A Romanian scandal that threatens press freedom that the UK could stop in its tracks

alexander-adamascue

Alexander Adamescu: Facing extradition from the UK using the European Arrest Warrant

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Romania is not particularly high profile. It is  best known for Bram Stoker’s Dracula stories and the infamous  rule of Communist President Nicolae Ceaușescu overthrown and killed in a revolution in 1989.

Now it is seen as a NATO ally, a democracy with free elections and in European Union circles as being tough on corruption.

But beneath the surface there is growing evidence that Romania is about to go the same way as Hungary and Turkey with a crackdown on the freedom of the press, arbitrary arrests and flouting the rule of law.

The issue is becoming deeply personal – and this blog has decided to take up the issue – over the plight of a German businessman who with his father owns Romania’s oldest newspaper, Romania Libra. The paper  has been a thorn in the side 0f successive  governments by exposing corruption  and political intrigue. I have written both a news story and a large  feature in Tribune this week on the case.

Alexander Adamescu currently lives in St John’s Wood in London. His father Dan is in hospital in Romania while serving a prison sentence for corruption based on the uncorroborated evidence of one person that he tried to bribe an official. His son is now – two years later -facing a similar charge after a flimsy examination of the evidence in a 30 minute hearing called at two hours notice in his absence.

The Romanians are  using the European Arrest Warrant – which faces only a very limited challenge in the British courts- to try and extradite him to Romania and this spring there will be a court hearing.

Alexander Adamescu has applied for political asylum to Theresa May, has asked the all party Romania committee to take up his case in Parliament and appealed to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn as a backbencher took up his father’s case in 2014 and was heavily critical of Romania’s judicial process. So far British politicians have not acted.

In the last year there have been more sinister developments – reminiscent of Russia’s secret service – affecting his family. He believes his wife, Adrianna, was the subject of a bungled kidnapping  outside his St John’s Wood flat this March.

As she got out of her car and approached her flat two masked men attacked her and tried to drag her to a waiting car.

She said: “They were both wearing bandanas and gloves. They drove in a Mini Cooper with fake number plates – as I was later told by the police – and didn’t steal anything from me despite the fact that I was wearing diamond earrings, and had my car keys in my hands.”

“When they approached me, I threw myself to the ground, and fought with them until my neighbour Kymone Hansson, hearing my screaming and came running out to me. At the same time, a cab driver with a passenger in the back seat pulled over next to me and called the police. That was the moment I was saved. The two men ran to their car and quickly drove away”.

The Met Police were able to trace the car but not the people and the case has been left on file.

Later there was a second incident which can be directly attributed to the Romanian authorities. Adrianna was returning from Bucharest and was stopped at the airport before she could board the plane. The authorities said her four year son could not leave the country because he was Romanian (he was born in the UK). As he is four they could not detain him so she quickly left the airport with him and drove across the border to Bulgaria and returned from there to the UK.

The issue of prison conditions in Romania- where nearly 500 people have died over the last five years often due to the lack of medical treatment –  has already been challenged in the High Court in London by the international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson ( who also represented Alexander Livenenko’s widow in the recent public inquiry into his poisoning by plutonium). He has taken up the cases of other people being extradited by the Romanians and the prison.

Romania’s cramped and unsanitary prison conditions mean that pre-trial detention has also become a kind of punishment. Prison standards are so bad that between 1998 and 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found Romania guilty of 178 violations of Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. The court recorded 27 violations in 2015.

.Serious questions about the role of the independent judiciary, the misuse of the European Arrest Warrant and the freedom of an independent press to investigate the government are all at stake. Even the role of major accounting firms working in Romania like KPMG have been questioned.

Journalists on the paper have published an open letter accusing KPMG of aiding and abetting members of the Romanian government to rig insolvency hearings to destroy and silence their newspaper, infringing on the publication’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

“There is no doubt about it – this is a case of privatized censorship. KPMG has been used as a front by certain members of the Romanian government to take over control or shut us down,” said Sabin Orcan, chief editor of România Liberă.  “Our publication has survived more than 140 years of the worst types of oppression, including during the Soviet period. But who knew it would be the accountants who would deliver the death blow to freedom of the press in Romania?”

KPMG, to be fair, did find problems with the insurance company that bankrolled the paper, but recommended changes that amounted to a rescue plan for the company. The government vetoed the plan which shows where they stand.

All this suggests that the British government should act to stop this move. Given that it is committed to leaving the EU it should be possible to overrule this action or grant him political asylum.

 

 

 

 

Brian Altman: The scuba diving prosecutor who “speared” Milly Dowler’s killer

brian-altman-qc-320x289

Brian Altman – new lead counsel for the independent child sexual abuse inquiry. Pic credit: 2 Bedford Chambers

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The announcement this week that former Treasury counsel Brian Altman has been appointed lead counsel  from March to the much troubled Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse should be  good news for survivors.

The man has a formidable reputation as a forensic prosecutor and a particularly strong line in bringing criminals to justice in  ” cold case ” murders.  For once the phrase ” highly experienced”  used by the inquiry chair, Alexis Jay, is no exaggeration.

He has yet to get a cameo role as a lawyer  in ” Silent Witness” – though he did appear in a BBC 4 Real Crime and Punishment series ( sadly no longer available on BBC i-Player.).He has received much praise from journalists who regularly cover Old Bailey trials for the way he ensnares defendants who hope to escape justice for unspeakable crimes.

His case list of successful prosecutions is impressive. They include the notorious serial killer and rapist Levi Bellfield who murdered  teenager Milly Dowler and  killer Colin Ash-Smith convicted 21 years after he murdered 19 year old Claire Tiltman.

He has also prosecuted in a joint British and Dutch investigation  of canal murderer John Sweeney who killed and dismembered former American model and photographer, Melissa Halstead, in Holland in 1990, and disposed of her remains in a Rotterdam canal, and Paula Fields in London in 2000, whose dismembered body parts were found in the Regent’s Canal in 2001.

He has a string of other murder cases – where he both defended and prosecuted killers – and successfully prosecuted terrorists-including  those involved in a disrupted Islamic state terror plot and Syrian trained terrorists planning attacks in the UK.

He is familiar with the workings of the security services  and bad behaviour by MPs – he once advised on whether to prosecute one for expenses fraud – and his client list include members of a Middle  East Royal Family – though not disclosing whether it is the Saudi Arabian one or not. For a full list see his entry on his  chambers website here.

All this should bode well  for those who want forensic examinations of some of the most highly contentious cases that will be looked at by the child sexual abuse inquiry. This will in time include the Westminster paedophile ring, Greville Janner and the Leicestershire institutions involved in child sexual abuse and some of the more contentious child sex abuse scandals in London.

Historic child sexual abuse is also a ” cold case ”  issue – so this quote should comfort the sceptics.

“For cold case murders, he is the go-to barrister because he is able to draw together all the small pieces to provide a coherent analysis, and he knows these cases so well that there is nothing the defence can come up with to outfox him. He is completely relentless, extremely personable and a great team player”; “He is a master of detail who never makes a mistake.” Chambers & Partners 2016 (Crime)

Frankly  the inquiry after all the row surrounding the departure of his predecessor, Ben Emmerson, could do with a boost. Given there is also outside pressure – thankfully resisted by Theresa May who set it up – to try and get the government to close the inquiry down because of its scope and cost, this is doubly important.

Brian Altman in his Linked In profile also lists two hobbies – scuba diving and travel. I can well understand  he will sometimes want to get away from it all after all this work pressure.

He is  coy about where he has travelled and where he has scuba dived. He tells me one of the places he has not yet visited is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the largest scuba diving place in the world.

Given he is probably lead counsel for the largest child sex abuse inquiry in the world- perhaps he also should also get some time off to relax there as well soon.

 

 

 

 

The mystery of the secret discovery of chemical WMD in Iraq which poses more questions than answers

Sir John Chilcot

Sir John Chiilcot: Pic Credit: BBC

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

It could be from the pages of a novel. But my colleague and co author Nick Kochan has an extraordinary story on the Exaro website this week just as the damning Chilcot report on the Iraq War has been published.

The essence of the story is a large cache of  chemical weapons  shells containing the nerve gas sarin were discovered and destroyed  by the Americans and British in a remote British area of Iraq in 2005 and 2006 long after the UN weapons inspectors had disappeared.

The source for the story has told Exaro about how the CIA using a front company purchased thousands of shells many containing the nerve gas sarin from an Iraqi war lord and then destroyed all the weapons.

Incredible as this may seem this story is stood up by information released in the United States under the US Freedom of Information Act and in the UK  to a lesser extent by the Ministry of Defence.

The US info which named the clandestine operation as Avarice  and the British operations were known as  Bedouin 1 and 2..

In 2015, the New York Times reported details of covert operations that involved the CIA, US military intelligence and the British Army.

The International Business Times, a US-based website, later revealed details of the British-led Bedouin missions.

What is curious is that neither  revelation made much of a stir at the time – even though it meant that chemical WMD had been discovered.

And this week’s Chilcot report makes no mention of the clandestine operations though it does reveal that later discoveries of chemical weapons was reported to the Joint Intelligence Committee.

This  raises loads of unanswered questions. The discovery in 2006 would have been very useful to Tony Blair’s case that  Iraq still possessed chemical weapons and you would have expected Alistair Campbell to have shouted it from the rooftops. But this information was either never used or never reached either of them.

The other question is more sinister. What was the use made by the warlords of the CIA money?

For soon after many British and US troops were killed by IED’s planted by war lords to get the UK and US out of Iraq. Exaro’s source is fearful that the money paid by the CIA may have been used to buy these weapons and to kill British and American soldiers.

Given Chilcot’s strong criticism of the inadequacy of equipment for the troops including snatch landrovers this is a highly damaging allegation.

“It is possible that western forces were killed by Mahdi army funded by the CIA. Nobody ever identified what happened to the [US] money and what it was used for,” the source claimed.

“The only people who could have moved those sorts of things around that area were involved in many nefarious activities.”

So far  even with Chilcot we are none the wiser.

IRAQI FREEDOM

As Coalition Forces respond to a car bombing in South Baghdad, Iraq (IRQ), a second car bomb is detonated, targeting those responding to the initial incident. The attack, aimed at the Iraqi police force, resulted in 18 casualties, two of which were police officers, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. pic credit:bbc

Why police whistleblowers will be crucial to getting to the truth of historical child sex abuse

While controversy rages about the future of the independent panel into child sex abuse,a key development almost passed unnoticed at the end of last year.

It was the decision of former police officers in previously closed down child sex abuse inquiries to present a dossier to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met police Commissioner, and to the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse when it finally starts taking evidence.

My colleague Alex Varley-Winter on Exaro produced two powerful pieces revealing both this move and the extraordinary revelations on a closed website by former police officers  who investigated child sex abuse allegations during those dark days of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.. You can read her pieces on Exaro here and here. They reveal that  their own investigations were ” canned” when they started to involve prominent people or politicians.

As she reports:”The participants in the two discussions are mostly former Met officers. One exceptionally identifies himself as having worked for “UK gov”, and said that he signed the Official Secrets Act. And another was a firearms instructor in the Met.

…”Across all the discussion threads published by Exaro, seven participants claim to have direct knowledge of a cover-up of VIP paedophiles. Many others say that they were told by colleagues or do not specify the basis of their claims about closed operations.”

The significance of this cannot be underestimated. At the moment the police have  detailed allegations from survivors of very serious abuse and possible murders of three survivors. As Scotland Yard has already said the allegations by ” Nick” as revealed by Exaro are credible. But the police need more evidence to corroborate this to bring charges. These could come from other survivors.

But  what better evidence  could there be than from former police officers who could h\ave been investigating the very same allegations if they can come forward.  This would provide the Crown Prosecution Service with quite separate evidence in addition to the survivors themselves.

I have a feeling that this could be a game changer in the investigations that are currently taking place across the country if these police officers are able to testify. This will make this year a very important one for all survivors of historic child sex abuse who have been denied justice for such a very long time.

Child Sex Abuse: Will the police finally catch the perpetrators ?

The extraordinary revelations at the weekend by my Exaro colleague Mark Conrad and the Sunday People should finally dispel fears that the police have no intention of investigating the VIP paedophiles and now possible murderers in the Westminster paedophile scandal.

I could tell until this weekend  many in the mainstream media  were sceptical ( and some still are) that such horrendous acts involving MPs could ever have taken place in the 1970s and 1980s without the Westminster lobby knowing. Some, including one of my long-standing former colleagues on the Guardian, emphatically told me no MP could possibly be involved in the murder of a young boy.I’ll spare his blushes until there is an arrest.

However the disclosure at the weekend  that two former police detectives are now corroborating that they had heard about a murders and were aware of a paedophile ring in Westminster but couldn’t investigate.

As the Exaro article says :A source close to the investigation said that the two former police officers alleged: “There was a significant paedophile group in Parliament who were untouchable to the police.”

They provided new information on Sir Cyril Smith, the former Liberal MP, and Sir Jimmy Savile, the BBC star, who were exposed as paedophiles after their deaths. They have also provided potentially important information on former MPs and living perpetrators of child sex abuse.”

The key thing about the police coming forward is that the story by the brave survivor called ” Nick” has now a possible chance of being collaborated by other sources. This will be essential if they are to be prosecutions.

Also in the same week I learnt that in Durham where 900 people have come forward alleging sexual and physical abuse at the now closed Medomsley young offenders institution arrests are likely before Christmas and Operation Pallial in North Wales is also expected to lead to more arrests shortly. Even the home secretary, Theresa May, has indicated that she believes  it is only ” the tip of the iceberg” so far..

Altogether the chances of this far too long running historic scandal being dead and buried again are becoming much slimmer. The police now have to throw everything at it to get at the truth.

Child Sex Abuse: Failings in the Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam Review

Peter Wanless: Some failings in his inquiry PicCredit: www.thirdsector.co.uk

Peter Wanless: Some failings in his inquiry
Pic Credit: http://www.thirdsector.co.uk

Yesterday Theresa May, the home secretary was rightly called before Parliament by her shadow Yvette Cooper, to answer questions about the findings of the Wanless and Whittam Review into the missing dossier naming VIP paedophiles given to her predecessor, Leon Brittan by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP. If Yvette hadn’t done it, Tessa Munt, one of the” magnificent  seven” MPs who called for an overarching inquiry was already planning to do so.

The report with its 12 annexes was rushed out at 11.30 am leaving MPs of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee precious little time to digest it before questioning both authors in a session truncated because of the timing of May’s statement. No wonder Keith Vaz, its chairman, might have been a bit tetchy during May’s statement.

In conducting a meticulous search inside the Home Office  both  Wanless and Whittam did a thorough job – as far as they could – to try and find any references to  what appears to be a long destroyed document. They also exposed the chaotic state of the Home Office’s record keeping and if you look at the annexes to the report shed a little more light on other cases.

So far so good. They then seem to have asked other Whitehall organisations to conduct a search on their behalf but as Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond, quizzed her over the failure to find anything at the old Director of Public Prosecutions, where the dossier was sent, still left a question in this area whether the work had been thorough.

They also seem to have spent some time chasing officials who held documents at the time they have been destroyed in  the hope that they might get them. This is important – even though their report is sceptical about it – because in one of my investigations for Exaro  official documents have turned up because someone kept them in their attic.

They also questioned the Home Office whistleblower who came forward to Tom Watson MP with his fears that a senior civil servant,Clifford Hindley, may have been involved in the funding of the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange.

But where they failed – and this was taken up by Steve McCabe, Labour’s shadow social services minister, – was in pursuing civil servants who were around at the time. The lame response from Theresa to appeal to people to come forward was not good enough.

Wanless and Whittam would have seen a lot of documents with civil servants’ names on them because of the way Whitehall has a distribution list for almost every document.Some may be dead, most will have retired.

But they missed an opportunity to be proactive and chase them up. For they must be accessible. They will all be on final salary pensions paid out by Whitehall. It would not be too difficult, to contact the semi privatised agency and get their names and addresses and ring them up. They might be a little outraged about their personal data being accessed – but this is an official inquiry to get to the facts. People do talk to each other – and also someone at the DPP at the time also got that dossier who may not want to disturb a pleasant retirement going on cruises and playing golf.

The result is that we have unsatisfactory verdict of ” not proven ” from this investigation which takes us little further than the Home Office’s original findings.

To get to the truth over child sexual abuse we are going to need a lot of lateral thinking and a sceptical investigative state of mind to prise out information. I hope the overarching child abuse inquiry takes this on board and treats the Wanless review with some forensic scepticism.

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: A job half done by Theresa May

Job half done:Theresa May, home sercretary. Pic Credit: conservatives.com

Job half done:Theresa May, home sercretary. Pic Credit: conservatives.com

Will the second attempt  by Theresa May, the home secretary, to restart the process  of setting up an overarching inquiry into child sexual abuse fall into another elephant trap?

Within days of her appointment Fiona Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London and  lawyer, to chair the inquiry questions about her suitability have surfaced in  the Mail on Sunday because of her links with the family of Leon Brittan.

Survivors who might be tempted to give evidence will be alarmed at any link with Leon Brittan  for many reasons.The row about the loss of papers by the Home Office sent in by the former MP the late Geoffrey Dickens which are alleged to named paedophiles during his watch in the early 1980s is one.

He is also- even though he vehemently denies the allegation –  still the subject of a Met Police investigation into the rape of young woman before he became an MP.

Fiona Woolf needs to clarify exactly what the relationship with her neighbours, the Brittans is- not for prurient interest in her private life – but to assure worried  survivors that no friendship will cloud judgements. Frankly it shouldn’t. If it is purely tenuous there should be no problem, if it isn’t there could be one.

But why are we back to this?

Given the furore over the appointment of first chair, Baroness Butler- Sloss, who resigned after Exaro revealed the conflict of interest because her late brother, Lord Havers, a former attorney general, had been involved in restricting the terms of the inquiry into the Kincora scandal in Northern Ireland, you would have thought every avenue would have been followed to avoid a similar problem.

As I reported over the weekend on the Exaro website indeed  at least 60 candidates were considered and  it was said to have been properly vetted by home office officials.

But before a final judgement is made we need to see the full picture – the full terms of reference, the rest of the people appointed to the inquiry, and then pass judgement.

This is because the rest of  the appointments – some of them brave –  do ensure there will be independent voices on the panel.None of the rest can be connected with the Establishment.

Graham Wilmer, whom followers of this blog will be familiar,is no push over. He is a survivor himself, a  vigorous campaigner against abuse in the Salesian order, and also runs the Lantern project in the Wirral which helps survivors, though has not received the money that is needed to really tackle the problem. He also sits on a committee about safeguarding survivors chaired by the Bishop of Durham, which is currently looking at what more work it should do.

Barbara Hearn, the former deputy chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, whom I have also met, has been wrongly traduced on Twitter just because in a previous age the body was associated with the  paedophile Peter Righton. At the moment she is providing campaigning MP Tom Watson – who raised the Righton scandal in Parliament- with expert help on how to help and counsel the many survivors who come to him.. For the record she is doing this on a voluntary basis, the antithesis of the view that anyone in Parliament must be on a gravy train.

Then there is Professor Alexis Jay, who as expert adviser, to the committee, record speaks for itself. She is the person who exposed the unbelievable scandal in Rotherham – a fount of knowledge of the exploitation of young people by sex abusers.

Finally there is the counsel, Ben Emmerson, He is not only a human rights lawyer but the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism. He is currently looking at the use of drones  to kill terrorists and more often innocent citizens in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.. His work is not exactly going to please the US and UK governments and campaigning MP, Tom Watson, is also backing him to the hilt over this issue as well.

Now he is going to devote his considerable legal expertise to tackling child sexual abuse and whether there have been cover ups in this country.

All this means – if there is another row over the setting up of this inquiry – we must not throw everything out.

Now is the time for careful thought and analysis not rushed judgements -Theresa May’s job is only half done.