1. The Dutch media have aired detailed allegations that a major London law firm, acting on
behalf of Trafigura, offered bribes to witnesses in a civil case being brought in the UK courts
against the company over the toxic dumping incident. Despite the gravity of these
allegations, they have not been reported in the mainstream UK media. Only one outlet – the
magazine Private Eye – has made any mention of them. One journalist has told me explicitly
that they want to run this story but dare not for fear of the legal repercussions.
2. Media outlets outside the UK have consistently reported that the 2006 toxic waste
incident caused at least 15 deaths. In contrast, many UK media articles about the case have
made no mention of this central allegation. In one instance, Trafigura successfully sued the
BBC for libel over the allegation, and in others it was able to secure a retraction. No legal
action has been taken against media outside the UK who have reported on the alleged
3. Trafigura is currently under investigation by the Dutch authorities over an alleged bribe of
466,000 Euros made by Trafigura from its UK bank account to Jamaica’s ruling People’s
National Party (PNP). The Dutch investigation has been widely reported in Jamaica. Yet
despite the fact that the allegedly corrupt payments originated in the UK, our media have
not covered it.
Alleged bribery of eyewitnesses by Trafigura and MacFarlanes
In May 2010, the Dutch media published detailed allegations of corruption relating to
Trafigura and a major London law firm, MacFarlanes. In a series of interviews aired by
NOVA TV, a number of the drivers involved in dumping the waste alleged that they had
been offered bribes by MacFarlanes to give false testimony to the UK courts in a civil case
against Trafigura over the dumping incident (http://vimeo.com/16874069).
According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide:
The drivers who dumped the waste now say they were approached by Trafigura’s lawyers and asked
to sign false statements. They were persuaded to lie about the nature of the waste and to deny they
had suffered health problems.
“There are some sentences in the declaration that are not true, they are lies,” says one of the
drivers who was approached by Trafigura.
The drivers say they each received 650 euros in exchange for signing the false statements. They
were told that the statements would be used in the London court case Trafigura was fighting against
the Ivorian victims…
The drivers say they were approached a second time by Trafigura, this time to sign a statement that
they had never received money from the company. They claim to have received 2,300 euros each
for the second statement.
Trafigura and MacFarlanes deny these allegations, saying that such behaviour would have
been “grossly unethical” and “would have constituted serious professional misconduct by
Nonetheless, given the nature of the allegations, and the fact those making them were
prepared to do so on camera, it is striking that – other than one piece in Private Eye – the
mainstream UK media has made no mention of them.
To the best of my knowledge, Trafigura and MacFarlanes have taken no action against any of
the Dutch media that have reported the story.
Death toll from the 2006 toxic waste incident
“I was supposed to do an interview on British radio the day that the court in Abidjan had
come to a decision and had sent two people to jail. I was told that I should in no way
mention Trafigura because of possible libel claims.” – Marietta Harjono, Greenpeace, May
In May 2009, Trafigura issued libel proceedings against the BBC over a Newsnight feature
which alleged that the 2006 incident had led to a number of deaths and serious injuries. In
early December 2009, the programme, and its accompanying article, disappeared from the
BBC’s website without explanation (although it reappeared on the website Youtube soon
On December 17th, the BBC announced that it had agreed to withdraw its allegations about
the Probo Koala incident, pay damages, and broadcast a public apology. Some reports
suggested that fighting the case could have cost the BBC up to £3 million had it come to
Commenting on the settlement, Trafigura noted that the BBC had ‘stated that Trafigura’s
actions had caused a number of deaths, miscarriages and serious and long-term injuries in
Abidjan in what Newsnight claimed “may be the biggest incident of its kind since….Bhopal.”’.
Trafigura described these as “grave, yet wholly false allegations”, over which it had “no
alternative but to commence libel proceedings”
Yet Trafigura appears to have taken no legal action over a November 2009 New York Times
article which described the Probo Koala incident as “one of the worst toxic dumping
scandals in years”, which had “become notorious as a kind of African Bhopal”, and claimed
that “About 108,000 people sought treatment for nausea, headaches, vomiting and
abdominal pains, and at least 15 died”.
On February 22nd 2010, the Independent newspaper published an apology and ‘correction’
for its September 2009 article, “Toxic shame: Thousands injured in African city” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/trafigura-no-link-identified-between-toxicdumping-
On April 30th 2010, the Times issued a ‘correction’ over a March 26th article which had
referred to allegations that the Probo Koala incident had led to 17 deaths. The correction
stated that “the dumping was not carried out by Trafigura… but by an independent local
contractor without Trafigura’s authority or knowledge. Furthermore, in September 2009
lawyers for Ivorians who were suing Trafigura over injuries allegedly caused by the dumping
acknowledged that at worst the waste could only have caused flu-like symptoms”.
To the best of my knowledge, Trafigura has taken no action against any media outlet outside
of the UK that have made similar allegations. Trafigura continues to deny that its waste
caused any deaths.
Alleged bribery of Jamaica’s ruling party
According to the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, Trafigura is currently under investigation by
the Dutch authorities over an alleged bribe of 466,000 Euros made in 2006 by Trafigura
from its UK bank account to Jamaica’s ruling People’s National Party (PNP). While some of
these allegations have previously been reported in the Guardian, to my knowledge the
current investigation has not been mentioned anywhere in the UK media.
The Gleaner reports that a senior politician, Bruce Golding, who was until recently Jamaica’s
Prime Minister, has made a formal complaint to the Dutch authorities asking them to
investigate whether this payment amounted to a criminal offence in the Netherlands.
According to the Gleaner:
Golding also told Dutch authorities that on August 23 , Charles Dauphin, president of
Trafigura, arrived in Jamaica and met with government ministers… He said no public announcement
of these meetings was made to the people of Jamaica… He stated that in early September 2006,
between September 6 and 12, prior to the PNP’s annual conference, Trafigura transferred
€466,000 or more than J$31 million from its account in the United Kingdom to an account in
Jamaica known as CCOC Association…
The address provided by CCOC Association is c/o Portmore Gas, Bridgeport, St Catherine … . One of
the signatories on this account is Senator Colin Campbell, general secretary of the PNP and a
minister of government having portfolio responsibility for information and development.”
The document stated that shortly after the funds were received into the account, two cheques
totalling $30 million were issued payable to SW Services (Team Jamaica), both bearing Campbell’s
Golding noted that on Thursday, October, 2006, the chairman of the PNP, Robert Pickersgill,
confirmed payment of the funds by Trafigura and described it as an unsolicited donation to the PNP
for its upcoming political campaign.
Greenpeace International reports that: “Trafigura is thought to have bribed a Jamaican
politician with the apparent aim of extending an oil contract of Nigerian oil.”
Trafigura insist that the money was a political donation and that they have done nothing
Trafigura’s “reputation management” strategy has not prevented the above information from
being read, and shared, in the UK. But it has inhibited the ability of our domestic media to
debate these very serious issues openly and robustly, and left the British public reliant on the
foreign press to inform them of the full facts behind a major public interest story. The
Trafigura case highlights a worrying gulf between our own media laws and those of the
United States and our European neighbours, and raises serious questions about the state of
freedom of expression in the UK.
7 December 2011
“It is important that we do not jump to conclusions. Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted“, Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun, 2012
Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper has long been hostile to the idea that people suspected of wrongdoing should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, that no-one should be locked up for extended periods without a fair trial and due process, and that even if someone is tried and convicted of a criminal offence, they are still entitled to basic human rights.
When, in 2005, 47 Labour MPs joined opposition ranks to throw out the Blair government’s attempt to award itself the right to detain for 3 months, without charge or trial, anyone it claimed was a “terrorist”, the Sun’s political editor Trevor Kavanagh branded them “traitor MPs” who had “betrayed the British people”.
When, in 2007, Gordon Brown’s government requested the release of five UK residents who had been held for years without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay, the Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh declared that “The overwhelming odds are that these guys were put inside for good reason — whatever sob stories their human rights lawyers are peddling on their behalf.”
“It’s just about possible the five… are totally innocent… But not very likely”, he suggested.
Yet despite these “overwhelming odds”, four of the five men – Binyam Mohamed, Omar Deghayes, Jamil El Banna and Sameur Abdenour – were subsequently freed after the US government failed to produce any evidence that could convict them of a crime. The fifth, Shaker Aamer, has still not been charged or tried, ten years after he was first detained.
Mohamed, Deghayes and El Banna were subsequently awarded millions of pounds in compensation after a court heard evidence (or as the Sun might describe it, a “sob story”) detailing the UK government’s complicity in their “rendition” and subsequent torture.
This weekend, another five men were arrested on suspicion of a criminal offence. Unlike Binyam Mohamed, Omar Deghayes, Jamil El Banna, Sameur Abdenour and Shaker Aamer, these five men were given prompt access to a lawyer, questioned, and then freed on bail. Unlike Binyam Mohamed, they were not bundled into a plane, flown to Morocco and tortured with a scalpel, forced into stress positions or subjected to deliberate and prolonged sleep deprivation. They were not – as would have been the case for anyone accused of terrorist offences under the 2005 Bill championed by Trevor Kavanagh and the Sun – held without charge for 90 days while the Police scraped around for evidence.
Has British Justice Gone Soft? Given Trevor Kavanagh’s previous comments on human rights and due process, we might have expected him to be outraged that these five criminal suspects have been treated so leniently. But here he is discussing the case in today’s Sun:
“It is important that we do not jump to conclusions. Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted.”
Here he is on Radio 5: “the evidence that’s been suggested to those who have been arrested so far, is pretty flimsy stuff… people are wondering what on earth is happening… I feel very sorry for them and I know it’s causing them and their families a great deal of anguish”.
What could possibly explain this change in tone? Perhaps the fact that *these* five criminal suspects were Sun journalists, suspected of making corrupt payments to police and other public officials.
The problem with attacking basic democratic principles like human rights and due process is that you never know when you – or someone you care about – might be in need of them. Trevor Kavanagh’s Damascine conversion to the cause is surely to be welcomed. His friends at the Sun do, of course, have a right to a fair trial and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. It will be interesting to see if they will now extend that same courtesy to the rest of us.
From Amnesty International
FREE ACTIVIST WHO SPOKE OUT
Anti-corruption activist Faustin Ndikumana was arrested on 7 February and charged with making “false declarations”. He had alleged that some magistrates had got their posts by bribing officials in the Ministry of Justice.
Faustin Ndikumana is President of Words and Action for the Awakening of Conscience and the Evolution of Mindsets (PARCEM). He wrote to the Minister of Justice asking him to investigate and halt corruption in the recruitment of judges. He held a press conference and gave radio interviews on 3 February denouncing alleged corruption within the Ministry.
He was arrested on 7 February, questioned by a magistrate at the Anti-Corruption Court and charged with making “false declarations” under Article 14 of the Anti-Corruption Law. He could face five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 1,000,000 Burundian francs (US$ 775). It appears that he was arrested on the basis of a judicial complaint filed by the Minister of Justice. Societies and associations can also be prosecuted under the law and fined up to 10,000,000 Burundian francs (US$7,750).
Faustin Ndikumana is detained in Mpimba Central Prison, in the capital Bujumbura, and held in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. He is detained in violation of Burundian law. Under Article 71 of the criminal code, pre-trial detention must only be used where it is necessary to preserve evidence, protect public order, protect the suspect, prevent the crime from continuing or to ensure that the suspect appears in court.
Amnesty International considers Faustin Ndikumana a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may have a chilling effect on other civil society activists and journalists in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship, as they seek to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest.
Please write immediately in French, English or your own language:
- expressing concern that Faustin Ndikumana has been detained on defamation charges for denouncing reports of corruption within the Ministry of Justice;
- urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
- reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 22 MARCH 2012 TO:
His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza
Président de la République du Burundi
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency
His Excellency Thérence Sinunguruza
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency
And copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Monsieur Laurent Kavakure
Ministère des Relations Extérieurs et de la Coopération Internationale
Bdg Grand Bureau, Bvd de la Liberté
BP 1840, Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 39 70
Salutation : Monsieur le Ministre / Dear Minister
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.
Burundi has a vibrant civil society which continues to speak out despite government attempts to silence it. The authorities have used harassment by judicial authorities, arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detention, and procedural violations of Burundian law to unduly restrict freedom of speech.
Burundi is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which protect freedom of expression. It is well established under international law that public officials must tolerate more, rather than less, criticism than private individuals.
Defamation or false declaration charges are regularly brought against civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists. They often result in prolonged pre-trial detention seemingly in attempts to silence government critics. Juvenal Rududura, vice-president of the trade union of non-judicial staff of the Ministry of Justice, was detained on charges of making false statements in September 2008. He had also alleged corruption in recruitment at the Ministry of Justice. He was detained for 10 months without trial, and the charges against him were never formally dropped.
The independence of the judiciary in Burundi is regularly compromised through political interference. The United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Burundi, Fatsah Ouguergouz, cited problems with judicial independence as a key weakness of Burundi’s justice system in his May 2011 report.
Name: Faustin Ndikumana
Gender m/f: m
UA: 44/12 Index: AFR 16/001/2012 Issue Date: 9 February 2012
A state-funded South London primary school which has repeatedly been praised by Education Secretary Michael Gove has admitted incurring over £387,000 in legal costs since 2008.
The bulk of the costs, disclosed by Durand Academy under the Freedom of Information Act*, relate to a libel case against Jeff Newell, the father of a former teacher at the school, over comments he had made about the school’s headteacher and senior management team. Durand records legal fees of £244,675 in relation to this libel case.
The school states that “Mr Newell made a full and unreserved apology. All costs that could be recouped, given Mr Newell’s financial situation, were paid to Durand”. Details of the amount covered by Mr Newell are not given.
The latest FOI disclosure comes on top of an admission by Durand Academy last year that it had paid nearly £200,000 to a PR firm, “Political Lobbying and Media Relations”.
The new figures do not include the as-yet-undisclosed amount that Durand has spent funding an ongoing libel complaint against Lambeth Council and its chief auditor over three emails which raised concerns about the school’s management. Index on Censorship last year estimated that this case may already have cost over £100,000.
But Durand does disclose the legal fees totalling £81,876 that it spent persuading the Department for Education to grant it FMSiS financial best practice accreditation**. According to court documents from the Lambeth libel case, the school employed the law firm Carter Ruck to represent them in this effort. Durand also hired Carter Ruck in the Jeff Newell libel case, and the ongoing case against Lambeth council.
In a landmark ruling in the early 1990s, the House of Lords determined that there was “no public interest favouring the right of organs of government, whether central or local, to sue for libel… to admit such actions would place an undesirable fetter on freedom of speech”.
As a public body, Durand Academy therefore cannot sue for libel in its own right. Yet individual staff and governors can take action over allegations made about the school, so long as they can make the case that they were personally defamed within the discussion. Durand is one of a number of public authorities who have chosen to fund such personal libel actions by their employees in recent years.
(*See here for my original FOI request, made in June 2011, with a chaser message sent in November. The school’s disclosure follows a complaint to the Information Commission the following month after Durand continued to ignore the request.)
(**The remaining disclosed legal costs were: £28,340 incurred in relation to a 2008-09 hearing at the General Teaching Council, £19,163 on planning/property, and £13,487 spent on converting the school to an Academy.)
Judiciary kept in the dark as Burundi opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije is “investigated” by Tanzania’s Foreign Ministry
This doesn’t seem to augur well for the prospects of a fair trial…
From Tanzania Daily News
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Eliezer Feleshi, on Wednesday said he had not yet received the file from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation concerning the case against the Burundian opposition party leader, Alexis Sinduhije, in order to open a case in court.
“The case is not yet mature, because, if it was, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have sent the file to us to open the case.
“The DPP is not concerned with investigative affairs, this case is currently being handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Mr Felishi told the ‘Daily News’ yesterday over the phone.
Speaking to this newspaper, Sinduhije’s counsel, Habas Nyange, said that he was not aware of the fate of his client. “I am just like you journalists, I have been coming to Kisutu Resident Magistrates’ Court waiting for my client but to no avail.
“I cannot talk to my client properly as I can only talk to him more freely once he is taken to court yet I’m not being informed when he will be brought to court – so he could even be brought to court without my knowledge and then remanded, it is a very difficult situation,” complained Nyange.
“we have done absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever” – #BellPottinger chief Tim Bell on the #Wikipedia editing scandal
The FT has an amusing report about this week’s meeting between Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and staff of Bell Pottinger, the shamed lobbying firm that was caught “factory-farming” the online encyclopedia on an industrial scale.
Despite his firm being exposed using multiple fake identities to whitewash embarrassing information about its clients, Chairman Tim Bell (who also happens to be a Conservative member of the House of Lords), is said to have insisted that “As far as I am concerned, we have done absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever”.
Echoing fellow Tory Lord and Press Complaints Commission Chair David Hunt, Tim Bell reportedly bemoaned the lack of a “regulatory body” for people to complain to about online content that they were unhappy with.
Bell’s ethical stance is certainly interesting. While he sees nothing wrong with his colleagues’ misleading behaviour on Wikipedia, he was reportedly outraged when the Bureau of Investigative journalism used subterfuge to expose his company’s dubious business practices, condemning the deception as “underhand, unethical and improper” – and reporting the journalists concerned to David Hunt’s Press Complaints Commission.
Back in 2008, however, Bell was insisting that “I don’t see any reason why I or my company should follow some arbitrary set of ethical values”.