HC Deb 23 July 1973 vol 860 cc1368-76

2.12 a.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I wish to raise the case of Mr. Alex Moumbaris and the theft from his flat in Clapham of certain documents which were used in the course of a trial in South Africa, when he was charged under the Treason Act.

Mr. Moumbaris is a Greek and became a naturalised Australian citizen some time ago but he has lived in England since 1961. In 1971 he married a French lady, Mrs. Marie-Jose Moumbaris, and they took up residence in a flat at Clapham Common. They lived there until they went to South Africa in June 1972. They claim that they went there in order to have a holiday and they entered the country from Mozambique. On 19th July 1972 they were arrested by the South African authorities and charges were preferred against Mr. Moumbaris, but Mrs. Moumbaris was released after a period in detention, when she was interrogated by the authorities.

On 5th August, about three weeks after their arrest, a young man, a South African speaking good French, presented himself at the home of Mr. Moumbaris' mother in Paris and gave her a letter which he claimed had been written by Mr. Moumbaris giving him authority to take the key for the flat in Clapham and to use the flat whilst he was in England. She was overcome with delight to have had news of her son, from whom she had not heard since the middle of June, and perhaps because of that she was unfortunately trusting and she allowed the young man to take the key away.

In the course of the interrogation of Mrs. Moumbaris some photographs and documents were presented to her which could only have come from the flat in Clapham. She put that to her interrogators, but they only laughed. It has been reported in the Press, though of course there cannot be any direct assertion from Mr. Moumbaris, that he has recognised documents which were used in the course of the trial in South Africa also as having come from the flat in Clapham. This was communicated to Mr. Hosey, who is the father of a co-accused in the trial. Mr. Hosey lives in this country.

It appears, therefore, that by means of this device the South Africans have obtained unlawful access to accommodation in this country and have committed what in respect of our law is a burglary in that flat. They have done it for the purpose of getting information which 'would be useful to them in the trial of a person who was resident in this country though not a citizen of this country, and they have done it without any protest from this country. It is about that that I am concerned.

The story was first told in January in an article in the Sunday Times. On 31st January 1 wrote to the Home Secretary enclosing a cutting from the Sunday Times and asking for an investigation. In due course I received a reply from the Home Secretary which said that a full inquiry had been carried out by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis but that no evidence had been found to support the suggestion in the newspaper report that the flat had been raided by South African agents.

However, in due course I received from Mr. Hosey a copy of a complaint which had been made that Mr. Moumbaris had recognised documents in the course of the case which had come from the flat. I sent this to the Home Secretary on 27th April of this year asking him to reconsider the matter. Before he replied, I received a copy of a letter which Mrs. Moumbaris had written to the Home Secretary setting out her version of the facts. Therefore I awaited with some expectation a reply from the Home Secretary.

Unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman was unable to reply. He was away from the office when the reply was sent out on 29th May. It was signed by the Under-Secretary and said that he had examined the case again but that there was nothing to add to the Home Secretary's letter of 31st January. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that there was no evidence that South African representatives in this country had acted illegally and that, even if Mr. Moumbaris was right in claiming that documents produced in South Africa came from his London flat, that would not prove that his flat necessarily had been raided by South African agents.

It was that last sentence which caused me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. It cannot be claimed, in the light of the affirmative evidence of Mrs. Moumbaris in her letter to the Home Secretary that she positively identified documents produced to her during her interrogation as having come from the flat, that there is no evidence of a break-in by South African agents. There is clearly a link between her assertions and the documents there produced that prima facie there was a burglary.

The way in which the Under-Secretary tried to avoid that nexus was by saying that it would not necessarily show that the flat had been raided by South African agents. If the young man who presented himself at the flat of Mr. Moumbaris' mother in Paris and obtained the key surreptitiously was not a South African agent, for what purpose did he want to take away those documents and present them to the South African authorities so that they could be used in the course of the trial?

It is true that the evidence is not incontrovertible, but it calls for an explanation, and it is that explanation which the Government ought to request from the South African embassy. For some years now, there has been increasing concern that the South Africans have been using this country as a place in which they can get evidence of the activities of those who are opposed to the regime, and there has been some evidence in the past that, as a result of information collected here, they have chosen to prosecute people in South Africa.

Despite a number of complaints by various hon. Members, no hard evidence has ever been produced that this connection is clearly proven. But in this case there is evidence. There is evidence from Mrs. Moumbaris that she saw documents and photographs which came from the flat. Those documents could have been obtained only for the purpose of proceeding against herself or her husband. both of whom were in custody at the time when the flat was entered; and the device which was used could have been used only for the purpose of getting that information.

This, therefore, is a matter which should be brought to the attention of the South African authorities, and they should be asked for their explanation. I hope that the British embassy in South Africa has had an observer at the trial of Mr. Moumbaris so that we may find out what documents were produced and, possibly, which of them were alleged to have come from the flat. But if we have not, it should not be impossible to obtain a transcript of the evidence to find out which documents were used in that way.

What is clear is that there is enough here on which to make a protest to the South African authorities and to ask for an explanation. When we have seen their explanation, it will be possible to evaluate it and see whether it effectively rebuts the prima facie case. But unless we make the protest we shall have no hope of ever impeding the activities of these infiltrators into our country.

I take the view that we do not in this country pay security forces in order to preserve the security of South Africa. Our security forces are to protect the security of this country, and they should have no truck with the activities of security agents from South Africa who are concerned only to see that offences committed against their odious regime are prosecuted in that country.

2.23 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) has raised, in the context of the individual case of Mr. Moumbaris, a subject which has received a fair degree of attention in Parliament and in the Press over the past few years, namely, the alleged activities in this country of the South African security authorities or of others acting on their behalf. I appreciate that it is a subject on which strong feelings are held, not least, I know, by the hon. Gentleman himself. But when we consider specific allegations which may be made, we must, I suggest, do so objectively, and our views on apartheid should not lead us to deal with allegations of criminal offences which may be raised in this connection by the hon. Gentleman or by others any less strictly or any less critically than we should deal with any other case concerning a possible criminal offence which had no political overtones at all.

Before coming to the facts of the case of Mr. Moumbaris, let me say, as a general point, that the investigation of alleged criminal offences is in this country a matter for the police. It is the duty of the police to enforce the law and to investigate allegations of offences irrespective of the persons against whom the allegations are made. I have no doubt whatsoever that they do so with impartiality, and suggestions that representatives of the South African authorities, or any persons acting on their behalf, have broken the law in this country are and will be investigated in the same way as any other suggestions of this kind. Anyone—hon. Members or anyone else—with reason to believe that a criminal offence may have been committed is under a duty to inform the police, and I assure the House that the police will take the appropriate action against whomever the allegations may be made.

Having said that generally, may I turn to the case of Mr. Moumbaris. My understanding of the facts coincides with what the hon. Gentleman said. This is the case of an alleged theft from Mr. Moumbaris' flat in Clapham. As I understand it, the alleged incident took place in 1972. I think it is alleged to have taken place between August and November 1972. It was first reported in the Press in January of this year, and it was following that report that the hon. Gentleman first wrote to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I should like to make it clear that that report in the Press in January 1973 of an incident alleged to have occurred some time in the latter half of 1972 was the first time that anything had been said or known about this allegation. The report was to the effect that Mr. Moumbaris' London flat had been ransacked in order to collect evidence for his trial in South Africa. The report mentioned that Mr. Moumbaris' mother claimed that, a fortnight after her son had been arrested, a South African had called upon her and said that he was a friend of her son, produced a letter purporting to be written by him, and asked to borrow the key for the London flat.

We know that after Mrs. Moumbaris was released from detention she went to stay with her mother-in-law in Paris, and some time in November 1972 Mr. Moumbaris' mother came to London to look at the flat. According to the report, she says that she found it in a mess as if it had been ransacked.

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that she made no complaint about the flat. I am not blaming her for that. No complaint was made by Mrs. Amiel —that is Mr. Moumbaris' mother—about the state in which she claims she found the flat, and the first time that the matter came to the attention of the authorities in this country was in the Press report in January of this year. The only contact that Mrs. Amiel made with the authorities was in a letter to the Home Office as recently as May of this year. The moment that the Press report came out the Commissioner of Police carried out an investigation into the alleged affair.

The position at that stage was that apparently Mr. Moumbaris' mother on her visit here in November had paid up the rent on the flat. The tenancy was apparently at least in abeyance. The flat, I understand, was unoccupied, and Mr. Moumbaris' belongings had been taken by his mother when she visited this country in November and some other domestic items had been put by her into a suitcase which had been left on the premises.

Therefore, that being the situation, there was no evidence on which the police could act that the flat had been broken into, let alone as to who, if anyone, had committed the break-in, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary informed the hon. Member accordingly. In April, following further Press reports, the hon. Gentleman wrote again to my right hon. Friend, but further examination of the case still failed to disclose any evidence that the flat had been raided or by whom any raid, if it took place, had been made.

There is, I am afraid, nothing that I can now add to that conclusion. Any new information which the hon. Gentleman may have available will naturally be considered, but we must keep in our minds that we are dealing with an allegation of a serious criminal offence and positive evidence is required before the police can take any action. Even if, as the hon. Member says, Mr. Moumbaris is right in claiming that documents produced at his trial in South Africa came from his flat in London, that is not in itself evidence against any particular people of having broken into that flat.

The hon. Gentleman said that since then there has been evidence from Mrs. Moumbaris that she has seen documents which she claims came from the flat. It is also true that she, too, wrote to the Home Office, I think I am right in saying in May of this year, claiming this to be so. On that, the hon. Gentleman asked why we have not made any protest to the South African embassy. Here again, I suggest, the hon. Gentleman must appreciate that evidence would be needed before any Government could take action of the kind he has in mind. Supposition or inference is not enough. The police have no evidence to show of a raid on Mr. Moumbaris' flat, and certainly no evidence to show that the South African authorities were responsible for any such action. In the absence of such evidence there are no grounds on which action by the Government could be justified.

Mr. Lyon

Mrs. Moumbaris' letter itself is prima facie evidence of the burglary because it shows that there were documents from her flat produced by her South African interrogators. I accept that we cannot prosecute anyone in this country because we cannot identify who did it, but we certainly have enough evidence to protest to South Africa.

Mr. Carlisle

With respect, Mrs. Moumbaris' statement that documents shown in South Africa had come from her flat in London, without any other evidence to show that the flat was broken into, or anything like that, is not in my submission evidence on which we could be justified in taking the action for which the hon. Gentleman asks.

Let me repeat what has been said on many occasions by Ministers in this House: that if evidence is produced we shall follow it up and the necessary action will be taken. As has been said on repeated occasions, however, we have no evidence of illegal activities in the United Kingdom by any South African officials. If we have such evidence, as I say, the appropriate action will be taken. If we have evidence of illegal acts by others on behalf of such agents or officials, we shall not hesitate to prosecute.

No evidence has so far come to light of South African responsibility for illegal activities, but, due to the strong feelings which have been expressed in this House and in the country as a whole on various occasions, the South African Ambassador has been left in no doubt that if such evidence comes to light the Government will not hesitate to take the appropriate action.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes to Three o'clock a.m.