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Integrity body puts pressure on Google

Emailgate still alive
Published: 
Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Integrity Commission has applied to the US District Court in the Northern District of California for an order directing Google Inc to provide information on e-mail addresses named in the “Emailgate” scandal in 2013. he application was made on Monday for the e-mail addresses [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]. Google had already agreed to preserve the information requested last year by the Integrity Commission but had failed to deliver any documents.

In 2013, months after the Section 34 fiasco, which saw Government hastily repealing legislation that would have seen several people, including government financiers, elude the courts, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley made allegations of corruption in Parliament. Rowley presented a series of e-mails, purportedly exchanged between high-ranking government officials, including Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

The e-mails indicated collusion involved in the proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act in 2012 and a plot to target the journalist who broke the Section 34 story. The allegations were being investigated by the police, originally led by Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Mervyn Richardson but he retired without completing the investigation and passed it on to Deputy Police Commissioner Glenn Hackett.

Earlier this year, Hackett said police were still investigating. He could not be reached for comment yesterday. In a 12-page document, filed by attorney Gina Durham of DLA Piper LLP, based in San Francisco, the commission asked for the clerk of the court to sign a subpoena directing Google to produce the requested information. Google Inc’s headquarters is in California. 

The information sought by the commission includes all subscriber information related to the e-mail accounts, including the names, contact information, birth dates and IP addresses of the account holders. The commission also requested a notarised affidavit attesting to the authenticity of e-mail content sent to or from the e-mail accounts and copies of the e-mail content. Additionally, the commission asked for the contents of communications to and from the [email protected] e-mail account from September 2012.

In the court document, the commission noted that Persad-Bissessar had not confirmed that any of the e-mail addresses belonged to her. It also indicated that Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who was named in the scandal, had denied that he had an G-mail account but had given permission to search the e-mail account [email protected], which is controlled by Google.

The other ministers named in the e-mails — Works Minister Suruj Rambachan and National Security Minister Gary Griffith — had confirmed that Hotmail accounts named in Parliament belonged to them. Those ministers authorised Microsoft to release the content of the e-mails. Google has already confirmed that one of the e-mail addresses mentioned by Rowley in Parliament, [email protected], does not exist. 

The commission asked Google to preserve information related to the e-mail address [email protected], as it believed the original version of the e-mail address may have been a copying error.

US law
US Code Section 1782 is a federal statute that allows a litigant (party) to a legal proceeding outside the US to apply to an American court to obtain evidence for use in the non-US proceeding. It allows the  court in whose jurisdiction a person lives or is found to order him to give his testimony or statement or to produce a document in a foreign or international tribunal, including criminal investigations conducted before formal accusation.

The court document suggests that this law applies to the  Google corporation, which qualifies as a person under the section and maintains offices in the district. Google has been the subject of Section 1782 previously.

Central Authority
 Former head of the Central Authority David West said the authority was open to police and government agencies who needed to retrieve information for investigations. He said the Integrity Commission was not compelled to seek information through the authority and expressed surprise that it had chosen not to do so. “The Integrity Commission has previously gone to the Central Authority in order to retrieve information from abroad and I believe this was done satisfactorily, as the authority was able to secure information,” West said.

He added that agencies usually found it easier to go through the authority as the process was more simple and not as costly. “The authority contacts the US Central Authority and they write to the Department of Justice. When the Justice Department receives the request, they forward it to the federal agency, who subpoenas the information,” he said. Though he felt that process was easier, he said the commission could also have hired an attorney to retrieve the information.

Current head of the Central Authority Natram Kowlessar could not be reached for comment.

Emailgate timeline
• May 15, 2013: Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley met with chairman of the Integrity Commission Kenneth Gordon at his home to discuss several e-mails he had received.
• May 20: Rowley presented a series of e-mails to the Parliament which, he said, implicated the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and other ministers in corruption.
• In the months which followed, investigators interviewed the parties named in Rowley’s claims, while Persad-Bissessar and her Cabinet colleagues were asked to hand over their electronic devices to investigators for examination. 
• Only Griffith complied fully with the request and he complained several times last year that his devices were yet to be returned.
• June 25: The PM and her attorney Israel Khan met with police at Police Headquarters, Port-of-Spain, with her electronic equipment. 
• July 9: Gordon agrees to recuse himself from participating in deliberations or decisions on any investigations the commission might undertake into the authenticity of the e-mails.
• In newspaper interviews in July and August last year, DCP Mervyn Richardson claimed to have written to Google as well as local internet providers for assistance in the probe. 
• July 10: Works Minister Suruj Rambachan told the media he too had contacted Google and received a response saying that the e-mails were fake, as the IP addresses found in Rowley’s correspondence did not exist. 
• August 30: Integrity Commission announced its probe into the e-mails.
• November 22: Richardson retired with the probe still incomplete. Up to the date of his retirement, Richardson maintained he had not received a response from the California-based internet giant. 

Commission: No comment
Mervyn Crichlow, the Integrity Commission's chief communications and public relations officer, did not provide additional information yesterday. Responding to questions by e-mail, he said it would be contrary to the commission’s guidelines and established practice to comment one way or another on investigations which may be under way.