A Scotland Yard anti-corruption detective and three ex-officers from the Met were arrested today amid claims serving police were pocketing bribes worth up to £20,000 from private investigators.
Officers are accused of taking money for information about an inquiry into a politician who defrauded a Nigerian state of more than £150million.
The 45-year-old detective constable is being questioned on suspicion of providing information about Nigerian fraudster James Ibori in return for cash.
Two private investigators, aged 53 and 58, and another man are being held in connection with providing the money after raids at the London offices of Risc Management Ltd.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed today the firm has previously worked with the force.
A lawyer told MPs at a Parliamentary inquiry yesterday into the work of private investigators that he had evidence of substantial cash payments made over nine months.
Mike Schwarz said invoices from a law firm reveal an undetected case of ‘apparent corruption right at the heart of Scotland Yard.’
He accused a handful of senior officers responsible for orchestrating the inquiry of also leaking information for cash.
If true, the incendiary allegations would ignite a fresh scandal at the London force, which remains embroiled in a damaging race row.
And they would raise serious questions about links between police and private investigators who want to obtain information to undermine the criminal justice system.
The claims centre on a wide-ranging and complex inquiry into the James Ibori, the former governor of Nigeria’s Delta State.
He was jailed for 13 years last month after admitting he embezzled huge sums to fund a lavish international lifestyle for his family.
Documents passed to the Commons home affairs committee, and seen by the Daily Mail, appear to show payments were made in return for police information.
They include a series of detailed invoices from a London law firm and leading private investigation company RISC Management, which is run by former Scotland Yard detective Keith Hunter.
The paperwork indicates that both companies were hired to work for Ibori in 2007 after he discovered he was being investigated for fraud.
Yesterday, Mr. Schwarz, who represents one of Ibori’s co-defendants, said the invoices document payments to ‘sources’, presumably police officers close to the inquiry.
He added: ‘The records show about half a dozen payments totaling about £20,000 over a period of eight or nine months… it appears to be inappropriate if not corrupt.’
One invoice includes a charge for £5,000 with the note: ‘Engaged with source in eliciting information re: forthcoming interview strategy to [be] deployed by police.’
Mr. Schwarz said he has also seen emails which confirmed contact had been made between the private investigators and detectives.
The allegations have been circulating since last year but only surfaced in public yesterday after Mr. Schwarz used Parliamentary privilege to make them.
His client is Bhadresh Gohil, a London-based solicitor jailed for orchestrating Ibori’s vast money-laundering operation.
The Met has briefed reporters that there is evidence that casts doubt on the credibility of the evidence against the officers.
But following the intervention of Mr. Schwarz sources said an investigation into them is being taken more seriously.
Keith Vaz, who chairs the home affairs committee, has said there is growing concern that some private investigators are operating in ‘the shadows’ of the law.
The latest inquiry comes in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and is scrutinising links between private investigators, who include retired police officers, and former colleagues.
RISC Management denied all the allegations about the company. Mr. Hunter said: ‘We pride ourselves on our ability to provide positive solutions and accurate information legitimately.’
A Met spokesman said: ‘The Met is investigating an allegation that illegal payments were made to police officers for information by a private investigation agency.
‘The Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in October 2011 which agreed to supervise a DPS investigation into the allegations.’