The Nether-World

March 6, 2007

Sleaze In America – Sleaze In Britain

Filed under: Cash for Honours, Lord Levy, Nu Labour, Sleaze, US Politics — netherworld @ 7:22 pm

Two sleaze stories today, one from each side of the Atlantic. First, in the USA Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has been found guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury. When he is sentenced in June, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

He was accused of lying to the FBI and a grand jury over revelations about CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity.

Libby’s lawyer said they were “very disappointed” at the verdict, and would ask for a new trial, or would appeal.

Libby was found guilty on four out of five counts. He was acquitted on one count of lying to the FBI.

I haven’t blogged much about this case but the BBC has an at-a-glance article about the trial and also other links to the background of this story for those who are unfamiliar with it. In short, it concerns the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame whose husband, Joseph Wilson displeased the Bush administration by disputing Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material from Niger. The trial itself, however, is about the cover-up (isn’t it always?). More updates on this can be found at Firedoglake and Iain Dale has a report. too.

Over in Britain, the sleaze story is the on-going saga of the cash for peerages scandal. The story all week has concerned a document (not an e-mail apparently) and an injunction placed on the BBC to prevent them revealing who sent it, who it was for and what it was about. This was a request by the police. The injunction was partially lifted yesterday so it could be revealed who sent it to who but not much else. Today the whole injunction was lifted revealing what most observers suspected anyway, namely that this document was written by Ruth Turner to her boss Jonathan Powell and it concerned Lord Levy whose position is now looking more precarious than ever.

There has been much speculation as to whether it was Downing Street that leaked the details in order to prejudice any trial. This is, of course, vigorously denied. After calling his arrests and the police behaviour “theatrical”, Lord Levy is now demonstrating his own skills in theatrics as he denounced the “prejudiced and distorted view” of the cash-for-honours affair presented by leaks to the media and played to the gallery by appalling for public sympathy. It is possible that Ruth Turner was concerned that Lord Levy was asking her to alter her evidence, something Levy denies. If true this opens the way for charges of perverting the cause of justice (again, it’s the cover-up rather than the original crime). The Guardian defied the injunction and broke the story which has caused the row as to who is doing the leaking in this case. Lord Levy blames the police, and everyone else seem to be blaming Lord Levy or Downing Street.

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February 5, 2007

Cash For Honours – The End Draws Near

Filed under: Bliar, Cash for Honours, Nu Labour, Sleaze — netherworld @ 7:14 am

sleazy-levy-sml.jpg

Greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his friends for his life – Jeremy Thorpe speaking of Harold Macmillan’s 1962 Night of the Long Knives when he sacked most of the senior members of his cabinet to save his political career.

The Times is reporting that three of the people questioned by the police in the cash for honours scandal are likely to face charges. This must mean that the police investigation is drawing to a close and we’ll soon be waiting to hear what the Crown Prosecution Service has to say. It appears that someone questioned by the police has been singing like a canary.

Crown Prosecution Service lawyers have received files from the police indicating that charges should be brought against three people, although the inquiry is continuing.

“I would be very surprised if they are not charged,” a prosecution source told The Times. The same source said that Tony Blair was likely to be interviewed by the police for a third time because he had yet to answer certain questions.

So who are the people who are likely to be charged? It would seem on the face of it that Tony Blair might escape prosecution and it will be his minions that will carry the can for the Right Honourable Gentleman. Obviously Lord Levy is top of the list as he’s been arrested twice so far. Naturally he’s still protesting his innocence and has once again said that he will not swing for Tony Blair.

Tony Blair’s chief fund-raiser Lord Levy is ready to tell the police that the Prime Minister is to blame for the cash-for-peerages scandal.

The Labour peer is furious that he has become the prime suspect.

And he is ready to defend himself by arguing that Mr Blair, not him, should be made to take full responsibility for the affair.

This is at least the second time Lord Levy has stated that he won’t be the fall guy for Tony. To be fair to him he does have a point. Only the Prime Minister can bestow honours on people. But it does seem that the noble lord is in it up to his neck, and let’s not forget that the second time he was arrested it was in connection to a potential cover-up. Perverting the cause of justice is a far more serious crime.

Ruth Turner, Downing Street’s director of government relations is also in the frame following her recent arrest (again on suspicion of perverting the cause of justice). This means that her boss, Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff might also face further questioning and possible arrest. So who has been spilling the beans? Well it seems possible that it might be Tony Blair’s director of political operations John McTernan. Back to the Times article:

A CPS source said that the case had been strengthened by the testimony of John McTernan, the Prime Minister’s director of political operations, who gave a different account of discussions about honours from that given by other Downing Street figures questioned.

Oh dear, perhaps it was this that has re ignited what was beginning to look like a moribund inquiry. The Government has in recent days pulled out all the stops in trying to deflect attention from this investigation and create the impression that it was going nowhere after 11 months. We’ve had MPs and Cabinet Ministers as well as peers either coming out against the investigation or insisting that Blair should stay on as Prime Minister and friendly ‘journalists’ also saying to the police in effect “shit or get off the pot“. We’ve had anonymous leaks in the case of the alleged plot in Birmingham which some police suspect may be politically motivated. If all this sounds like desperation, it probably is. Tony Blair is not out of the woods yet. There is already speculation that he might be questioned for a third time by police, perhaps under caution. Even if he himself is not charged, he will be very badly damaged if his closest members of staff are charged. This might mean that he will be visited by the dreaded men in grey suits.

It is starting to look like Blair won’t be able to hang on until the summer as he intends to. The irony is that it will be a scandal which is relatively trivial in comparison with the far more serious crimes committed in Iraq which forces him out. But then Al Capone was caught out on tax evasion rather than his violence and racketeering.

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January 30, 2007

The Blair Crime Family Expands Its Gambling Operation

Filed under: Bliar, Cash for Honours, Nu Labour, Sleaze, UK Politics — netherworld @ 3:23 pm

Not content with its usual rackets of selling honours, halting or tampering with police investigations, arms dealing, bribery and assassination, the Blair crime organisation (also known to be operating under the name of NuLabour) has expanded its operation into gambling. Britain’s biggest criminal organisation, dominated by its boss ‘Teflon’ Tony is about to open the country’s largest and swankiest gambling joint in the city of Manchester.

There was some confusion as to where the location for this new venue was going to be. Some thought it would be in Blackpool which has aspirations to be another Atlantic City. Others thought the location would be in London in a spot famed for a failed diamond heist by an unaffiliated local gang. However this might have attracted too much heat after the negotiations with an American billionaire conducted by the under boss John ‘Cowboy’ Prescott were exposed.

The move into gambling is happening under the leadership of capo regime Tessa ‘Under-Bus‘ Jowell who has been urging the family to stake a claim in the lucrative gambling racket for some time. She is known to have links with the famous Don Berlusconi in Italy who is currently awaiting trial for corruption and perverting the cause of justice along with her husband.

This audacious move is happening as the police get ever closer to busting the family for its peerages racket. It is thought that even ‘Teflon’ Tony might not escape justice this time and he is said to be handing control of the family business over to his associate Gordon ‘One Eye’ Brown. The crime syndicate is so worried about police attention after the recent arrests of other senior members including consiglieri Michael ‘Cash Point’ Levy a.k.a. Sleazy, that it is thought that even ‘Machine Gun‘ Blunkett can’t save them.

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January 20, 2007

A Roundup of This Week’s Political Corruption, Sleaze and Hypocrisy

Filed under: Bliar, Cash for Honours, Nu Labour, Sleaze, UK Politics — netherworld @ 4:42 am

As the Middle East situation goes from bad to worse, the British Government has a few problems closer to home to deal with. These problems reflect Tony Blair’s loss of authority and the decline of New Labour as we enter the last months of his Premiership. Let’s start with the continuing BAE scandal. If Blair thought that by halting the SFO investigation into BAE’s corrupt dealings with the Saudi government over the Al Yamamah arms deal the problem would go away, he was sorely mistaken. Now instead of the original corruption being investigated, the focus is firmly on Blair’s misguided decision. As pressure on Blair mounted to reverse his decision from 130 campaign groups, the Prime Minister reverted to the defence we’ve seen so often:

“The Attorney General set out the reasons for the decision on that and I have nothing further to add,”

Lord Goldsmith’s reason for dropping the inquiry was, we were told, national security and he told Parliament on December 14 that the security services agreed with his assessment. Unfortunately the newly knighted John Scarlett. head of MI6 was reading from a different script.

Whitehall sources have told the Guardian that the statement to the Lords was incorrect. MI6 and MI5 possessed no intelligence that the Saudis intended to sever security links. The intelligence agencies had been merely asked whether it would be damaging to UK national security if such a breach did happen. They replied that naturally it would.

Later the Foreign Office issued a statement which stated that:

“Contrary to the Guardian article, SIS (MI6) shared the concerns of others within government over the possible consequences for the public interest of the SFO investigation.”

Obviously furious at having their investigation halted, the SFO leaked the names of top BAE officials involved in more corruption in South Africa.

BAE’s chief executive, Mike Turner, is named along with the former chairman, Sir Dick Evans, and two other executives, in a document dated June 26 last year.

The document is a request for mutual legal assistance sent from the SFO in London to authorities in South Africa, where a £1.5bn aircraft deal with Britain is under investigation. The SFO’s dossier says: “There is reasonable cause to believe that all the above-named persons and company have committed offences of corruption.” It was leaked to the Mail & Guardian, a Johannesburg newspaper.

The closing of the Al Yamamah inquiry is now being investigated by The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which has condemned the closure and says Britain may have reneged on its promise to combat corruption in the developing world. It isn’t just Saudi Arabia and South Africa involved in corruption with Blair and BAE Systems. There’s another scandal, this time in Tanzania. Tony Blair personally backed a plan to sell Tanzania a military air traffic control system which was ten times more expensive than anything that country actually needed. Tanzania, one of the world’s poorest countries which had just had its debt written off, has only eight military aircraft. In order to push through this sale, Blair, with the support of Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon went against Gordon Brown, Clare Short and the World Bank which condemned the deal as a complete waste of Money. Now it turns out that BAE used a $12, million bribe to get the deal.

The UK’s biggest arms supplier secretly paid a $12m commission into a Swiss account in a deal which led to Tanzania, one of the world’s poorest countries, buying a controversial military radar system.

A Tanzanian middleman, who has a long-standing relationship with military and government figures, has admitted that the sum was covertly moved to a Swiss account by BAE Systems, which is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

The SFO are now investigating this case and are going through BAE’s Swiss bank transactions with Tanzania. It remains to be seen whether or not Blair will decide that this investigation too is a threat to national security and close it down as well.

The disaster that is Iraq has caused some Government Ministers to try to distance themselves from the foreign policy they previously supported and Blair’s close relationship with George Bush. Hilary Benn, James Purnell, and Yvette Cooper are all now criticising the decisions that were made. Most interesting of all though, was Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain’s outburst in The New Statesman:

“The neo-con mission has failed … It’s not only failed to provide a coherent international policy, it’s failed wherever it’s been tried, and it’s failed with the American electorate, who kicked it into touch last November. The problem for us as a government … was actually to maintain a working relationship with what was the most rightwing American administration, if not ever, then in living memory.”

Peter Hain, who voted strongly for the Iraq War and strongly against investigating the Iraq war, is of course launching his bid to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. If you thought Ruth Kelly was a hypocrite, take a look at this and this and this:

There is vigorous public debate about Britain’s support for UN sanctions on Iraq. I have no intention of ducking this debate, because I am convinced Britain’s policy is right.

This week also saw another development in the cash for honours scandal. A fourth arrest has been made in the investigation and this time it is a senior Downing Street political adviser. Ruth Turner was arrested 6:30am on Friday, she is first salaried government official to be arrested. She was later released without charge. What is interesting is that she was questioned not only about cash for honours but also about perverting the cause of justice which suggests that the police suspect that attempts at a cover-up have been made. As you’d expect, Ruth Turner denies any wrongdoing and is expressing her willingness to co-operate fully with the police.

“I have already given the police two lengthy interviews and made it clear to them that I was happy to speak to them again at any stage. I have been completely open with the police throughout and will continue to co-operate with them fully . . . I absolutely refute any allegations of wrongdoing of any nature whatsoever.”

So far, Blair is still supporting her. That might well change if she decides to spill the beans.

“Ruth is a person of the highest integrity for whom I have great regard and I continue to have complete confidence in her,” said the prime minister.

There is more than a hint of nervousness at Downing Street now and the previously cordial relations between the police and Downing Street have cooled significantly. I was amused by a statement by Lord Puttnam who was himself ennobled by Tony Blair after donating money to the Labour Party:

“What about turning up at 9 o’clock, or what about phoning and saying: ‘I wonder if you’d mind coming into the police station, we’d like to talk to you’? Why do you send four policemen at 6.30 in the morning to arrest a perfectly nice woman? It’s ludicrous. I think they’re into theatrics.

Hmmm, theatrics. That sounds familiar. My guess is that the police will now want to interview her boss Jonathan Powell again… possibly under caution this time. And I suspect Lord Levy might well be contemplating another trip to the Middle East. As for Blair, well we’ll have to wait and see but I doubt he’s sleeping that easily.

Anyway that concludes this week’s roundup of sleaze and corruption. I wonder what next week will bring.

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December 15, 2006

A Shameful Day For Blair And Britain

Filed under: Bliar, Cash for Honours, Nu Labour, UK Politics — netherworld @ 2:34 am

There was no shortage of interesting news stories in Britain today, from the on-going horror of the Ipswich murders to the official release of Lord Stevens inquiry into the death of Princess Diana (“tragic accident“), to the news that the Government intends to close 2,500 post offices. So this would be the perfect day to slip out two other stories that the Government would rather not draw too much attention to. It didn’t work; the stories are so big that they were obviously going to top the headlines.

Both these stories demonstrate the depths to which this government (and also the country) has sunk to. Firstly we have Tony Blair being the first sitting Prime Minister to be questioned by the police in connection with a criminal investigation. This is of course the cash for honours scandal in which we knew that the Prime Minister would eventually be questioned. What is surprising is that he was not questioned under caution, which implies that he is being treated as a witness rather than a suspect. This is very odd; the buck stops with the Prime Minister and Blair himself said as much when the story first broke early this year. One can only speculate that our honourable leader is leaving his friends to take the rap for him. Right in the frame is Blair’s fundraiser in chief and Middle East envoy, Lord Levy who has already been arrested, bailed and questioned under caution. I suppose it’s not so surprising that ‘Teflon Tony’ once again escapes the consequences of his actions, however his reputation is now further tarnished with sleaze. No doubt there will be further revelations as the investigation nears its conclusion. We’ve already heard that Gordon Brown, despite previous denials of having anything to to with the scandal, is in fact deeply involved. Iain Dale has some more on Blair’s defence and like Iain, I’m not convinced.

Worse than this piece of common sleaze however, is an even more disgraceful revelation which came out today, and this is the one that turned my usual disgust with New Labour into a fit of anger.

The Serious Fraud Office has ended its corruption inquiry into a £6bn fighter planes deal with Saudi Arabia.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said the SFO was “discontinuing” its investigation into Britain’s biggest defence company, BAE Systems.

The probe had related to the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia. BAE has denied any wrongdoing.

Lord Goldsmith told the Lords he thought that a prosecution “could not be brought”.

He said the decision had been made in the wider public interest, which had to be balanced against the rule of law.

Lord Goldsmith also told peers that Prime Minister Tony Blair had agreed that the continuation of the investigation would cause “serious damage” to relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia.
Source

This is appalling! The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, under pressure from the Saudi government BAE Systems and, of course, Tony Blair, decides that a small matter like the law shouldn’t get in the way of huge British arms deals with Saudi Arabia and relations between the two countries. What does that say about the rule of law and British justice? Maybe I was being naive but I didn’t think that even New Labour would stoop so low as to halt an on-going corruption investigation by the Serious Fraud Office because of threats from a foreign government and fear of losing lucrative contracts. This is not so much sleaze as pure corruption. Just as galling are the reasons given for this extraordinary decision; “national security” and nothing at all to do with commercial considerations… Bullshit!
Newsnight has good analysis of the story which you can see here (for a short while).

The decision to abandon the investigation makes a mockery of Labour’s own anti-corruption legislation which is part of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

108 Bribery and corruption: foreign officers etc.

(1) For the purposes of any common law offence of bribery it is immaterial if the functions of the person who receives or is offered a reward have no connection with the United Kingdom and are carried out in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.

(2) In section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 (c. 34) (corrupt transactions with agents) insert this subsection after subsection (3)-

“(4) For the purposes of this Act it is immaterial if-

(a) the principal’s affairs or business have no connection with the United Kingdom and are conducted in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom;

(b) the agent’s functions have no connection with the United Kingdom and are carried out in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.”

Once again I find myself agreeing with Iain Dale on this matter. Some of the comments on the hurried post I wrote on Blairwatch when the story broke are also worth reading. Also, check out Chicken Yoghurt and A Big Stick And A Small Carrot to get an idea of the sense of outrage over this.

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November 16, 2006

Knacker of the Yard is making “considerable progress”

Filed under: Bliar, Cash for Honours, Nu Labour — netherworld @ 9:38 pm

Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner John Yates, the policeman investigating the cash for honours inquiry, has written to MPs on the public administration select committee and reported that “considerable progress continues to be made”. So far 90 people have been interviewed, 35 from the Labour Party, 29 Conservatives, four Liberal Democrats, and 22 non-party. The investigation is said to have uncovered “significant and valuable material”.

This might explain why Tony Blair has been so worried and angry lately, and also why lawyers for Downing Street have launched a pre-emptive strike against the police by challenging any prosecution using the excuse that the investigation has been compromised by unauthorised leaks. This incidentally, is the same defence used by Abu Hamza and Gary Glitter. The accusation that the police are guilty of leaking information about the case is ridiculous of course. Why would the police jeopardise their own investigation? Yates doesn’t strike me as being that stupid. As Iain Dale points out, if anyone is trying to influence the proceedings it is the the Labour leadership who have consistently encouraged journalists to report that the Police have found nothing and the inquiry is going nowhere. Mr Yates seems to be replying to these accusations by saying that “the major developments” in the inquiry remained confidential and that, security surrounding the investigation “remains very tight” despite what has been reported.

You can read the full text of the letter sent by Yates to MPs here. Needless to say, Guido got there first.

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November 9, 2006

A Week of Changes?

Filed under: Bliar, Bush, Cash for Honours, UK Politics, US Politics — netherworld @ 9:21 am

Well what a week it’s been, and it’s only Thursday. We have the neo-con wipe out at the American midterm elections where the Democrats took the House of Representatives and seem likely now to take the Senate too as news comes in that Virginia has gone Democrat with Jim Webb narrowly beating Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen, who may concede very soon. And this despite Bush using the suspiciously timely sentencing to death of Saddam Hussein to try and boost his chances. We also have the fall-out of that election starting early with the ‘resignation’ of Donald Rumsfeld, a move which seems to have widespread approval, quite understandably. His replacement, Robert Gates however doesn’t look like being a vast improvement although he might have a more sensible attitude regarding Iran. And that is possibly the best news about this election, hopefully, plans to attack Iran have been shelved (provided, of course, that the Democrats don’t decide to pursue that reckless policy).

Just how much things will change with the Democrats in control of both Houses of congress remains to be seen. We know that they originally supported the Iraq war and are unlikely to pull the plug on Bush’s pet project straight away. They can be just as hawkish about Iran, and we know also that whoever is in power in the USA will support Israel but there is a chance they will work harder to find a solution. However despite the failings of the democrats there is an undeniable change in the air which is a cause for celebration.

One aspect of the Democrat victory which promises to be interesting is the possibility of a series of inquiries into such things as the Iraq war and Guantanamo etc. We’ve already seen here in the UK, our leaders decide that an inquiry into the Iraq war wouldn’t be in our their best interests, but what will happen if a full inquiry is called across the pond? There is no way that Blair’s role in this fiasco could be ignored and information that Blair wants to remain hidden would inevitably come into the public arena and make the case for an inquiry here in the UK all the stronger. And let’s not forget Blair’s denials and non-answers over issues like extraordinary rendition, torture etc. If the Democrats start digging, I expect Blair will become increasingly nervous. Another wobble for Blair’s nerves will be the possibility that as Bush becomes more unpopular in the Unites States, so will Blair. Who knows maybe they won’t want to buy his memoirs or pay top dollar to listen to him and his wife talk when they join the usually lucrative lecture circuit.

Not that our Prime Minister’s nerves were that tranquil before the midterm elections. This week has produced some interesting nuggets of news over here too. I’m referring of course to the cash for honours investigation which seems to have gone onto over-drive and is progressing steadily towards Number Ten Downing Street. This week it was revealed that Gordon Brown and John Prescott had been contacted by the police and was asked to tell them what they knew about the scandal. Later it turned out the whole cabinet have been asked to supply information. This makes the eventual questioning of Tony Blair a near certainty. There is still a possibility that Blair will escape any criminal charges, at least until he has left office, but that is not a given. We have heard rumours of a ‘killer e-mail’ which spells bad news for Blair and Lord Levy. Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff has been interviewed and may face further questions under caution. We were also treated to the spectacle of Blair’s best hope, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith (a close friend of the Prime Minister who had donated money to Labour and who had been ennobled by Blair) being in a position to decide if a prosecution should go ahead, evaporate.

So two stories of comeuppance, one on each side of the Atlantic, in the same week. Perhaps there really is a change happening and some cause for optimism. But if that is the case, it is only a beginning. Iraq is still a disaster and will remain so whatever happens here or in America. Bush and Blair are still in power although both are badly damaged lame ducks limping towards their exit from the world stage. Still it’s a start.

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