January 27, 2022

UK refuses to disclose cost of corruption investigation in Turks and Caicos Islands

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hidden-pool-costsBy Hayden Boyce, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, Turks & Caicos Sun

At a time when residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands are experiencing severe financial hardships, Helen Garlick and her Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT) continue to be paid millions of dollars and are smiling all the way to the bank.

However, the London-based Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is refusing to divulge exactly how much they are paid.

Investigations by The SUN revealed that the FCO has been ducking questions about the cost of Garlick’s four-year-old investigation, although they were formally asked under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act which requires them to provide this information.

According to the SUN’s probe, on November 22nd, 2013, a Mr. Roshan M Salih wrote the following letter to the following:

Dear Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

I would like to know the following information regarding the Crown case against Michael Misick:

1. The amount of money paid so far to the Head of the Special Investigation Team Miss Helen Garlick, and the amount agreed to be paid until the conclusion of the case.

2. The amount of money which has so far been allocated to the Prosecution team that was sent out from the UK to prosecute Michael Misick and others.

3. The amount the Turks and Caicos Governor through the Foreign and Commonwealth office has so far paid Mr Andrew Mitchel QC for his services so far, and agreed to pay him until the conclusion of the case.

4. The amount of money paid so far to each of the 3 Junior Counsel who will be led by Mr Mitchel in the course of the proceedings, and the amounts agreed to be paid to them until the conclusion of the proceedings.

5.The budget that was allocated to the Prosecution team.

6. The budget allocated to the Judicial Team.

7. The Budget allocated to the Defence.

The FCO responded on November 25th last year with a promise to respond within 20 working days.

On December 20, 2013, someone from FCO’s Overseas Territories Directorate Caribbean and Bermuda Section responded by saying: “I am writing to advise you that following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you request is not held by this Department.

To clarify the reason behind this, the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT) is funded by the Turks and Caicos Islands Government (TCIG), not by the UK Government.

The criminal trials of those charged with bribery, corruption and intention to defraud, as a result of the SIPT’s investigations, have not yet begun (trials are due to commence in 2014).

Michael Misick, whose case you specifically request information on, is currently facing extradition from Brazil to the Turks and Caicos Islands. In any case, at this stage of the investigation it would be inappropriate for detailed information to be provided. To do so would necessarily involve disclosing and publicizing information about the conduct of the investigation and other operational matters, and the preparation of the prosecution case. This would result in an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of prejudice to the judicial process which must be allowed to take its course without hindrance. The SIPT expects to be held fully accountable for its expenditure and to be required to give detailed information on how the costs of the investigation and prosecution have been incurred, once the criminal proceedings are over.”

On January 8th, 2014, Mr. Roshan M Salih wrote again to the FCO saying:

Dear Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s handling of my FOI request ‘Request for disclosure of Prosecution costs in Michael Misick Turks and Caicos case.’.

I am not satisfied with the FCO’s response and refusal to disclose information.

Firstly, up to October 2012 the TCI government was being run directly from the FCO so they must know the expenditure and have those records.

Secondly, as for the issue of prejudice the information sought will have absolutely no impact on the trial at all as it is not part of the evidence or other facts related to the trial process.

I simply wish to know how much from the taxpayers of either the UK or its dependency has been paid to the QC and his Junior Counsels.

“I cannot see how this would prejudice the trial process as it is not clear what relevance the payment made to lawyers contracted by the FCO is going to be in the trial itself. The evidence cannot be said to be in anyway relevant to the issues in the trial that the tribunal of fact needs to hear. If anything the information may dispel any suggestion that the trial process is rigged in favour of the prosecution. I see no reason why this information is to be withheld other than possibly its revelation is going to prove that QC and other Prosecution team members have been paid millions of pounds of taxpayers money. This is in no different to other Lawyers in the UK whose payment figures the government regularly releases to the national press to show how overpaid members of the bar are.”

On February 6th, 2014, the FCO responded saying

Dear Mr Salih

Thank you for your email of 8 January 2014 asking for an internal review of the decision conveyed to you in our letter dated 20 December 2013.

I have spoken to the officer involved, assessed the search terms used and I am content that a reasonable search for material held by the FCO was carried out in relation to your request.

An extensive review has been carried out including a fresh search. This search has located certain financial information. However, this information does not cover the specific questions which you have asked. We have carefully considered whether we could draw on those figures as a basis for work to provide you with the information which you seek, but we have been bound to conclude that we cannot.

Therefore, for the purposes of the request we do not hold the information you seek. Under our duty to provide reasonable advice and assistance we have considered if you might want to ask alternative but related questions on the funding of an ongoing case, and if so whether any information could be provided. Without closing our mind to that possibility, we would say that it is unlikely that we would be able to provide such information as there are exemptions such as section 31 FOIA (Administration of Justice) which could well apply.

I hope you are satisfied with the process of this review and the outcome. However, if you feel we have not handled your internal review correctly and you wish to make a complaint, you may then apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow

Cheshire SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Clements

Overseas Territories Directorate , Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Meantime, the SUN can confirm that just after she was appointed, Special Prosecutor Helen Garlick says has told the Governor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that it would be wrong in principle to pay her huge sums of money while forsaking the people of the Turks and Caicos islands.

In a letter to Chris Bryant MP, the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Michael Foster MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development, Garlick said the budgeted costs of the Special Investigations team will amount to between 4.5% and 5% of the TCIG’s budget and could well increase, if charges are brought and there are several trials.

She said: “There is a real prospect there will be months when the SIPT’s expenses and salaries will be met, whilst TCI Government servants, including police officers, with whom we may be working, will not. There is also a distinct possibility that other important government expenditure that has a real impact on the well being of the Islanders will be subordinated to the SIPT’s needs.

“In my view this is wrong in principle. Furthermore, it is hardly likely to help us to win and maintain essential public support. We now face a considerable and highly damaging delay before the investigation can be started. In recent weeks, we have needed to react to some important and urgent developments. This is very much in the nature of major criminal investigations but our capacity to deal with them is severely limited. However, I cannot begin to interview and offer permanent posts to any new staff until I am certain that the facility is in place. You will understand that I also have a responsibility to assure staff that they will have a proper measure of job security and also that they will be paid in full and on time.”

She added: “On my current understanding, that the facility will be agreed by the beginning of December, I am unlikely to be able to have a full team in place until March 2010. There is a risk that public confidence in and support for our work will ebb. Questions are being asked about the apparent lack of progress and the failure to establish a presence in TCI. Public support is vital, both to maintain the independence of the Investigation against the very real prospect of political interference, once the Islands return to elected government but also to encourage potential witnesses and providers of information. You will recall that the foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Public Inquiry both recorded evidence of intimidation and a climate of fear. It is disappointing in the extreme that funding for the SIPT’s work has taken so long to be resolved.”

She said that Sir Robin Auld’s Interim Report was published at the end of February. And she thought it is fair comment that by that date at the very latest, it was plain that the cost of a substantial criminal investigation would have to be met.

“I have asked the question why a separate source of funding from HMG cannot be found for the SIPT. I have been told that it is impossible. My understanding is that the FCO has no budget for this type of expenditure and that there is no other realistic government source of funding, with the exception of DFID. I am aware that there is a traditional objection to providing support for a prosecution, I assume because DFID and other government departments do not wish to appear to be adopting a partisan stance.

If that is a material objection in this case, then I would comment that larger issues are at stake here than simply securing convictions against particular individuals. The Public Inquiry was initiated by Her Majesty’s Government, as a direct result of the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and it was also Her Majesty’s Government that decided upon the partial suspension of the Constitution and my appointment. Through no fault of their own, the TCI police and the Attorney General’s office lack the experience or the capacity to conduct this investigation and in the case of the former, largely because of the size of the population and family interrelationships, they do not have public confidence. The principles that will lie at the heart of this investigation and of any trials are those of good governance and the corruption free conduct of public office and the lessons that will be learned from a properly conducted investigation could

be of lasting and international value.”

“I have made it clear that although the Senior Management team are fully committed to the investigation and have complete confidence in the Governor’s support, we are not prepared to continue to work indefinitely, or to be responsible for recruiting others, without the assurance of funding that is sourced and managed on a basis that assures our independence and ability to carry out a full, independent investigation and any trials. At present I am firmly of the view that the only way in which we can be assured of this, without impacting on other important TCIG expenditure, is if separate funding is made available by Her Majesty’s Government.”

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