As I’ve covered before, a number of bloggers, including my brother, over at Vox Political, have had their Freedom of Information Act request for details of the numbers of deaths from Atos assessments turned down. The spurious reasons for their refusal was that such requests constituted ‘harassment’. Private Eye have also raised questions about the suitability of Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, for his refusal to disclose 20-year old details about the BCCI scandal at the behest of the Treasury.
The Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or as it was known after the scandal, the Banks of Crooks and Cocaine International, collapsed in the 1980s, leaving a very nasty mess. The Treasury compiled a report on the scandal, Sandstorm, which was the subject of a FOI request. The Treasury turned the request down, and the case went to the Graham as the Information Commissioner, who supported the Treasury. Private Eye published an article on this story in their 30th September-13 October issue. Entitled ‘Freedom of Information: FOI-led Again’. The story ran
‘A recent decision by the Information Tribunal, which forced the Treasure to hand over previously concealed details of a 20-year-old report into the BCCI banking scandal, code-named Sandstorm, raises serious questions over whether the current Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, is the man for the job.
Two years ago he had to rule on the Treasury’s non-disclosure of material including the names of people running the fraudulent bank and organisations propping it up. Its stance was based largely on the unlikely grounds that divulging the names would harm international relations or that the names constituted personal data (which can still be disclosed in the public interest).
Among the names concealed as “personal data” were BCCI founder Agha Asan Abedi, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Royal Bank of Scotland and an entire country in the government of Cameroon. Amazingly Graham agreed completely with the Sir Humphreys (who also happen to hold his purse strings). But when lefty accountant Professor Prem Sikka from Essex university challenged his decision and took it to the Information Tribunal, it was dismissed out of hand.
“We were surprised to see that the Treasury sought to extend the protection of the data protection principles”, said the tribunal judges, “to information about some individuals who exercised ultimate control over the whole of BCCI’s operations and were the architects of a group-wide programme of fraud and concealment.”
When it cam to countries and companies, the Treasury had made the most basic error of treating their names as “personal”. The judges must have been even more surprised to find that an Information Commissioner who is supposed to understand the subject endorsed this. On the concealment of Abedi’s name, they concluded with some understatement: ” the legitimate interest of the public … justifies disclosure of the identity of the man in overall charge…”
It thus would appear the Information Commissioner and his office have bee all too eager to protect the rich, unscrupulous and corrupt against reasonable requests for information. This, and the latest refusals to answer questions about the death toll from Atos’ cessation of benefit payments, suggests that Graham is definitely not suitable for the job and cannot be trusted to protect the public interest against abuse.