Tim Elfrink, Newsday (New York City), Oct. 4
LONDON — A judge sentenced a former London police officer to 2 1/2 years in prison Monday for spying on Saudi Arabian dissidents and others in Britain in exchange for $25,000 from a Saudi diplomat.
Ghazi Kassim, 53, pleaded guilty in September to three counts of misconduct in public office and one count of illegally owning a police tear gas canister. The 14-year veteran was fired by the Metropolitan Police after being charged.
According to Kassim’s guilty plea, Ali al-Shamarani, a third secretary at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, paid Kassim to gather information on several people, including Saudi dissident Muhammad al-Massari, a former Sudanese prime minister and Abu Hamza al-Masri, a Muslim cleric in Britain now being held on a U.S. warrant for terrorism.
Kassim illegally used police computers to obtain information and questioned people in their homes, saying he was part of a police investigation.
Judge Peter Rook said this abuse of police powers was the main reason he imposed the sentence.
“As a serving police officer, you were in a position of trust and expected to serve the public,” Rook said. “You abused that position of trust and did so for a profit. That constitutes a grave breach of trust.”
However, Rook noted several mitigating factors that may have limited the time of Kassim’s sentence — including the length of his police service, several police commendations and the fact that Kassim is the sole provider for his family.
The judge also noted that Kassim met al-Shamarani because their children attended the same school, highlighting his belief that Kassim did not actively seek the illegal work.
Kassim’s defense team asked that his prison sentence be suspended, saying his crimes were essentially victimless and he already had suffered enough during the trial and sentencing.
The judge disagreed.
“This matter is so serious that only a prison sentence is appropriate,” Rook said.
Shortly before Kassim was charged in July 2003, al-Shamarani fled the country, lawyers told the court.