to the firm’s London offices. It is not known if any were serving police officers.
In his court submission, Kamlish claimed the Crown knew ‘that there is clear and compelling, direct and circumstantial evidence of a corrupt relationship between RISC and MPS [Met] officers’.
DC McDonald was arrested and interviewed by Yard investigators in 2012. He admitted speaking to and meeting Knuckey.
Whistleblower Bhadresh Gohil (right) with the Mail on Sunday’s David Rose. Gohil said he ‘uncovered serious corruption, but when I tried to expose this, I was victimised’
But he insisted he never revealed sensitive information, and that he was never paid. He produced written records he had made of phone calls with Knuckey and other RISC staff, which purported to show they did not discuss his work.
DC McDonald was not charged with misconduct or taking bribes and now works for the elite National Crime Agency (NCA).
Knuckey admitted he had obtained £5,000 cash from RISC to pay his confidential informant on the day of the pub meeting.
But he claimed that instead of paying an informant, he took the money for himself, as compensation for a Spanish holiday ruined when RISC made him fly to Paris at very short notice.
Other documents cast doubt on this claim. He had not been on holiday when he went to Paris, while he booked his flight a week in advance. He was charged with false accounting, but this case too has been dropped.
Gary Walters, a former detective on the original Ibori investigation, insists there was no corrupt behaviour on his team – but supports the calls for answers as to why the case against Gohil was dropped.
‘I am extremely disappointed that this case continues to rumble on with no meaningful conclusion,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.
‘I was amazed when it suddenly ended with no explanation and I support the calls for a full and independent inquiry. I have yet to see any evidence of corruption on the part of any of the investigators or prosecutors but the decision of the DPP makes clear that there is a need for further investigation and potential prosecutions.’
A CPS spokesman said: ‘As a result of information that came to the attention of the CPS on January 13, 2016, the case was reconsidered. Following that reconsideration, the Crown offered no evidence in court.’
Scotland Yard said: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service investigated an allegation, received anonymously, that illegal payments were made to police officers for information by a private investigation agency.
‘The Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in October 2011 which agreed to supervise a DPS investigation.
‘Five people including one then-serving officer were arrested and released with no further action. Additionally no misconduct was identified in the case of the officer.’
The NCA said: ‘Generally an historic allegation against a police officer which has been investigated by the relevant police force’s professional standards department supervised by the IPCC, in which no misconduct was found, would not represent a barrier to the officer joining the NCA.’
Knuckey’s solicitors Lewis Nedas said: ‘The strain on him has been considerable. Mr Knuckey, who had over 30 years unblemished service in the Metropolitan Police, has always maintained his innocence and that there was no corruption in this case.’