How adultery case ended up a diplomatic incident

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The Independent US

The story of the British arrests in Cuba is a heady tale of a tycoon; his suspected mistress; a fiery and jealous wife; a multi-million pound fortune; and a London detective agency boss with "interesting" connections. It has taken six men and a woman on a journey from Snaresbrook in Essex, to a prison in Havana and the centre of an international diplomatic incident.

The story of the British arrests in Cuba is a heady tale of a tycoon; his suspected mistress; a fiery and jealous wife; a multi-million pound fortune; and a London detective agency boss with "interesting" connections. It has taken six men and a woman on a journey from Snaresbrook in Essex, to a prison in Havana and the centre of an international diplomatic incident.

The arrests of our men and a woman in Havana had led to a flurry of accusations and recriminations. The row was rumbling on yesterday with the Cuban chargé d'affaires receiving a dressing down from the Foreign Office minister Peter Hain for refusing to allow British embassy staff access to the prisoners.

Yesterday also saw the first explanation for why Ken Lodge, the 53-year-old head of SIP Investigations, had embarked on a mission to Cuba. It purported to explain why no fewer than six security specialists from Britain were hired to collect evidence of marital infidelity in the Caribbean, and it comes from Simon Palmer, one of the team that flew to Havana from Gatwick on 2 September. He avoided being arrested with his colleagues because he had already returned to England.

Mr Lodge had been approached by a firm of West End solicitors. They had a highly lucrative but tricky job for him. One of their clients was the wife of Mike Nahmad, a Panamanian who runs Genpower, the company supplying electricity to much of Cuba. Mrs Nahmad was convinced her husband had fathered a child by young woman in Cuba and she wanted proof that would secure a chunk of of her husband's fortune in a divorce settlement.

Despite the unprepossessing offices of SIP Investigations in the suburbs of Snaresbrook, Mr Lodge is highly active in the field of private investigations. Apart from SIP, he owns two companies with offices in Mayfair - European Research and Investigations, and Drug Alert. He offers protection to dignitaries and lists armoured vehicles, body armour and anti-riot equipment among his areas of expertise.

Mr Lodge's clients, according to colleagues, have included government agencies on the Continent and in Central Asia. Six years ago, he was flown to Chechnya by the Chechen government in a private jet. He has worked, colleagues say, for the French government and has links with security services in Britain.

The proceeds from his international trips, said to be about £2m a year, allowed the balding and inconspicuous looking former legal officer to live in a house worth a £1m in Chingford, Essex, and to drive a top-of-the-range BMW.

Four years ago, he told of how he was being hired by burglary victims who believed the police no longer had the resources to investigate such crimes. "We tend to get called in seven to 10 days after a burglary when the victims get dissatisfied with the efforts of the police," Mr Lodge said.

After arriving in Havana, Mr Lodge and his team went to around the city and begun trying to track Mr Nahmad, whose warm relationship with Fidel Castro, it is claimed, allowed him to run the only 100 per cent foreign-owned private company with the blessing of the Marxist regime. Mr Palmer, 27, one of the team, from Takely in Great Dunmow, Essex, said: "It certainly came as a surprise to be sent to Cuba. I usually do low-key matrimonial disputes in this country.

"We were given £1,000 each and we were using state-of-the art spying gear to try and trap one of the most powerful businessmen in the country. We had everything from miniature cameras to bugging devices, video recorders and directional microphones. It was James Bond equipment - no wonder the Cubans were suspicious."

Mr Palmer's colleagues in the team: John Fawcett; the son of a friend of Mr Lodge called Maureen; Derek Pitt from Stevenage, Herts; Will Smart, and another private eye he knew only as Mike, whose girlfriend joined the team "for a holiday" during the surveillance.

Other aspects of the operation seemed rather odd to Mr Palmer. "At first we were very cagey about even trying to tail him because we were told his wife had actually bragged to him he was under surveillance, which wasn't very clever. He was clearly clued up and he was always looking around in his chauffeur driven car. Some Cubans who had befriended me told me there were a lot of plain clothes police around. I was starting to get worried."

On 23 September, the team returned to England for a break. Mr Palmer said he had a row over money with Mr Lodge and decided to stay on. His place was taken by a local operator and Mr Lodge wanted another Spanish speaker on the team. That was the last time Mr Palmer was to see his colleagues.

On the afternoon of 8 October, the team was engaged in the now familiar routine of trailing Mr Nahmad when the hunters suddenly became the quarry. Out of a dusty side street came other cars with police officers in them. The arrest was swift, and as the protesting private eyes were being driven away, others, including "Mike's girlfriend" were being picked up at a nearby hotel.

Two days later the Cuban authorities informed the British embassy they were holding the Britons for carrying out illegal surveillance. British diplomats were refused permission to see them. What exactly, Mr Lodge and his team were doing is still not entirely clear. Colleagues in the world of private investigations are astonished that he should take five Englishmen to an alien scene to carry out marital surveillance.

Gavin Robertson, of Robertson & Co, a highly respected former Scotland Yard detective superintendent who arrested Charlie Kray and the Heinz babyfood poisoner Rodney Whichello, said : "This is very odd, on a situation like this we would always use local operatives who know the scene and the culture of the place."

Peter Heims, a spokesman for the Association of British Investigators, said he personally would not have taken a job in Cuba but reckoned the assignment could have been worth more than £50,000 to SIP.

Mr Heims said: "If I had been instructed in a case like this I would not have touched it with a barge pole. Cuba is a police state. There are no such things as private investigators in Cuba." A colleague who had known Mr Lodge for a long time said: "Ken used to specialise in snatches, snatching kids who had been illegally taken away etc. This looks like a classic snatch set-up to me, you often would not get locals to take part in snatches."

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