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Groundhog Day with the NSA?

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“unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying… that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in #rendition.” – Jack Straw, December 2005

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/apr/18/jack-straw-libya-rendition

“The idea that in #GCHQ people are sitting working out how to circumvent a UK law with another agency in another country is fanciful. It is nonsense”, William Hague, June 2013

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/10/gchq-broke-law-nsa-intelliegence #nsa #edwardsnowden

Written by Richard Wilson

June 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Checks and balances, Corruption

Tagged with , ,

VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF THE GATUMBA MASSACRE OF BANYAMULENGE REFUGEES IN BURUNDI STILL CRY FOR JUSTICE

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From the peacebuilding group Ubuntu:

VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF THE GATUMBA MASSACRE OF BANYAMULENGE REFUGEES IN BURUNDI STILL CRY FOR JUSTICE

Eight years have passed since 164 Congolese citizens were savagely killed, some burned alive, on 13 August 2004. The victims were slayed while under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi. Hundreds of others were injured. The overwhelming majority of victims – many of them women and children – belonged to the Banyamulenge community. They had sought refuge in Burundi to escape from political oppression in South Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A report dated 18 October 2004 jointly produced by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the attack was clearly directed against the Banyamulenge refugees and apparently, ethnically and politically motivated. Various sources, including the above UN report as well as a report by Human Rights Watch, compiled credible evidence leaving little doubts over the responsibilities in the massacre. The evidence clearly indicated that the Burundian Forces Nationales de Libération (PALIPEHUTU-FNL), the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the Congolese army (FARDC) and Mayi Mayi militia were directly involved in the Gatumba massacre.

The UN report asserted that many of these foreign armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi border region harbour resentments against the targeted group and others such as FARDC and Mayi Mayi militia may have political motives for preventing the refugees from returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. PALIPEHUTU-FNL, then a rebel movement led by Agathon Rwasa, openly confessed its responsibility in this massacre. The ideology underlying the commission of the genocide in Rwanda one decade earlier was evident in the perpetration of the Gatumba massacre in August 2004. The UN report documented the fact that the attackers chanted such slogans as “we will exterminate all the Tutsis in Central Africa”; “kill these dogs, these Tutsis”; “today, you Tutsis, whether you are Rwandese, Congolese or Burundian, you will be killed”.

The massacre was widely condemned by several countries from around the globe as well as by supranational institutions such as the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations. Many of them pledged to support endeavours aimed at bringing the perpetrators to justice. The United Nations urged countries in the sub-region to cooperate in investigating the massacre and bringing perpetrators to justice. Eight years after the event, no single step has been taken to deliver justice for the slain and surviving victims of the Gatumba massacre. The uproar that accompanied the commission of the crime has faded and victims face the sad prospect of never seeing justice done. The peculiar circumstances of a crime committed against Congolese citizens, on Burundian territory, by Congolese national army and armed groups reportedly originating from three different or neighbouring countries of the region complicate, if not annihilate any prospects of domestic prosecutions against perpetrators of the crime. Victims are nonetheless still crying for justice. The inaction of Burundian, Congolese and other sub-regional authorities imposes a duty on the international community to get actively involved in delivering on the promise of justice made to them in the aftermath of the crime.

This eighth remembrance of the victims of the Gatumba massacre occurs at a time of revived tensions in eastern Kivu, the homeland of the slayed victims. Sources of the continued tensions include the unresolved socio-political and legal issues including elusive promises of justice and redress. Crimes committed in the DRC over the last decades have claimed numerous victims from the various communities living in the country. All victims deserve justice. Owing to the particular circumstances of the massacre and to the involvement of numerous actors, domestic and international initiatives aimed at delivering justice to the victims generally ignore the victims of the Gatumba massacre. This is evidenced by the non-coverage of the Gatumba massacre in the 2010 UN Mapping Report.

On this eighth remembrance of victims of the Gatumba massacre, UBUNTU notes that since the crime was committed, no active steps have been taken to bring perpetrators to justice. UBUNTU therefore urges:

• The international community to deliver on the promise of justice made to survivors of the Gatumba atrocities in the immediate aftermath of the crime.
• The United Nations to use all appropriate means to bring Agathon Rwasa and other perpetrators of the massacre to justice.
• The Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other sub-regional countries to cooperate in rehabilitating the victims.

For Ubuntu: Dr Felix Ndahinda and Alex Mvuka Ntung

UBUNTU is an organisation created by individuals from eastern DRC for purposes of contributing to initiatives aimed at preventing violence and working towards sustainable peace and conflict resolution in their native land and the wider Great Lakes Region of Africa. UBUNTU membership includes individuals who survived the Gatumba massacre. UBUNTU is one of only few actors who have constantly tried to remind the international community of the unfulfilled promise of justice for victims of the Gatumba massacre. It is an international peace-building and non-profit organization based in Brussels.

UBUNTU – Initiative for Peace and Development
Rue Creuse 60, B-1030 Brussels, Belgium, Enterprise no: 891.545.509, Approved by the
Belgium Royal Decree of 26th.07.2007.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 13, 2012 at 11:22 am

How the UK Foreign Office covered up war crimes in the name of “official secrecy”

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From Al Jazeera

It’s a case involving allegations of torture, long-hidden government records, and a successful anti-colonial struggle.

Four Kenyans, including two who say they were castrated, sexually abused and severely beaten in a British-run prison camp during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s and 1960s, have launched a lawsuit against the UK government. Legal proceedings begin in London on Thursday.

“I don’t think many people are aware of the idea that the British government was involved in the systematic torture and abuse of people fighting for their freedom,” said Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day & Co, the law firm representing aging Kenyan activists…

The historical research of David Anderson, a specialist of African politics at Oxford University, has played a crucial role in the case.

During archival searches in Kenya and the UK during the 1990s, he found the British had “deliberately” taken documents out of Kenya before the country declared independence in 1963.

“It was a conspiracy to conceal things from the Kenyan government,” Anderson told Al Jazeera, adding that British law, specifically the Public Records Act of 1958, prohibits this sort of behavior.

Anderson interviewed a number of senior former colonial officials to ask whether documents were removed from Kenya. “They shrugged in kind of a cagey way and said ‘what do you think?’ You don’t leave your dirty laundry for the new house dwellers to find it, you take it with you.”

Historians estimate that at least 90,000 Kenyans were executed or tortured between 1952 and 1960, with tens of thousands more detained under brutal conditions as they fought for independence. Mau Mau rebels are also blamed for violent attacks on white farmers and colonial authorities.

“The experience of these claimants was not unique,” said Anderson, who has written several books about Kenya. “I would go as far to say that torture was systemic, it was part of a system of detention and abuse, organised in a pragmatic way.”

Lawyers for the UK government will argue the case should be thrown out of court because the events in question happened decades ago and are difficult to prove today. “That [time delay] will be in big issue heard by the court in the next few days,” said Day, the plaintiff’s lawyer.

“They [lawyers for the government] also say we are suing the wrong people; they say we should be suing the Kenyan government,” Day told Al Jazeera…

‘Cover-up’ or bungle-up?

Records from the UK Foreign Office, discovered as part of the court case, could include information on torture.

In November 2010, in the lead up to the case, Anderson issued a statement to the court, detailing why he believed records existed.

The judge took the historian’s letter seriously and instructed the Foreign Office to find the documents which they previously said did not exist.

“Within 48 hours, they [Foreign Office officials] had the documents,” said Anderson. Officials later admitted they made a mistake in not locating the documents earlier. “I am not sure if I entirely swallow that explanation,” Anderson said. “I think this was a conspiracy that became a cock-up.” He stressed that the contents of the secret files remain unknown…

Written by Richard Wilson

April 7, 2011 at 7:58 am

Posted in Corruption, torture

Tagged with ,

Boosting UK trade links with Sudan…

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UK Africa Minister Henry Bellingham says that he and his colleagues can be “candid friends” of the Sudanese dictatorship, whose president is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court

So this is what the UK government means by “boosting UK trade links” with Sudan…

From The Guardian

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has siphoned as much as $9bn out of his impoverished country, and much of it may be stashed in London banks, according to secret US diplomatic cables that recount conversations with the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court.

Some of the funds may be held by the part-nationalised Lloyds Banking Group, according to prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who told US officials it was time to go public with the scale of Bashir’s theft in order to turn Sudanese public opinion against him.

“Ocampo suggested if Bashir’s stash of money were disclosed (he put the figure at $9bn), it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a ‘crusader’ to that of a thief,” one report by a senior US official states. “Ocampo reported Lloyds bank in London may be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money,” the cable says. “Ocampo suggested exposing Bashir had illegal accounts would be enough to turn the Sudanese against him.”


Written by Richard Wilson

December 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Corruption

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BBC’s Mark Easton uncritically regurgitates report downplaying corruption in the UK – but chooses not to reveal that the “thinktank” behind it is a finance industry front group

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Dear Mark Easton,

1. Why did you decide not to reveal to your readers that this report – which claims that the UK Financial sector has been sorely maligned and that corruption in the UK is not as bad as people think it is, and whose conclusions you appear to accept uncritically – was produced by a front group for the Financial industry?

2. Did it not strike you as noteworthy that this study is being launched with great razzamatazz – fronted, of course, by Peter Mandelson – on exactly the same day as the annual report by the independent (ie. not funded by an industry front group) anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International?

In contrast to today’s sunny findings from the Legatum Institute, Transparency International has warned us that  Britain is “seriously at risk of dropping out of the top 20″ in its anti-corruption index.

According to the Guardian:

Britain’s failure to prosecute foreign bribery has been partly blamed on its outdated, fragmented and complex anti-corruption legislation.

Interestingly:

In its dying days, the last Labour government brought in a modernised law to stamp out bribery… Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, announced in the summer that the act will not be enforced until April next year, so further consultation on its details can be held.

Transparency International’s Director told the Guardian that

Britain’s worsening performance in the league table “strengthens the case for the UK’s new bribery act to be properly enforced, and sends a warning signal to the government that there should be no dilution of the bribery act or further delay in its commencement”.

I wonder what “signal” the Legatum Institute is hoping to send the government by launching its somewhat cosier assessment on exactly the same day…

Written by Richard Wilson

October 26, 2010 at 11:53 am

Utter humiliation: Old media meets new media, old media wins…

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Utter humiliation: Bloggers beware…

See also: “Your Freedom” – Hit, Miss or Maybe?, and Memo to John O’ Farrell

I was on BBC Newsnight on Thursday, talking about this and this, though you probably would not have guessed it from the way the issue was presented.

The programme ‘hook’ was the launch of a new UK government website, “Your Freedom”, through which members of the public are invited to nominate laws that need to be scrapped in order to reverse the erosion of civil liberties that took place under the last government. The discussion was broadly in line with most BBC coverage of anything to do with “people from the internet”, and I am ashamed and embarrassed to have been associated with it. Given the BBC’s track record, I really should have seen this coming…

I’d been contacted by a Newsnight researcher who’d seen my blog post suggesting we bin the vaguely-defined crime of “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office”, which has been used in some disturbing court cases against people who receive information from government whistleblowers.

The format was as follows:  Five people who’d each submitted an idea to “Your Freedom” got to speak for about 25 seconds about a law they’d nominated, and the reason they felt it should be scrapped.

Then there was a much longer discussion between the presenter and two ‘experts’ – a guy named Andy Williamson from something called the Hansard Society, and a writer called John O’ Farrell. Although Newsnight chose not to disclose this, O’ Farrell had been actively involved with the government which did so much to attack civil liberties, and whose authoritarian laws the public is now being invited to review.

The last thing I did for TV about the online media (a piece for Al Jazeera on Trafigura/Carter Ruck) had been quite a positive experience, which was partly why I agreed to do this one. The Al Jazeera feature is still online here, and it makes for an interesting comparison with the BBC’s loud-and-proud “old media” approach.

O’ Farrell and the Hansard guy (along with the presenter Gavin Esler) seemed to be competing with each other to flaunt their contempt for the public in general, and the online world in particular. According to O’ Farrell, the five ‘bad law’ examples that had just been featured were nothing more than “single issue obsessions”. According to Williamson, most of the ideas the public had submitted to the new website were “utterly stupid” or from “single issue fanatics”. All the while, the five token faces of Joe Public adorned the wall behind them.

The overarching message seemed to be that the very idea of asking ordinary people to participate in an online policy discussion was completely absurd, and we really ought to leave the thinktankery to people like Andy Williamson and John O’ Farrell.

The Hansard Society modestly purports to be “universally recognised as the independent and non-partisan authority on Parliament and democracy”. I beg to differ (and these guys don’t seem too impressed either).

The Newsnight discussion might at least have been enlightening if O’ Farrell had been bumped, and the guy from Hansard put up against someone who actually understood the relationship between democracy and the web, such as the people behind the excellent website, www.theyworkforyou.com.

As things stood, it was like watching a gruesome TV re-enactment of Radio 4’s “The Moral Maze”, with my own face superimposed in the background the whole time. Utter humiliation…

*UPDATE* – The Hansard Society’s corporate donor list makes for interesting reading. Turns out that this “authority on Parliament and democracy” is bankrolled by MBDA, a subsidiary of the arms manufacturer BAE, whose relationship with British democracy is, let’s say, somewhat questionable

Other donors include the Rio Tinto mining group, who are notorious for their alleged complicity in serious human rights abuses around the world, the lobbying firm Ellwood and Atfield, and, perhaps inevitably, BP.Yet again, the BBC gifts air-time to a corporate front-group without any disclosure of its affiliations…

Lies in the name of “peace”? Opposition fears a stitch-up as European Union agrees to validate Burundian elections despite killings and voting irregularities

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One of the most shocking NGO rumours I’ve heard in recent years was that UN observers in a South Asian country were willing to certify an election as legitimate not because it actually was free and fair, but because they feared that acknowledging the full extent of voting irregularities could plunge the country back into civil war.

Now there are fears in Burundi that the European Union – which has invested heavily in the “Burundian success story” narrative – may be trying something similar, following the first round of this year’s national elections.

In the run-up to May’s polling, dozens of opposition activists were murdered, and many others harassed and threatened by the security services, while the ruling party CNDD-FDD mobilised its youth militia to intimidate voters. When the respected monitoring group Human Rights Watch highlighted the extent of abuses, the Burundian government responded by expelling the HRW researcher from the country.

Now, amid serious concern about the legitimacy of the first round of elections, 13 opposition parties are boycotting the next rounds until they receive credible guarantees that the polls will be properly managed and monitored. Yet rather than address this issue directly, the Burundian government’s international sponsors appear to be holding to the line that the vote was fair, and are now pressurising the opposition to take part in further elections which they fear will be rigged.

Contacts of mine in Burundi tell me they are worried that the international community, in its eagerness to support the “success story”, is turning a blind eye to evidence of serious irregularities.

“It is normal after an election to hear some actors who do not want to recognize or accept the result of an election”, one EU official, Renate Weber, is quoted as saying to VOA news, before urging the opposition to address any concerns by filing a complaint with the same state authorities who have been killing and arresting their supporters.

One of the opposition figures rejecting the poll results is Alexis Sinduhije, a man who has been beaten, threatened, harassed, and served time in jail for his willingness to speak openly and honestly about the situation in his country. For the moment at least, I would attach more credence to his analysis of the situation than the opinions of some comfortable, generously paid, European Union official.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 11, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Corruption

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“Down with the Murdoch Empire!” – The people versus NewsCorp

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[applause]

Written by Richard Wilson

May 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm

*Flashmob* – Conservative Central Office, Monday May 3rd – Protest the Tories’ use of libel law to censor a BBC exposé about their leading financial donor

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From Facebook:

Name: ToxicTories Central Office Freedom Flash Mob
Category: Common InterestPolitics
Description: “If anyone else is as disgusted by the Tories use of our legal system to manipulate the way the this election is being reported as I am, please join us on Bank Holiday Monday (May 3rd), outside Conservative Part HQ at 12pm for a friendly, peaceful but very vocal flashmob. Your voice will be heard.”

Written by Richard Wilson

April 24, 2010 at 10:35 am

Posted in Censorship, Corruption

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Support the Libel Reform campaign – Free speech is not for sale!

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Click here to support the campaign for freedom of speech in the UK

England’s libel laws are unjust, against the public interest and internationally criticised – there is urgent need for reform.

Freedom to criticise and question, in strong terms and without malice, is the cornerstone of argument and debate, whether in scholarly journals, on websites, in newspapers or elsewhere. Our current libel laws inhibit debate and stifle free expression. They discourage writers from tackling important subjects and thereby deny us the right to read about them.

The law is so biased towards claimants and so hostile to writers that London has become known as the libel capital of the world. The rich and powerful bring cases to London on the flimsiest grounds (libel tourism), because they know that 90% of cases are won by claimants. Libel laws intended to protect individual reputation are being exploited to suppress fair comment and criticism.

The cost of a libel trial is often in excess of £1 million and 140 times more expensive than libel cases in mainland Europe; publishers (and individual journalists, authors, academics, performers and blog-writers) cannot risk such extortionate costs, which means that they are forced to back down, withdraw and apologise for material they believe is true, fair and important to the public.

The English PEN/Index on Censorship report has shown that there is an urgent need to amend the law to provide a stronger, wider and more accessible public interest defence. Sense About Science has shown that the threat of libel action leads to self-censorship in scientific and medical writing.

We the undersigned, in England and beyond, urge politicians to support a bill for major reforms of the English libel laws now, in the interests of fairness, the public interest and free speech.

More than 30,000 people have signed so far – click here to join them

Written by Richard Wilson

March 4, 2010 at 7:29 am

Craig Murray alleges UK government seeking to block corruption inquiry in Ghana

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From CraigMurray.co.uk

British High Commissioner Nick Westcott is not afraid to step in to controversy. Having boldly told us that Vodafone did nothing wrong in their acquisition of Ghana Telecom, he now lectures Ghana that incoming governments must respect contracts entered into by the outgoing government.

Of course, that is true. As a general point, it is a simple statement of the legal position.

But we all know that Dr Westcott did not mean it as a general point. He meant that investigations into contracts including Kosmos and Vodafone must be stopped. Otherwise, he warned, investor confidence would be damaged – a warning that foreigners would take their dollars elsewhere…

Is Ghana forbidden from investigation because the government has changed? No, and they must not be bullied out of it by the British, Americans, IMF or World Bank. Those will always back wealthy Western companies against a developing African nation.

The Vodafone deal suffered – at the very least – from a lack of transparency and a lack of a level playing field for others – including France Telecom – who wished to compete. The final sales price was definitely too cheap.

I would like to know how Ghana Airways’ invaluable routes were awarded to GIA – a bunch of obscure and inexperienced investors who came only fourth in the official assessment of bids. The result has been the almost total disappearance of Ghana’s whole aviation industry….

Let us look at the case of another British company, Zakhem International Ltd. They are building the Kpone Power Project for VRA.

VRA bought the turbines from the manufacturer, Alsthom for US $70 million. They then paid Zakhem US $80 million upfront to install them and provide the ancillary equipment.

After three years, what do Ghanaian taxpayers have to show for their US $150 million? Absolutely nothing. An empty field at Kpone, surrounded by Ghana’s longest concrete wall so the Ghanaian public cannot see that their money has been stolen.

What is happening about it? Nothing, because Zakhem and their Ghanaian partners have stolen enough money to bribe all the officials involved. They are now claiming around town that the new government is also “In their pocket”.

Most of the $80 million has vanished forever, while the $70 million turbines are now badly damaged by disuse.

Or look at Balkan Energy. They claimed to have spent US $100 million on refurbishing the Osagyefo barge, at a time when they had really spent less than US10 million.

Under an astonishingly corrupt contract, Balkan are to lease the barge for $10 million per year, from the government of Ghana, but then charge Ghana over $40 million per year for its use as a “Capacity charge”. They will in addition charge the government of Ghana for the fuel, and make a profit on that too.

It is as if I rented your car from you for 100 Ghana cedis a month, then rented it back to you for 500 Ghana cedis a month plus charging you a premium on all the petrol you use.

Balkan stand to make a total of about $1.5 billion dollars in profit from the people of Ghana from this terrible deal. It is the most corrupt contract I have ever seen. It is astonishing that a country like Ghana would enter into a contract with Balkan, whose owner, Gene E Phillips, has stood trial as a gangster in the United States.

These are not crimes without a victim. Everyone who pays any VAT or other tax in Ghana is putting money into the pockets of these disgraceful conmen. Most of the taxpayers of Ghana are very poor, and the money is being taken by people who are very rich…

I first spoke out about corruption in Ghana back in 1999, when I was Deputy High Commissioner there. It caused a sensation in the Ghanaian media at the time. But people do not know that I was nearly sacked by the British government as a result.

The British government did not object at all to my attacking corruption in Ghana. The reason I was nearly sacked was because I said “Sadly some British companies have been involved in this corruption”. I was carpeted by the British government and told I must never mention British companies’ corruption.

So Nick Westcott is only continuing a British hypocritical tradition of condemning corruption, unless it is British corruption…

Written by Richard Wilson

February 18, 2010 at 9:37 am

Posted in Corruption

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He who pays the piper…

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From The Sunday Telegraph:

Medical evidence that helped Megrahi, 57, to be released was paid for by the Libyan government, which encouraged three doctors to say he had only three months to live.

The life expectancy of Megrahi was crucial because, under Scottish rules, prisoners can be freed on compassionate grounds only if they are considered to have this amount of time, or less, to live.

Megrahi is suffering from terminal prostate cancer. Two of the three doctors commissioned by the Libyans provided the required three-month estimates, while the third also indicated that the prisoner had a short time to live.

This contrasted with findings of doctors in June and July who had concluded that Megrahi had up to 10 months to live, which would have prevented his release.

Professor Karol Sikora, one of the examining doctors and the medical director of CancerPartnersUK in London, told The Sunday Telegraph: “The figure of three months was suggested as being helpful [by the Libyans].

“To start with I said it was impossible to do that [give a three-month life expectancy estimate] but, when I looked at it, it looked as though it could be done – you could actually say that.”

Written by Richard Wilson

September 6, 2009 at 8:10 am

Posted in Corruption

New film looks at unanswered questions around Western complicity in 1975 East Timor invasion

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Written by Richard Wilson

September 3, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Posted in Corruption, Peace or appeasement?

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Scandal-hit Nick Brown was among the 98 who voted to cover up expenses by exempting MPs from Freedom of Information Act

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The latest revelation on MPs expenses is that Labour chief whip Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend – majority 7,565), was allowed to claim over £18,000, without having to present any receipts, for “food” at his second home. Predictably, Nick Brown was among the 98 MPs who voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, in an apparent attempt to prevent public scrutiny of their expense claims.

The 98 MPs who tried to cover up their expense claims by exempting themselves from the Freedom of Information Act

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In May 2007, 98 MPs voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, with the apparent aim of stopping the public from finding out the details of their Parliamentary expense claims.

The measure was ultimately defeated, and after a long legal battle, the courts last year ordered the publication of the expense claims made by MPs. The government, however, continued to drag its feet until the information was finally (and now famously) leaked to the Telegraph newspaper, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Parliamentary authorities.

Amid the uproar that the last week of revelations has caused among the wider public, attention has understandably focussed on the worst excesses of the worst offenders – the claims for non-existent mortgages, exorbitant gardening bills, and the famous “moat-cleaning” expense.

But alongside this, it now seems worth taking a closer look at the people who helped create the environment in which this behaviour was able to flourish – and who fought so hard to stop the truth from being exposed.

Interestingly, several of the MPs – such as Elliot Morley, Julie Kirkbride and Tony McNulty – who have now been identified as serial abusers of the Parliamentary expenses system, were also among the 98 MPs who, in May 2007, voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. But there are also many others who, to date, seem to have largely escaped public scrutiny. There’s a detailed summary here by the Campaign for Freedom of Information of the bill in its various stages. From this we can see that:

78 of those who supported the bill are Labour MPs:

Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West)
Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)
Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
Angela C. Smith (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon)
Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East)
Bob Laxton (Derby North)
Brian H. Donohoe (Ayrshire Central)
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
Claire Ward (Watford)
Clive Betts (Sheffield Attercliffe)
Clive Efford (Eltham)
Colin Burgon (Elmet)
Dari Taylor (Stockton South)
Dave Watts (St Helens North)
David Cairns (Inverclyde)
David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
David Lammy (Tottenham)
David Marshall (Glasgow East)
David Wright (Telford)
Denis Murphy (Wansbeck)
Desmond Turner (Brighton Kemptown)
Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North)
Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe)
Frank Doran (Aberdeen North)

Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East)
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West)
George Mudie (Leeds East)
Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
Graham Allen (Nottingham North)
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
Huw Irranca-Davies
Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
Ian Stewart (Eccles)
Ivan Lewis (Bury South)
James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West)
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North)
Joan Ryan (Enfield North)
John Heppell (Nottingham East)
John McFall (West Dunbartonshire)
John Robertson (Glasgow North West)
John Spellar (Warley)
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
Keith Hill (Streatham)
Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East)
Kevan Jones (North Durham)
Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham Perry Barr)
Laura Moffatt (Crawley)
Liz Blackman (Erewash)
Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North)
Maria Eagle (Liverpool Garston)
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)
Martin Salter (Reading West)
Martyn Jones (Clwyd South)
Meg Munn (Sheffield Heeley)
Michael Foster (Worcester)
Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)
Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend)
Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)
Phil Woolas (Oldham East and Saddleworth)
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)
Siôn Simon (Birmingham Erdington)
Stephen Pound (Ealing North)
Steve McCabe (Birmingham Hall Green)
Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
Thomas McAvoy (Rutherglen and Hamilton West)
Tom Harris (Glasgow South)
Tom Levitt (High Peak)
Tom Watson (West Bromwich East)
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central)
Tony McNulty (Harrow East)
Wayne David (Caerphilly)

The remaining 20 are all Conservative:

Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central)
Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and the Weald)
Ann Winterton (Congleton)
David Maclean (Penrith and the Border)
David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds)
David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East)
John Butterfill (Bournemouth West)
John Randall (Uxbridge)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin)
Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)
Tim Boswell (Daventry)
Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East)

Strikingly, only 26 of Parliament’s 650 MPs turned up to oppose the bill – 5 Conservatives, 9 Labour, 9 Liberal Democrats, 1 Plaid Cymru MP and the Respect MP George Galloway.

Guido Fawkes savages the Telegraph’s forelock-tugging political journalists

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From Guido Fawkes in The Telegraph

There are a lot of bitter, jealous journalists at the Telegraph and you have behaved shamefully over the McBride story.  You even tipped off Downing Street in advance as to exactly what I was up to. It reflects on you a lot more than it does on me.

You revealed sources, broke a confidence, breached a signed non-disclosure agreement and behaved like patsys for McBride.

You still failed to spoil the story.  Your political team is about as weak as it gets, that is why you sucked up to Downing Street.

The Telegraph was once run by gentlemen for gentlemen.  This would never have happened under Deedes or Charles Moore.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

Geoffrey Alderman suggests Home Secretary’s husband’s porn expense claim was “legitimate research”

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Amid the growing furore over the £93 million of public money that UK MPs claimed last year for various arcane “expenses” – whilst also attempting to block full disclosure of the details – the broadsheet columnists have been coming out in force to defend our poor beleagured politicians.

Writing in the Times, David Aaronovitch suggests that the publishing of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith personal bills – for which she had submitted a public expense claim and which included the cost of two “adult movies” watched by  her husband – was “as big a breach of privacy as one can imagine”.

Aaronovitch clearly needs to try imagining a bit harder, and obviously hasn’t been paying  attention to what Jacqui Smith’s own department has been up to recently. Sadly, there’s nothing “imaginary” about the sweeping powers that the government has been seeking, to monitor every email sent, every phone call made, and every website visited by every person in the UK – or about cases like that of local journalist Sally Murrer, who was bugged for weeks, then arrested, strip-searched and put on trial on trumped up charges (she was acquitted in November last year after an 18-month ordeal) as part of the government’s vindictive campaign of harrassment against the police whistleblower Mark Kearney, who Murrer happened to be friends with.

Just three days ago, Jacqui Smith was being quoted in the Telegraph (where else?) denouncing those who have raised objections about such government encroachments as “people who take an approach to rights which puts the right of privacy above a pretty fundamental right for us to be safe”.

But now that the privacy of Jacqui Smith and her husband have been compromised – albeit chiefly through their own greed and carelessness – the government is threatening to launch a criminal investigation into how the information was leaked.

Writing in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee insists that “Our politicians are among the cleanest in the world” and warns that “Those who abuse, belittle and encourage popular contempt for MPs should consider that we need more good people in politics”. Toynbee suggests that “the excruciating public humiliation of the home secretary’s husband for watching a couple of porn movies” may deter decent candidates from seeking a political career.

This seems entirely to miss the point. What’s primarily at issue is not that Jacqui Smith’s husband watches pay-per-view porn movies – it’s that he got his wife to make an official claim requesting that the costs of his private habit be reimbursed with public money. If Smith hadn’t submitted her husband’s extracurricular activities as a supposedly legitimate “expense”, then the media would never have found out about them in the first place. Anyone who’d be deterred from going into politics by the fear that their dodgy expense claims may lead to public humiliation would clearly be better off out of it for everybody’s sake.

But the prize for the most slavishly forelock-tugging display of deference to our self-serving political elite must surely go to the historian Geoffrey Alderman, also writing in the Guardian. Jacqui Smith and her husband have done nothing wrong and have nothing to apologise for, he insists, and anyway “the rules governing the reimbursement of MPs’ expenses are very unclear”.

Furthermore, says Geoffrey Alderman, for an assistant of the home secretary (Smith’s husband is paid £40,000 from the public purse to do her admin for her), it “might be argued” that watching pay-per-view porn “is legitimate research”. Pure genius…

Labour elite’s slapdash approach to personal privacy comes back to haunt them as MP expense details rumoured to be in the hands of data thieves…

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Following revelations that the UK taxpayer has been helping to fund the Home Secretary’s husband’s porn habit, and former trade minister Nigel Griffiths’ unconventional use of publicly-funded office-space, the government appears to have been dealt further humiliation by rumours that the full, unedited list of MPs expenses has been stolen by data thieves and is being offered for sale to the highest media bidder.

Given the government’s notoriously slapdash approach to everybody else’s personal data, it seems fair enough that information which should never have been deemed confidential in the first place has now escaped into the public domain by similar means. The fact that our engorged mediocrats aren’t even capable of keeping their own dirty secrets secret does seem to raise further questions about the wisdom of giving them an uber-database with all of the UK’s most personal data gathered together in one, easy-to-hack-and-duplicate place.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 31, 2009 at 12:29 am

Telegraph newspaper denounces torture investigation

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True to form, the Telegraph newspaper has roundly denounced the news that there is to be a criminal investigation into allegations of complicity in torture by the UK security services, and urged the Attorney General – a political appointee – to intervene in the judicial process in order to stop the investigation.

In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, and during the subsequent campaign by Bush administration hardliners to convince the world of the need for a war against Iran, the Telegraph security commentator Con Coughlin famously published a series of articles containing  false and misleading information that appears to have been fed to him directly by the intelligence services. Now that those same intelligence services risk facing serious public scrutiny, the Telegraph is leading the calls to get the criminal investigation stopped.

African Union sends man who oversaw 300,000 deaths in South Africa to investigate reports of 300,000 deaths in Darfur – assisted by the man who oversaw 300,000 deaths in Burundi

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Hot on the heels of its anguished denunciation of the international indictment of Sudanese President Omar Bashir over war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the African Union has further cemented its global credibility by appointing ex-South African President Thabo Mbeki to look into the charges.

Mbeki is certainly an interesting choice for a mission whose ostensible aim is to establish the truth about a life-or-death humanitarian issue.

As President of South Africa, Mbeki famously bought into the claims of internet conspiracy theorists who say that HIV does not cause AIDS, and that the illness is actually caused by the medications used to treat the disease. A Harvard study recently concluded that the Mbeki government’s steadfast refusal to make AIDS medicines available to those with HIV may have led to over 330,000 preventable deaths.

To add further gravitas, Mbeki will be assisted, according to Voice of America (who give a slightly different account of the purpose of the mission), by the former President of Burundi, Major General Pierre Buyoya.

Buyoya is widely suspected of orchestrating the 1993 assassination of the man who had defeated him at the ballot box earlier that year, the country’s first democratically-elected Hutu President, Melchior Ndadaye.  The killing triggered a brutal, decade-long ethnic war in which more than 300,000 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have died.

For most of this period, Buyoya was in charge, having seized the Presidency in a coup in 1996. During Buyoya’s reign, forces under his command carried out a series of brutal massacres against the Hutu civilian population – but as the International Criminal Court can only investigate crimes committed after 2003 – the year Buyoya’s rule ended, it’s unlikely that he will face justice any time soon. A long promised UN-aided “special court” for Burundi has yet to materialise.