Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Mr Bhadresh Gohil [PI29]

Introduction

This submission is intended to provide the Home Affairs Select Committee with salient information and first hand experience of how I have been “affected” by the work of a private detective agency. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not seeking for an investigation into my case, but an examination by The Committee of some of the documents/activity that will help focus The Home Affairs Committees attention to areas of concern, which demonstrate the critical and urgent need for proper regulation. At the same time the purpose of these submissions are to identify a range of issues, which have recently appeared in the media that appear to be the subject of police investigations surrounding the activities of a private detective agency. RISC Management Limited of 3rd Floor, 7–8 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2XF. It may be that some of these issues may be more suitable for the Leveson Inquiry to consider, as there is clearly an overlap. More specifically, submissions cover the:

1.Proper role of a Private Detective Agency.

2.Relationship between Private Detective Agencies and Police Officers.

3.Issue of Legal Confidentiality and Legally Privileged Material.

4.Dissemination of Legally Privileged Material.

5.Use of Private Detective Agencies as Informants.

I would kindly ask that The Home Affairs Select Committee consider my particular case in detail as it identifies the specific areas mentioned above which will be of considerable concern and will help to identify where a regulatory framework is required. The case will portray numerous examples of illegality and unethical conduct but fundamentally demonstrate a wide-scale abuse of process and power. There is very little recourse for remedy and accountability.

Summary Background

I was formally a Solicitor and Partner in a Central London based law practice—Arlingtons Sharmas Solicitors of 6 Arlington Street, London, SW1A 1RE. I was the head of the Commercial department and the anti-money laundering officer for the firm. I was however recently convicted by a jury for the Crown Court on charges of Money Laundering on behalf of a former client, James Ibori. It was alleged that I had failed to carry out the required due diligence on funds received by my firm. The former client’s funds which came from banks were alleged to have been tainted although it has never been proven and that the funds were actually proceeds of crime. The case against me was based on “inferences”. No criminality of predicate crime was presented. The funds received by the firm were utilised for routine payments and process by way of several transparent transactions all fully documented. For my part I believe that I had conducted the required due diligence in accordance with the prescribed statutory requirements. The Law firm ASS, whose senior partner is Vijay Sharma, married to Baroness Usha Prashar CBE, a member of the Chilcot Committee, appointed the private detective agency—RISC Management Limited, to review the firm’s files and, in particular, those of James Ibori, and its compliance issues. It was Vijay Sharma who principally handled the funds in question, as he was in control of the firm’s banking and finances throughout the period. Vijay Sharma was also the key prosecution witness and would have been able to confirm that the firm had complied with the compliance requirements and procedures. However, surprisingly, Vijay Sharma at the last minute was withdrawn as a key witness on the basis that he would not be a witness of truth. These actions were clearly deliberate and questionable.

My professional body, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority cleared my actions, however, a jury found me guilty. I gave no evidence, as my highly experienced legal team believed that I had no case to answer.

Factual Circumstances

It was during this Solicitor-client relationship which commenced in 2005 and lasted until June 2007 that I was affected by “a Private Detective Agency”—RISC Management Limited. My former client was James Ibori, the former Governor of Delta State, Nigeria. My firm was instructed to undertake several routine transactions. The client, Ibori was however, unknown to me, under investigation by the British Police. City lawyers, Speechly Bircham were appointed by Ibori to represent his interests and to deal with the UK investigations. Speechly Bircham in turn appointed the Private Detective Agency—RISC Management Limited to assist and to provide litigation support. RISC Management and its Directors became pivotal within the Ibori defence team, participating in virtually all aspects of the defence case from routine daily conference calls to reviewing documentation and participating in meetings with QC’s and other legal representatives. They were privy to the entire defence case, plans, documentation and strategy. Whatever they were participating in was clearly legally privileged.

Over the past few months, it is apparent from media exposes that RISC Management Limited has been the subject of an IPCC supervised Directorate of Professional Standards anti-corruption inquiry. According to articles which first appeared in the London Evening Standard on 31 October 2011. Senior journalist Tom Harper reported that the £20,000 of bribes had been paid by RISC Management Limited to officers in the Metropolitan Police and in particular officers in this case. Soon thereafter, other details of the Private Detective Agency’s misconduct started appearing. These included:

1.Telephone/Email interceptions.

2.Localised bugging/debugging.

3.Record tracing.

4.Bank account details.

5.Security protection.

6.Tax files being obtained.

7.DVLA records being obtained.

8.Police National records and details.

9.More importantly, any other confidential information which could be useful to people.

I was stunned by these revelations and the gravity of the misconduct and was unaware of these matters and will now drill The Home Affairs Select Committee attention to the various articles that have since appeared which set out these issues in greater detail. These articles seem to highlight very serious issues surrounding RISC Management Limited and their Directors, Keith Hunter and Cliff Knuckey. I have attached some of these and fully accept that they may not be entirely accurate but they do go in considerable detail in many cases, for example: The interception of communication (Phone Hacking) by RISC of Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and the former Minister for Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown.

Can I suggest that if possible, The Home Affairs Select Committee obtain details of the original complaints made to the Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers and the former Commissioner of Police—Sir Paul Stephenson in order to obtain a clear position on the allegations/complaints. At the same time same time the IPCC are supervising an investigation by the Directorate of Professional Standards into these allegations and may be possible to obtain specific details around RISC Management Limited’s misconduct. The media report suggests that the magnitude is considerable. It seems to extend to a number of other cases handled by RISC Management Limited. The company has been described as a “nest of corruption”.

Specific Matters

Dealing specifically with the issues that have affected me are summarised as follows:

1.I have seen a number of invoices issued by RISC Management to Speechly Bircham between 2007 and 2008. These invoices show a number of cash payments being made to confidential sources who are believed to be case detectives. Case information appears to have been exchanged. I was never aware of this activity. I openly shared much of my clients and personal information with RISC Management Limited’s Directors I believed were giving litigation support to the defence team.

2.At the same time, I had appointed RISC Management Limited to undertake a detailed review of the Arlingtons Sharmas Solicitors files to ensure that the work undertaken were compliant with the Money Laundering requirements. RISC Management Limited undertook a detailed review of these files and documents. The RISC Management fee notes can confirm the work that had been undertaken and the work and a statement of Cliff Knuckey (attached). The Cliff Knuckey statement confirms that he saw there was nothing wrong with what I had done and provided a clearance note but by now he had full access to the Arlingtons Sharmas Solicitors files and information. And having had so, he appears to have passed much of the information back to the case officers, which was unknown to me.

3.I was not aware that confidential client’s information or my personal information was being discussed with the case officers. The Private Detective Agency were acting as informants without any regard to the fact that they were integral to the defence and this would have been known to the case officers. It is now clear that sensitive case information and material that was the subject of Legal Professional Privilege was repeatedly disseminated. There was a wholesale breach of the sanctity of the Solicitor-client relationship. The recent revelations raise immediate concerns of the confidentiality of the material between myself in my capacity of a Solicitor, and the RISC Directors who were privy to sensitive information. It raises the very fundamental confidential issues about the limit of acceptable and appropriate relationships, the sanctity of legal—lawyer client relationship and the integrity of the criminal justice system. I believe that the unauthorised disclosure of defence material has now prejudiced my case which was built entirely of the evidence of the Police Officers in the case. I say this because the case against me was based on inferences and in the absence of any predicate crime.

The inappropriate relationships between Private Detective Agency’s and officers cannot be in the interest of justice. In fact, my case demonstrates how such relationships can create a breach of trust at best or at worst, an absolute failure of justice as I believe it is what I experienced. As legal professionals are bound by the sacrosanct duties of confidentiality and the Private Detective Agencies are able to share the inner most details with Police Officers. This collusion can not be accepted and has to be regulated.

This will not be the first time RISC Management Limited and its Directors have come under scrutiny. In 2006, Michael Gillard, a well known and respected journalist working with The Times published an article in which RISC Management Limited were accused to be trading in confidential Police and Home Office information. In that matter, Hunter was named as having bribed an officer who at the time was working in the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit, DS Gary Flood. In that article, under the heading “Detectives accused of taking bribes from Russian Exiles”, there were strong grounds to suspect he had abused his position as a Police Officer to receive £20,000 in bribes from Russian Exiles. The Exiles were in fact all clients of RISC Management Limited.

As the matter is subject to a live IPCC investigation, it would be prudent to keep the matter away from the public domain for the time being to insure that the integrity of the investigation is not compromised.

Summary

This case highlights numerous public and private concerns regarding the activities of Private Detective Agencies. The investigators in this particular case did breach all acceptable bounds of ethics. The current investigation by the IPCC together with the Met’s Directorate Professional Standards continues. The investigations seem to surround the allegations of bribery, corruption… As the Home Affairs Select Committee can see, the activities of this agency are considerable and clearly underlined the necessity in need of regulation.

January 2012

Prepared 5th July 2012