Monday 7 November 2022

ICO refusal notice - Operation Koel

I finally had a decision from the Information Commissioner concerning my FOI request for Carmarthenshire council paperwork re Operation Koel - the police Organised Crime Unit investigation into the Wellness Village bribery scandal - and it's a refusal. 

The ICO upheld the council's decision to refuse to disclose the information under Section 40, data protection. 

The details and arguments can be read in the Decision Notice here, essentially the protection of the individuals concerned, (the suspects and others) outweighed the public interest in disclosure. In addition, the information was classed as Criminal Offence Data which is given added protection.

"Having considered the wording of the request, and viewed the withheld information, the Commissioner finds that the requested information includes criminal offence data. It is information provided for the purposes of a police investigation. The data also includes discussion about allegations concerning individuals in relation to this investigation." (ICO)

My public interest argument to the ICO was more or less this;

“The request asked for information relating to an investigation regarding a proposed development, the 'Wellness Village', led by the council. Public funds from the council, the Welsh Government and the Swansea Bay City Deal are being used for the development. Considerable expenditure has already been made, prior and during the police investigation. Governance, audit, oversight, and scrutiny were also led by a democratically elected body, Carmarthenshire Council, at the time.”

I updated the ICO in the summer with the evidence from the employment tribunal (Mark James being a very clearly named suspect) but as this was nine months after my original request it had no bearing on the request, or the ICO decision.

It was always going to be a long shot, and I suspect all documents, emails and correspondence held by the council are heading for the shredder as we speak.  

However, following the evidence released at the Swansea University Employment Tribunal back in the summer, it doesn't really matter. The ICO were right, it is criminal offence data because the then chief executive of the council, Mark James, was caught red-handed accepting bribes from a developer and planning to squirrel them away into a secret trust.

Whatever information the council were holding in respect of the criminal investigation it was unlikely to give better direct, cast iron evidence that Mark James is a crook than the Employment Tribunal judgement.

You will recall that the only reason the CPS discontinued the case was because the developer was deemed to ill to testify. As the police confirmed, there was certainly sufficient evidence, the 'secret trust' email being key to it all...and key to Mark James doing a spell behind bars.

So, where to go from here. Clearly the current Plaid Cymru administration under Darren Price wish to forget it ever happened but as I've said before, I haven't got that luxury. Let alone forget that this conman ran the council for seventeen years. Those senior staff that protected and defended his criminal behaviour are still there.
Meanwhile Mark James continues to prosper and adds to his growing list of company directorships. He continues to expand his Century Wharf empire in Cardiff as a director of the management, and the right to manage companies, feeding his own companies and those of his friends with lucrative contracts and plenty of cash. He's got it all sewn up.

One of those companies Building and Estate Solutions Ltd, is providing claims advice, another company Ffynnon Consultancy Ltd is also providing services to CW Estates to the tune of around £45k last year. Goodness knows what services, Ffynnon Properties Ltd will be providing...the list goes on.

Mark James is a thief and a conman and the residents of CW should be asking some serious questions about where their service charges are ending up...mainly in his wallet. The 'secret trust' email alone proves he's capable of anything. The problem is that he runs the show with the same arrogance, dishonesty and secrecy as he did the council.
The police didn't raid his home without a very good reason. Neither, for that matter, did Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs make him Shit of the Year 2016 without him being a most truly deserving recipient. 

Background and detail to my original FOI request, which was also sent to the police, the CPS and Swansea Uni is here - Operation Koel


Anonymous said...

it seems the fight moves to Century Wharf are the residents there aware of his background

Was there not a dispute some years ago with some residents one being a retired inspector

caebrwyn said...

Anon 14:59
Indeed there have been a few disputes over recent years, Mark James' answer was to ensure no 'troublemakers' (or a 'cancer' according to James in the Western Mail) were ever voted onto the residents' Board again, and to cancel AGMs.
Mr James and Cardiff Bay - the Western Mail reports

More recently was the scandal over the forged signatures on the EWS1 cladding certificates. Fortunately the same retired police inspector spotted that something was wrong. The 'management', ie Mark James, didn't...
Century Wharf - a forged signature, and the cladding scandal

caebrwyn said...

A minor point but it's worth mentioning that the ICO found that the council failed to comply with the 20 working day legal limit to provide a response. Not that the council will lose any sleep over that, in my experience responses are nearly always late, very late usually, and sometimes not at all.
Perhaps when the Cabinet rubber stamps the revised FOI Policy next Monday they make a note to actually keep to the rules within it...

Anonymous said...

I don't feel that Carmarthenshire council has moved on from Mark James - there are too many reminders of his time there

I think a complete change of the old managemet team is called for

It will do good for the County and the individual managers who can go onto other things and make a freash start

What is happening with the City deal - have things gone quieit now Swansea has its areana

caebrwyn said...

Anon 11:10
Quite agree, clean sweep is needed, the head of legal/Monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones should have been sacked years ago.

The City Deal rumbles on, yes some progress in Swansea but little elsewhere. Plenty of cash being spent on high profile management (SBCD director £115k), half a million on admin staff wages, £200k last year on admin and marketing, still noo sign of private investment, projected costs rocketing etc etc. Jobs created so far at the 'iconic' Pentre Awel Wellness Village, out of a promised 2000 six long years ago, 2.
The only consolation is that Mark James is no longer involved (as far as I know...) lining his own pockets.

Anonymous said...

a general comment about the proposed wellness centre -

if the health authorities are struggling financially / the councils cannot afford existing leisure facilities how will the wellness centre running costs be funded let alone the capital outlay with a recession coming no private monies forthcoming

it's not sustainable and should be either postponed for 10 yrs or scrapped all together

Anonymous said...

high profile management (SBCD director £115k) is on a level of a ceo of a district / county council

how can this be justified when each council has its own director of regeneration and teams of regeneration officers - its duplication and a waste of public money with very little to show for it only vast amounts of paper for minutes of meetings

nice if you get the gig but worthless

sian caiach said...

I see the Pentre Awel !st phase has been started according to this week's Llanelli star, The project is described as a key regeneration project linking business, healthcare, academia and "the people of the town".Zone 1 is said to cost around £93 million. presumably this will swallow up the funding for the new leisure centre which has been in the bank for years. The Healthcare will be run by Hywel Dda health board and will include low tech projects such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy rooms, hopefully transport will be arranged from Llanelli and other areas for the patients to attend.Also there will be a cafe and walking and cycling routes. Zone one is being built by the French construction firm Bouygues, The massive number of piles may suggest that the land at Delta Lakes is still a little lacking in stability.No worries though as the Bouygues office is generating power from solar panels. Much of the publicity is just a wish list with little detail. I'd love to know where the private investment of £108 million will come from. After all ,the original Wellness project stumbled when the private firm involved, Sterling Health, failed to come up with the promised £200 million of matched funding.

Sian Caiach