Fishy evidence dogs Djibouti case
Britain’s former lord chancellor in the Tony Blair government, Charles Falconer, has been forced to apologise after his law firm gave “unsafe” evidence to the London High Court in an effort to freeze the assets of Djibouti opposition leader Abdourahman Boreh.
The Djibouti government had applied for a freeze of Boreh’s assets, saying he was involved in terrorism in Djibouti, something he denied. Boreh returned to court, arguing that the evidence against him had been doctored.
Lord Falconer said he accepted the “court was misled” when his British arm of the United States-based law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher used a transcript of Boreh’s phone calls to suggest he was behind a 2009 grenade attack in the capital, Djibouti City.
The date on the transcripts had been altered to fit the day after the attacks. The government told the court that when Boreh asked about “scrap metal” that had been delivered “last night” in a telephone conversation, the court was told this was code for the grenades.
In fact, the recordings were made before the explosions.
At a second inquest Judge Julian Flaux, who heard the original case, said “last night” could not possibly refer to a bombing that had yet to take place.
Boreh argued that the “scrap metal” was code for election material and not grenades.
On Monday the tables were turned and it was not Boreh on trial but the government of Djibouti and its lawyer, Peter Gray, who is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Under cross-examination, Gray conceded that he knew the transcripts were “unsafe” because of the altered dates.
Djibouti is a de facto one-party state where President Ismaïl Guelleh controls all 65 seats in Parliament. The Guelleh government has already tried Boreh in absentia, imposing a 15-year jail term for terrorism using the same transcripts as those presented in London as evidence.
Djibouti then turned to London where the law allows a court to freeze the assets of any person engaged in acts of terror, even if these did not take place in Britain.
They retained Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which also represented Djibouti in an application to Interpol for Boreh’s extradition.
“The Republic of Djibouti apologises to the court and to Mr Boreh,” Falconer said, admitting that “reliance was placed on misleading information” and “misstating of evidence”.
As young lawyers in the late 1970s, Falconer and Blair shared a flat in London, and it was Blair who elevated him to the peerage and brought him into Cabinet as lord chancellor. When Blair stepped down as Britain’s prime minister, Falconer left politics and joined the law firm on a reported salary of £500?000 (about R9.1-million) a year amid public concern that he was breaking a tradition that a lord chancellor should not practise law after retirement.
Ironically, in 2012, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher advised the Kenya government on issues of corruption and the process of justice. The project was pro bono on behalf of Lawyers Without Borders.
At the latest hearing in London, Boreh spoke out against those who had sought to frame him.
“I am frankly shocked that Gibson Dunn has lent its support to this campaign against me, seemingly without regard for the truth,” he told the court.
“Peter Gray, the lead partner, has admitted he knew the terrorism conviction was unsafe,” Boreh said.
“He claims he did not mean to be dishonest. I am happy to leave it to the court to decide whether this is true.”
Flaux said it would take him several weeks to consider the evidence, which could see Gray disbarred.
Judgment on the freeze order will be handed down at the end of the month.