Only days ago, David Cameron told British journalists they were “flogging a dead horse” when asking questions about Lord Ashcroft’s donations and tax status. You can watch him here. It wasn’t the happiest choice of words – this is what one British journo thought.
Now fresh responses from Ashcroft’s friend William Hague and revelations from the Electoral Commission have raised still more questions about destruction of documents, tax avoidance, and offshore funding of the Conservative party.
The UK Electoral Commission found that Bearwood Corporate Services, the company Ashcroft used to make donations to the Conservative Party, was a lawful donor as it was registered in Britain. But the route by which it received the money it was able to donate appears to have originated in a company in Belize, where Ashcroft is “domiciled” so he doesn’t have to pay British tax on his income earned overseas.
The Commission’s clearance turned on the fine legal point as to whether the donor was the company Bearwood or the individual Ashcroft. The donations were referred to in Conservative Party documentation as the “Ashcroft” donations, and the Conservative Party refused requests from the Commission to meet with it so the Commission could clarify who the Party thought wast the donor.
Ashcroft also advised the commission that records of the companies through which the money passed had been destroyed. This was done the day before the Information Commissioner released the correspondence between Hague, Ashcroft and Blair regarding assurances given when Ashcroft was “ennobled” that he would live in England and pay taxes there. Hague’s problem is that while he gave the assurances he would pay taxes, Ashcroft only said that he would live there. Despite touring the world in Ashcroft’s private jet, Hague now says he only found out Ashcroft was not paying the promised tax “a few months ago”!
The ConservativeHome blog, which is now part-owned by Ashcroft, hopes that the Commission’s decision has now finally put the matter to rest. We’ll see what the Sunday broadsheets say. I’m picking the verdict will be that the dead horse may be strictly lawful, but it still stinks. There will undoubtedly be more questions.
I’ll post later about some lessons for New Zealand’s upcoming review of electoral finance.