Tag Archives: bribery

Feared UK comedy critic Kate Copstick now has links with African criminals and has started dealing drugs in Kenya

(This piece was also published by India’s We Speak News and by the Huffington Post)

Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop yesterday

Early tomorrow morning Kate Copstick, doyenne of British comedy critics, flies to Africa for three weeks.

Yesterday in London, at her Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, I was talking to her about possibilities for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Every year, 100% of any money collected at the Awards show goes to Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity, which helps poor people in Kenya – mostly women – start up their own small businesses.

I organise the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards but take no money of any kind for it and cover none of my expenses because, that way, comedians and others know there can be nothing financially dubious about it (always a possibility with anything connected to the late Malcolm).

100% of any money collected at the end of each Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is given (with no deductions) to Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity which, similarly, deducts no money for its running costs.

Copstick takes no money of any kind in any way from Mama Biashara and covers none of her expenses. She pays for her flights to Kenya and any other expenses she incurs in running the charity she pays for herself.

“A little goes a long way,” she told me yesterday, “as long as you don’t start paying out expenses.”

“Because it’s a short and slippery slope?” I said.

“Yes,” said Copstick, “because, once you start, you may say Well, maybe we’ll take a few pennies just for a coffee or Well, the charity could pay for lunch with a possible donor… Next thing it’s OK, we’ll cover justifiable travel expenses. Then it’s I was a bit late so I had to get a taxi. And then, because it’s about Mindset, once you think it’s OK to take a little, it’s only a question of degree before you take bigger amounts. I think taking anything is wrong.

“Luckily enough for me, I own my flat, I had some money saved up and my vices were only alcohol, Class A drugs, very young men and older women… and I’d given up most of them. People can guess which ones I’ve not given up.

“So my outgoings – if you’ll pardon the expression – are minimal. As for the charity, we don’t have any big donors and there are no deductions. If someone spends £5 in this shop, that’s £5 going into the pot and it only takes five £5 and I’ve started a woman in a business in Kenya. That’s her life and her family’s life changed. They’re not rich, they’re never going to be rich, but they’re independent and there’s the psychological thing of self-respect.”

“What happens to the shop when you’re in Kenya?” I asked.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare,” replied Copstick. “Despite all the ‘friends’ who say I’ll do anything to help and Oh! It’s a lovely shop! they all disappear like snow off the proverbial dyke – the dry stone variety, not the kd laing variety – when I say I’m going to Kenya for three weeks. Would you do a couple of hours in the shop? They’re all bastards. You’re all cunts.

“So my sister comes in a bit and we’ve a couple of other volunteers but sometimes I have to put a big notice up on the door saying Terribly sorry. Opening hours will be incredibly irregular while I’m away spending vast amounts on prostitutes and rent boys.

“AND jailbirds,” Copstick added. “That was a new one, last time. I was persuaded slightly against my better judgment – but it’s all worked out well. There was a group of young men in their twenties who had recently been released from prison and, bad as the prison system is here, in Kenya it’s even worse.

“It’s pretty-well fucked-up here in Britain but, in Kenya, one rogue policeman can arrest you, put you in prison and then just ‘lose’ the paperwork so nobody even knows you’re there. And we’re not exactly talking the Kray Twins of Nairobi. One guy had been arrested for smoking dope. One guy had been arresting for attempting – but not succeeding in – pickpocketing.”

“So,” I asked, “people are getting thrown in prison for Dickensian crimes like stealing cheese off a wheelbarrow?”

“Absolutely,” said Copstick. “But these boys had been eventually released from prison and there were four groups of ex-cons that Mama Biashara funded. I’m quite excited. All the businesses are going well and I’ll be checking up on them when I go this time.

“With one of them – it’s really quite exciting, this – Mama Biashara has gone into drug dealing. I realise that the clean-cut readers of your blog won’t know what I’m talking about, but there is a herb called khat, well-known to Somalis. Anyone who has ever had a Somali taxi driver will have noticed the constantly-moving jaw and greenish teeth.”

“Have you ‘had’ many Somali taxi-drivers?” I asked.

“Many, many, many,” replied Copstick. “It’s a mild stimulant.”

“The herb?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Copstick. “It’s known as mira in Kenya and it’s entirely legal there and here in the UK. Over here, we get little stumpy stems which, by the time you’ve chewed them, you’re exhausted, so it doesn’t matter what stimulant effect the herb has. In Kenya, you get the fresh leaves and there’s a massive Somali population. They love it and the profit margin is astronomical. It’s a Friday evening thing. On the way home, the guys pick up a bottle of booze and a bunch of mira…”

“…and get half-khat,” I suggested.

“…and chomp away,” said Copstick. “I was amazed at the profit margin, so there’s a Mama Biashara group selling mira, a group selling chickens, a group selling goats.”

“There’s a bigger profit margin on cocaine,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Copstick, “there’s not much of it about it Kenya.”

“And they can’t afford heroin or cocaine,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Copstick. “In the slum areas – which is really all I know – glue is the thing. They have industrial strength glue which they sniff. I mean toxic. And, until very recently, they had something called chang’aa which is a home-brewed illicit alcohol fortified with ethyl alcohol. The main side-effects are blindness and death. When people there say I’ve got a blinding hangover, they literally mean a blinding hangover. It was recently outlawed, but…”

“So,” I interrupted, “you’ve been branching out from ladies to criminals. These young men – like the attempted pickpocket – What sentences had they served?”

“Most,” explained Copstick, “had been in prison for about 18 months without ever coming to court or without even being arraigned, because you just disappear into the system and, if you’re poor, you don’t have a lawyer and you can’t afford to bribe anybody. So that’s it. You’re scuppered. Unless you get picked up by some organisation who’re willing to help. It’s horrific there.”

In my blog back in September,” I reminded her, “you were talking about building a Mama Biashara centre out in Kenya.”

“We had the chance,” said Copstick, “but, after meeting the ex-crims and a couple of experiences where we came up against some local bureaucrats and a couple of rogue policemen who were dealing with gay rent boys, it was kind of brought home to me that, the minute I raise Mama Biashara’s head above the parapet, the 100% of money that goes to Kenya will, in fact, be going into official pockets all over the place. They’re lying, cheating, stealing bastards. That’s from the government right down to the lowest-of-the-low of officialdom.

“The local chiefs are actually pretty good to deal with because they live there among their people and understand their people. But I realised, if I had a centre, officials would say Oh! You’ve painted it the wrong colour! You need to pay us this amount or Oh! You didn’t have this certificate or that certificate! and they’re like blackmailers. If you pay once, you never stop paying.”

“So there won’t be a Mama Biashara centre?” I asked.

“No,” confirmed Copstick. “That would be wonderful. But the cost in backhanders would never stop. And it’s tragic. Because, to have that base, to have the clinic, to have the little peanut butter making place would be fabulous. But it’s one of the things you just have to accept: the whole system is too corrupt and, if you’re going to do good, you have to be a guerilla.

“And, when people know a white female is involved… Once they know you’re there, once they know where to get you, once they know where to come to frighten you… That’s the other thing I’ve had to accept. As much good as Mama Biashara does – and it does truckloads of good – unless I’m quite careful…

“If officials see that people are getting money from Mama Biashara… It happened once… Someone Mama Biashara gave money to… The week after I left, her landlord came up to her and said Hey! You got a mzungu – a white friend – So your rent is doubled!

“I have to be careful how I help people: that I don’t damage them by helping them, because no-one is safe. It’s just a different way. Everyone has a massive amount of bastard potential in a different way from here. No-one is your friend.”

“What’s it like here in the UK?” I asked.

“I think most people are on the make a bit here,” said Copstick. “People really don’t care here. People are not nice. People really do not want to help. They’re happy to say they want to help, but it’s very much a What’s in it for me? society where everybody already has something.

“OK – mixed metaphor coming up here – the gatekeepers of the safety net are not the nicest of people, but the safety net is there. Nobody is going to die of starvation here. I’m not going to say nobody’s going to be homeless, but there is a safety net here, if you want to use it.

“But, in Britain, there is an attitude. Not just Britain, but the white Western world. Black Africa is different.

“If the stuff in this shop had been made in Italy, people would go Ooh! £20? That’s so cheap! If I say Africa, they say, Oh, that’s very expensive, isn’t it? Like everyone in Africa should be living on beads and a packet of nuts.

“When I say to people Well, they have no water, they say Well, they’re used to it. There is a very definite mindset that somehow the black African doesn’t feel pain, doesn’t feel hunger, doesn’t feel thirst, doesn’t feel anything in the same way white people do.”

“Or,” I suggested, “that they feel those things, but they’re used to it.”

“Yes,” said Copstick, “That’s what people think here and so they think that makes it OK.”

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Comedy, Crime, Drugs, Kenya, Racism

Why is taxpayers’ money being spent helping policemen become comics?

(This blog was also published in The Huffington Post)

We are in an economic recession. Even without that, life is tough enough for the aspiring stand-up comedian without policemen trying to muscle their way into the act.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner John Yates and former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman were questioned by the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee about the fact they had claimed there was nothing to investigate when News International papers were accused of phone hacking.

In 2009, John Yates carried out an ‘investigation’ into a previous 2006 phone hacking investigation. His ‘in-depth’ investigation lasted a whole eight hours (presumably including a lunch break) after which he decided there was nothing to investigate.

He had not bothered to examine several bin bags of incriminating paperwork seized from the home of private detective Glenn Mulcaire nor read the 11,000 pages of evidence held inside Scotland Yard which included the fact that both future Prime Minister Gordon Brown and future Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had been hacked.

His defence yesterday for what, on the face of it, was a breathtaking lack of investigation was that he could not investigate the allegations against News International properly because News International would not co-operate with him.

This is a bit like saying that the police could not investigate the Yorkshire Ripper killings because the Yorkshire Ripper would not send them information incriminating himself. If I ever commit a major bank robbery, I would want John Yates to be the investigating officer.

John Yates is Scotland Yard’s new head of counter-terrorism and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson says that Yates “currently undertakes one of the most difficult jobs in UK policing and is doing an outstanding job leading our fight against terrorism.”

I don’t know if I am alone in finding that this – far from reassuring me – makes me feel even more uneasy and unsafe. Presumably he would have difficulty investigating a planned terrorist attack if al-Qaida did not co-operate with his investigations.

We value tradition in Britain. The Metropolitan Police appear to be continuing a long tradition of being staffed by would-be dodgy double-glazing salesmen. Though I have to be careful because I would not want to be sued for defamation by dodgy double-glazing salesmen who might object to being compared to the Met.

Andy Hayman – whom Commons committee member Lorraine Fullbrook called “a dodgy geezer” – was in charge of the original phone hacking enquiry at the Met.

While ‘investigating’ the accusations against News International papers of phone hacking, Hayman (who had wanted to be a journalist when he was younger) had dinners with News International executives (one wonders if he would have dinners with bank robbers while investigating alleged bank robberies) and, on retiring from the Met after reported ‘controversy about his expenses’, he was given work by News International – writing for The Times.

An article in today’s Independent describes the Hogarthian scene in the House of Commons’ committee room yesterday:

When Ms Fullbrook asked him (Andy Hayman) whether he’d ever taken money from a paper in return for information, he threw his arms into the air, as in a Feydeau farce: “I can’t believe you asked that!” And: “I can’t let you get away with that! Taking money?” He was gasping; speechless; eyes bulging. Julian Huppert had observed mildly: “Other policemen have.” Hayman cried something about his integrity and seemed on the point of scrabbling at his chest. The whole room was laughing – at, not with; scornful, down-the-rabbit-hole laughter at a figure who not long ago was defending 90 days of detention without charge. He was, in Keith Vaz’s words: “More Clouseau than Columbo.”

Last week, the London Evening Standard claimed that “Assistant Commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates were both scared the News of the World would expose them for allegedly cheating on their wives if they asked difficult questions of the Sunday tabloid.”

Previously, Labour MP Tom Watson had used parliamentary privilege to say: “John Yates’s review of the (private detective Glenn) Mulcaire evidence was not an oversight. Like Andy Hayman, he chose not to act, he misled parliament.”

In a blog back in February, I mentioned that Margaret Thatcher’s solicitor – a partner in a major law firm – once told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the witness stand without corroborating evidence because you could never be certain a Met officer was telling the truth.

Likewise, the owner of a prominent detective agency who employs ex-SAS troopers etc, told me he never employs ex-policemen because you can never trust them.

I am not particularly outraged that the News of the World was hacking into people’s phones – they allegedly bugged both John Yates and Andy Hayman’s phones while the dynamic duo were allegedly investigating the News of the World for phone hacking – I am not even surprised that a policeman was flogging the Royal Family’s personal phone and contact details if he was paid enough – but I am outraged that the taxpayer appears to be footing the bill for policeman apparently attempting to build their performance skills for a future career in stand-up comedy should this ‘police job thing’ not work out.

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The Prime Minister, sex, sleaze, prostitutes and Boris Johnson

A friend of mine – an Englishman in Italy – used to work for a large international conglomerate and, in the 1990s, once had to take a briefcase stuffed with cash to Rome Airport and hand it over to a civil servant. Everyone accepted that was how the wheels were greased. That was how the Italian state worked.

I also used to know someone involved with an Italian TV show which had to employ a girlfriend of now-deceased Prime Minister Bettino Craxi on their series. In fact, that underestimates her role: she actually arranged orgies for Prime Minister Craxi. My chum thought, “Ooh, now there’s a big secret I know about!” But then he discovered everyone knew about the supposed ‘scandal’ and it was almost routinely printed in Italian newspapers and magazines; everyone just accepted it. That was how the Italian state worked.

So I am a tad surprised as well as being in moral confusion about the current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s problems.

He is immensely entertaining, which is always a bonus in my eyes. A bit like London’s current mayor Boris Johnson but with dyed hair. My heart takes flight when I hear any news item about either Boris or Silvio. I just know it’s going to be knockabout laugh-a-minute stuff.

But now Silvio is accused of having sex with an under-aged prostitute. This is not good. He faces a court case and a potential 15 years in prison. This is definitely not good.

The age of consent in Italy is generally 14, though 13-year-olds can legally have sex with partners who are less than three years older. This seems much too low to me but, if that is the law in Italy, then that is what good Italians Catholics have decided is morally acceptable. As I understand it, the girl involved in the Berlusconi case was 17 when the alleged sex took place and, while prostitution is legal in Italy – just as it is in the UK – it is illegal in Italy for a man to have sex with a prostitute under 18.

So the girl involved was three years over the general age of consent but one year under the legal age for sexual consent as a prostitute. This seems a very complicated moral quagmire within Italy, though I can see why sex with a prostitute under 18 is proscribed.

However, both Silvio and the girl totally deny sex took place. If they both deny it, then quite how evidence can be presented that it did take place I don’t know. There was a payment of £6,000 but apparently well after the alleged sex allegedly happened and Silvio and the girl both claim the payment was connected to something totally different. He also got her released from police custody in a separate incident, but that is more abuse of power than directly relevant the sex charges. It’s all a bit murky but sounds too circumstantial for a prosecution.

They could be lying through their teeth, of course, though I’m not sure why a young prostitute would not admit sex took place if she is going to become rich on selling the whole story to the media.

There is also the question in my mind of why on earth Silvio Berlsconi would have to pay for sex with a girl. Call me cynical, but the man is a billionaire, he owns a string of high-profile populist TV stations so he can get anyone he wants onto TV and he is the most powerful politician in the country! Any one of those three facts, in my experience, would mean lithe young nymphettes would be throwing themselves at him for free every day! The casting couch stretches beyond the movie business.

Heavens! Nymphettes throw themselves at impoverished comedians in dodgy basement clubs on a nightly basis let alone powerful billionaires who can get them on several national television series.

BBC News reported that Silvio Berlusconi reckons he has been in court over 2,500 times during various cases over the years. He has been accused of tax fraud, corruption, infidelity, Mafia involvement, you name it. I’m surprised he hasn’t been accused of illegally importing birds’ eggs. At least once he was accused of paying bribes on behalf of his companies at a time when no large company in Italy could operate without paying bribes. It struck me as a purely politically-motivated prosecution. That was/is how the Italian state worked/works.

Last year he was accused of being a member of an alleged secret organisation allegedly called P3 – a revival, it was said, of the infamous Masonic lodge P2 – Propaganda Due which existed from 1946 to at least 1981 and of which Silvio really was a member.

I have no idea if he is guilty or innocent of the current charges. He is certainly not an innocent man in general. And Italy – run by P2 and the Mafia from the end of the Second World War to perhaps the mid-70s – is most certainly not an innocent country.

P2 comprised prominent politicians, industrialists, bankers, journalists and military leaders, the heads of all three Italian intelligence services and even the pretender to the Italian throne. In 1977, P2 took over the influential Corriere della Sera newspaper; it was rumoured to be involved in the 1982 killing of ‘God’s banker’ Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London, and it even had rumoured links to the 1980 bombing of Bologna railway station and the 1978 killing of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the heavily-infiltrated Red Brigades (allegedly because he had started to talk about NATO’s secret Gladio network).

It feels to me that Silvio is being stitched-up at the moment. He may very well be a reprehensible, ageing sleazeball, but this is a case where every fact seems to swirl in very muddied waters indeed.

It is not as if Silvio Berlusconi was running a prostitution racket, is it…

Is it?

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Filed under Crime, History, Newspapers, Politics, Sex, Television