UK govt gave more help to BP than British prisoner in US courts

December 31, 2016

Britain’s Foreign Office is facing claims of double standards after it ruled out helping an elderly British citizen in a US court, despite giving similar legal assistance to oil firm BP.

Krishna ‘Kris’ Maharaj, a successful British businessman, was arrested in the US in 1986 and sentenced to death. He is now 77 years old and has spent three decades in prison, despite compelling evidence of his innocence. Since his original conviction, six people affiliated with a Colombian drug cartel have admitted that they, not Mr Maharaj, committed the crime.

His last-ditch appeal to the US federal courts for this new evidence to be heard is due to be filed early in the New Year. On 14 November, he asked Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to submit an amicus (“friend of the court”) briefing from the British government, arguing that he should be given an opportunity to demonstrate his innocence. Senior conservative party MP Sir Peter Bottomley supported Mr Maharaj’s request.

However, Mr Johnson failed to acknowledge this request for three weeks until pressed, and then ruled it out completely without giving any reasons in a letter posted two days before Christmas. The FCO said that “the Minister does not think it is appropriate to do so on this occasion.”

Mr Johnson takes this position although his predecessors have often intervened with amicus briefs for British prisoners and businesses. Three years ago, the Foreign Office commissioned four lawyers from an international law firm to intervene on behalf of BP in litigation surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, because the case “implicates the rights of one of the United Kingdom’s largest companies. The government stated then:

Her Majesty’s Government submits this amicus brief to highlight the larger policy concerns that underlie the issues of this case with a hope of safeguarding the broader economic and business environments from potentially adverse effects.

There are further concerns for Mr Maharaj’s wellbeing after he was diagnosed with a flesh eating bacteria over Christmas. He is already confied to a wheelchair after he contracted this disease before in 2011.

Commenting, Kris Maharaj said:

As God is my witness, I am 100 percent innocent and now I have the evidence to prove it, if only they would allow me a hearing. While I thank all those who have helped Marita and me, I am deeply disappointed by Boris Johnson’s decision. I thought my British passport meant more than this.”

Kris’ wife of 40 years, Marita Maharaj, said:

I don’t know whether to be angry or disgusted. In the week before Christmas, Kris got flesh-eating bacteria in his leg again, and I was not sure whether he would live to see 2017. And now I am not sure whether the British government just wants him to die, so this embarrassment will go away.”

Reprieve founder, and Mr Maharaj’s pro bono lawyer for 23 years, Clive Stafford Smith said:

It seems that the ‘prosperity agenda’ means that the government refuses assistance to those most in need, but supports BP. There is still time for Boris Johnson to change his mind, and I sincerely hope his new year resolution will be to help Kris Maharaj.


Notes to editors:

1.Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] +1 917 855 8064.

2. The Foreign Office’s letter to Reprieve is available here

3. Further detail on Kris Maharaj’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.