Amongst other things Boris Johnson is a journalist, who like many in his profession, visited Iraq during the course of the Iraq War in 2003. On the 1st May 2003 the Daily Telegraph published his report on a visit he'd made to the home of Tariq Aziz, former Deputy Prime Minister in Saddam Hussein's administration, "on the palm-fringed banks of the Tigris". Of course by the time that Boris got to look around the villa, Aziz had already been captured by American forces and his home had been comprehensively looted by the Iraqis. Or as Boris put it; "You never saw such a mess. Naked wires sprouted from every wall where the light fittings had been ripped out. The very bidets had been smashed by the mob, in search of heaven knows what, and the safe lay blackened and gaping on its side, apparently having been opened by a bazooka." However amongst the chaos Boris came across a "fine red leather cigar case, capable of holding three Winston Churchills", although it was missing the top. Since Aziz was known to be partial to cigars, he surmised that it might well have been Aziz's very own cigar case.
As it turned our Boris was willing to admit to suffering a momentary moral qualm as he was "just about to trouser" the item, since said cigar case might well indeed have been Mr Aziz's property, and did not Mr Aziz "deserve to be treated with the same respect for his rights as anyone else?". However after musing for a while on Tariq Aziz's involvement in the invasion of Kuwait, together with other sundry other acts of mass murder, he put such qualms aside, and duly trousered the item. Although he did conclude that "If he wants it, I suppose he can have it back."
Whilst Boris Johnson might well have produced a typically entertaining piece of journalism, it was naturally all soon forgotten. That is until the 21st February 2008 when SCD6, the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police, wrote to Boris on the subject of Illegally removed Iraqi cultural property, stating that, "Police attention has been drawn to reports suggesting that you have in your possession an item that may be Iraqi cultural property, namely a cigar case from the address of Tariq Aziz", citing Section 8(2) Statutory Instrument 1519 2003.
The statutory instrument in question, the Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003, made under the United Nations Act 1946, came into force on the 14th June 2003, pursuant to a resolution adopted by the Security Council of the United Nations on the 22nd May 2003, which made it an offence to possess or deal in "Illegally removed Iraqi cultural property". The intention was clearly to try and prevent the looting of Iraqi art works and valuables that was widespread in the chaos following the regime change of 2003, although since Section 8(4) of the regulations defined the offending items as being those of "archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific or religious importance illegally removed from any location in Iraq since 6th August 1990" it wasn't entirely clear as to whether the Security Council or indeed Her Majesty's Government had in mind a leather cigar case with the top missing which might or might not have been once in the possession of a former member of the Iraqi government.
Naturally the incident came to the attention of the Daily Telegraph who duly ran the story under the headline "Police probe Boris Johnson over cigar 'theft'" on the 27th February 2008. This caused some embarrassment in the upper ranks of the Metropolitan Police, as the Telegraph later quoted a "senior source" as saying that, "It is fair to say that the issue should have been handled differently. It should have been referred higher up. More senior officers should have been involved. It has not come out the way we would have wanted it to." None of which explained why it had taken the Met the best of five years to get around to investigating the matter, even if a leather cigar case with the top missing was indeed an item of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific or indeed religious importance to Iraqi culture.
The explanation may well be linked to the fact that Boris is currently the Conservative Party candidate for the office of Mayor of London and as such is attempting to prevent the incumbent Ken Livingstone from winning a third term as Mayor. As surprising as it might seem to some, Boris is widely regarded as as actually having a chance of winning the election. Although Ken Livingstone has denied that it was anything to do with him, and indeed put forward a spokesman who described the whole thing as "ridiculous" and that he did "not support it", there are cynics who believe that it was someone in Livingstone's campaign team who had first drawn the police attention to the "reports" in question. Or as Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor (and who was at one time an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and therefore knows a thing or two about practical policing) noted, he was "very curious about the timing of this five years after the event."
- Boris Johnson, Nice try, Tariq Aziz ... but no cigar, Daily Telegraph, 01/05/2003
- Andrew Pierce, Police probe Boris Johnson over cigar 'theft', Daily Telegraph, 27/02/2008
- Andrew Pierce, Police admit blunders in Boris Johnson case, Daily Telegraph, 28/02/2008
- The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003