Three police detectives face accusations of taking illegal payments from private investigators for information in an alleged case of "apparent corruption right at the heart of Scotland Yard".
A detective inspector and two detective constables were branded "key culprits" by a lawyer describing the close links between police and a private investigations firm working on the case of Nigerian fraudster James Ibori.
Mike Schwarz, a partner at Bindmans LLP, told the Home Affairs Select Committee of possible cash payments made by Risc Management Ltd to sources of theirs who were "presumably police officers or those close to the investigation".
Risc Management was hired by the law firm representing Ibori, a former governor of one of Nigeria's richest oil-producing states who was brought to justice in London. He was jailed for 13 years last month after admitting fraud totalling nearly £50 million.
Mr Schwarz, whose firm represented one of Ibori's co-accused, told MPs: "What I have seen in that case is serious illegality on behalf of private investigators Risc Management Ltd... which involves apparent corruption right at the heart of New Scotland Yard. The core as I see it is the operation of the police and their connection with the security firm involved, the police being the Proceeds of Corruption Unit within New Scotland Yard. And the problem there is the key culprits appear to be the key players who are the the senior investigating police officer... and two of the key investigators."
Together the men "topped and tailed things" in such a way that their own apparent misconduct could not be detected "because they are in control of the information coming in, the evidence coming in, and the evidence going out," he claimed.
Mr Schwarz told MPs he had seen material submitted to the committee involving invoices from Risc Management to Ibori's solicitors reporting "payments made by Risc Management to sources that they have, presumably police officers or those close to the investigation".
Records showed roughly half a dozen payments amounting to about £20,000 over an eight or nine-month period, he said. "It appears to be inappropriate if not corrupt," he added. He also indicated the information flowed in both directions, with the private investigators passing details from the defence case back to the police as well.
Scotland Yard said in a statement: "The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is investigating an allegation that illegal payments were made to police officers for information by a private investigation agency. The Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in October 2011 which agreed to supervise a DPS investigation into the allegations. This is an ongoing investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage while the investigation is under way."
Risc Management declined to comment.