October 26, 2000
By David Graves. Daily Telegraph. Thursday 26 October 2000.
SIX British private investigators held in Cuba for more than two weeks may have unwittingly uncovered details of the communist regime's shady business dealings, diplomats suspect.
The investigators, and the girlfriend of one of them, could face up to 20 years' imprisonment under Cuban laws for the "protection of national independence" imposed by the government-controlled courts.
As the British Government continued to press for diplomatic access to them yesterday, it was disclosed that they had been recruited by a London solicitor to carry out round-the-clock undercover surveillance on a Cuban businessman suspected of marital infidelity.
They entered the country on tourist visas on Sept 2 with equipment including miniature cameras, directional microphones and video recorders. The Cuban security services, which tap phones and monitor the movements of foreigners, discovered the undercover team and they were arrested on Oct 9.
Although British diplomats have attempted to explain to the Cuban authorities that the surveillance work was not aimed at the regime, they suspect that Cuba is worried about the information the team may have uncovered. The Panama-based businessman who was the target of the investigators signed an agreement last year to run the first 100 per cent foreign-owned venture on the island, an oil-fired electricity generating plant.
While there have been no allegations of underhand dealing in the agreement, the Cuban opposition in Miami has often claimed that Cuban officials, including members of President Castro's family, have been involved in sanctions-busting deals through Panama.
The Britons were held in Cuba's notoriously harsh prisons for 15 days before Havana told London on Tuesday evening that they had been detained for suspected surveillance activities which broke Cuban law. With the Cuban authorities relying on laws penalising "dangerousness" for ordering the imprisonment of some of its own citizens, Havana has yet to explain what laws the Britons are alleged to have broken.
However, some diplomats are concerned that Cuba could invoke charges under its repressive law for the "protection of national independence and the Cuban economy" which carry penalties of up to 20 years in jail for actions deemed to support the American trade embargo on Cuba.
British diplomats are also concerned that Cuban courts undermine the right to a fair trial and, in some cases, restrict a proper defence. Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister, met the Cuban charge d'affaires in London last night to press for diplomatic access to the arrested Britons.
The team of investigators was recruited by Ken Lodge, 53, who runs SIP Investigations, in Snaresbrook, east London. He was hired by the London solicitor to accumulate evidence for the businessman's wife to support her action for a divorce. She believed that her husband had fathered a child by his mistress in Havana, according to Simon Palmer, 29, of Takeley, Essex. He had been in the surveillance team but he returned to Britain before the arrests.
Other detained Britons were named as Jonathan Fawcett, of London; Derek Pitt, of Stevenage, Herts; Will Smart and another man called Mike, also from Stevenage, whose girlfriend was arrested while visiting him. Cuba originally told British diplomats that six Britons had been arrested, but it confirmed on Tuesday that seven were held.
Mr Lodge's mother, May, of Forest Gate, east London, said last night that she was "worried sick" about her son. "He said 'I'm going away for a fortnight, mum. I won't be long', and that was it. We're close, but he didn't go into detail about what work he was doing."
Mrs Lodge added that a relative of one of his colleagues had told her on Saturday that he had been delayed in Cuba but she only discovered on Tuesday that he had been arrested. Mr Lodge's personal assistant, who refused to give her name, said in a statement: "I'm unable to comment on anything that has been printed in the newspapers. SIP Services always maintains clients' confidentiality. Ken Lodge had been in this business for over 30 years and has a good reputation. We are doing all that we can to bring about the release of the detainees."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2000.
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