Ashcroft dealings under spotlight again

Written By: - Date published: 4:58 pm, September 29th, 2008 - 14 comments
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We’ve seen Mr Key look evasive on the topic of Lord Ashcroft, so when his name popped up in the British media over the weekend I had a closer look. It made me wonder exactly what Key and Ashcroft talked about recently – and whether there were any plans for companies to be set up in NZ as described in the story by Tom Parry (from The Mirror). He writes of trying to untangle the paper trail of Lord Ashcroft:

The paper trail that leads from Belize to Tory HQ in London is complex. Since March 2006, the peer has donated £3.1m to the Tories through a company called Bearwood Corporate Services Ltd (BCS).

Although foreign donations to British political parties are banned, the chain of ownership from BCS leads back to the Belize Bank’s main address. However the scheme is legal because the donations have been made by BCS which is registered in this country. BCS is majority owned by Bearwood Holdings, Bearwood Holdings is in turn owned by Astraporta UK – an Ashcroft investment arm – and Astraporta’s main shareholder is Stargate Holdings, based in Belize City.

Astraporta’s UK business address is an anonymous office block in Wokingham, Surrey.

Labour MP John Mann has written to the Electoral Commission calling for an investigation. Under the rules, BCS is required to “carry on business in the UK”.

The peer who bankrolls the Tories is ‘the boss’ of a poor tax haven

By Tom Parry In Belize City 27/09/2008

On a sleepy Sunday afternoon in the Caribbean tax haven of Belize a beggar collects scraps of food from the gutter of the country’s biggest bank.

It is difficult to believe this shabby building, 5,000 miles from Britain, is the heart of billionaire Tory deputy chairman Lord Michael Ashcroft’s vast business empire.

As the Tories gather in Birmingham for their conference, it is here in Belize City that millions are being generated for David Cameron’s election war chest via a complex chain of companies that leads to a British firm.

Britain’s 65th richest individual has a controlling hand in the lives of all Belize’s 300,000 citizens.

In every town the Belize Bank, which Ashcroft, 62, has owned since the 80s, is the only one able to exchange foreign currency. It made £15million last year.

Mobile phones and land lines use the Belize Telemedia (BTL) network, in which Ashcroft has a guiding hand.

On arrival in Belize City I discovered the six-storey Radisson Fort George Hotel – connected by private gate to Ashcroft’s neo-colonial mansion – blocked the sea view from my room. It was built by Johnston International, once owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft of Chichester KCMG.

The twice-wed Tory treasurer also had the shipping register, biggest TV network and electricity company.

The paper trail that leads from Belize to Tory HQ in London is complex. Since March 2006, the peer has donated £3.1m to the Tories through a company called Bearwood Corporate Services Ltd (BCS).

Although foreign donations to British political parties are banned, the chain of ownership from BCS leads back to the Belize Bank’s main address. However the scheme is legal because the donations have been made by BCS which is registered in this country. BCS is majority owned by Bearwood Holdings, Bearwood Holdings is in turn owned by Astraporta UK – an Ashcroft investment arm – and Astraporta’s main shareholder is Stargate Holdings, based in Belize City.

Astraporta’s UK business address is an anonymous office block in Wokingham, Surrey.

Labour MP John Mann has written to the Electoral Commission calling for an investigation. Under the rules, BCS is required to “carry on business in the UK”.

It is unclear what the it does, but a company spokesman said: “The Directors of Bearwood Corporate Services Limited wish to make clear, in the strongest possible terms, that all political donations made by Bearwood Corporate Services have been, and are, fully permissible, being in compliance in every respect with Section 54(2)(b) of the Political Parties, Elections & Referendums Act 2000.”

Ashcroft, meanwhile, refuses to say whether he has honoured a pledge made to William Hague in 2000 to return to Britain and pay tax. Former minister Denis MacShane said: “It is one of the biggest scandals of party funding that David Cameron refuses to come clean on Lord Ashcroft and his tax residence status.

“I cannot see how David Cameron can offer himself as a future PM unless or until he clears this up.”

Another man with longstanding experience of Ashcroft is Belize’s twice former Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel.

Dr Esquivel told us: “My relationship with Ashcroft soured after about two years.

“Everything he does operates out of the Belize Bank. After he bought it, many new laws were passed which everybody widely believes – and I don’t think he would deny – were basically written by his lawyers. Everything just escalated to where he became the boss.

“He, at all times, always says all he wants is a level playing field. He just wants to be treated fairly. Being treated fairly means you give him what he wants.”

Public Utilities Commission chairman John Avery added: “Belizean people on the whole are very anti-Ashcroft. He wants to control the country. He’s saying, ‘I can do what I want here’.”

In July the Committee to Oust Lord Ashcroft organised a protest prompted by a row involving aid. Court papers allege the Belize Bank, in which the tycoon has a 73 per cent stake, “unlawfully diverted” £5m donated by Venezuela for slum housing.

State lawyers claimed the bank secretly accepted the money to settle a debt incurred by a private hospital. The bank, however, says it is entitled to the funds which were guaranteed by Belize’s ex-PM Said Musa before he was ousted from office.

But in a dramatic twist, the bank’s chairman handed over a cheque to refund the missing grant on August 11 this year, after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The Belize Bank insists it wants the money back.

Father-of-six Bob Meighan lives in a crumbling building in a poor Belize City suburb was due a portion of the £5m. Bob, 45, said: “We are bitterly angry. Even if Michael Ashcroft was not directly involved, if you own the company you should know what is going on.”

Separately, Ashcroft’s bank faced 79 counts of failing to report suspicious transactions under local money laundering laws, later dropped. The bank denied any wrong doing. Ashcroft, who holds both British and Belizean citizenship, promised to “take up permanent residence in the UK” when he joined the House of Lords. Yet in 2004, in the Lords expenses register, he listed his main residence as Belize. He first went there as a seven-year-old boy when his diplomat father, Eric, was posted to what was then British Honduras. Little did the family know their son was designed to become a magnate … and 30 years later return to his childhood home. When he was aged just 28 Ashcroft embarked on a fruitful career of buying and selling failing firms. His most profitable recent sell-off made him £135m overnight. Having made his fortune, Ashcroft realised Belize – with loose tax laws – would be a perfect base. It is a country where, according to the peer’s 2005 biography, his interests have been “exempt from certain taxes for 30 years”.

These days Ashcroft, who has a personal fortune of £1.1billion, slips in unnoticed in his private jet used by Cameron and other top Tories for foreign trips.

He retains many friends, like ex-Miss Belize Ysela Zabaneh, who won the crown in 1990. Ysela, 38, said: “He has done a lot for us. He is like the Godfather.”

Ashcroft makes much of his charitable donations in his memoirs, but Dr Esquivel insisted: “We don’t need charity if he’d pay his taxes. You withhold a million dollars from us and dispense a thousand in charity. That’s public relations, not really a fair deal.”

Lord Ashcroft’s spokesman insists he has a “right to privacy in relation to his tax affairs”.

A Tory spokesman said: “The Conservative Party compliance unit applies two strict tests to all company donations in accordance with Electoral Commission guidance. They are: 1) Is the company UK registered and 2) Is the company trading? The donations from Bearwood Corporate Services Limited met those tests and were legal and permissible.”

Donations originate from Stargate Holdings, registered at the same address as the Belize Bank, which Ashcroft has owned since the 80s.

The cash then passes through Astraporta, a UK holding company with offices in Wokingham, Surrey, above, and from there to Bearwood Corporate Services, the official donor to the Conservatives.

Even if Ashcroft was not directly involved, if you own the company you should know what is going on.

14 comments on “Ashcroft dealings under spotlight again”

  1. Pat 2

    Clutching at straws, I’m afraid. Need to find better muck to throw at Key than this.

  2. Pascal's bookie 3

    Y’reckon this Ashcroft chappie’s all good then Pat. No worries, just the type of go getter we should pleased our pollies are hangin’ about with.

    or is it no bloody peons business who tories hang out with.

  3. Felix 4

    Pat never got the “by the company you keep” speech as a child I take it…

  4. Pat 5

    Our “Pollies” and their leader were happy to take Ashcrofts’s money to get the medals back.

  5. Pascal's bookie 6

    What?

    I mean, I know Ashcroft gave some reward for the return of the stolen medals, but WTF?

    That entitles him to what exactly? Four free meetings, agenda concealed? How is it supposed to work Pat?

    Help a brother out ’cause you’re not making a hella lotta sense. You seem like you have something you want to say, but, nah actually you just seem like you are running diversion.

    What pollies took his money? Are you saying Helen Clark stole the medals? Or did she collect the reward? Is this some new IanWishartspecialnews:BREAKING11ONE1?

    Really though. Our “Pollies’ and their leader were happy to take Ashcrofts’s money to get the medals back.

    What do you mean by that? How is that relevant?

    You said something about clutching and straws.

  6. Rose 7

    Pascal’s bookie,
    you seem a little paranoid? He just gave a REWARD for there return……calm down
    Hardly surprising however that the Leader of the opposition would meet with a member of the opposition in the UK??
    I find it amazing that you are you so worried about this non event and you are happy to condone your party perverting the course of justice and ignoring the findings of the highest court in the land??
    Maybe its time to open your eyes and get that chip off your shoulder!

  7. rave 8

    Yeah there’s lots of Key conversations that would be very interesting to overhear.
    Mr Rail America will you be buying Tranz rail?
    Mr Lord Ashcroft will you be buying our election?
    Mr Merrill Lynch, ah…I mean Mr Bank of America, will you be buying up kiwi dollars or selling?
    Mr Hide will you please go back to being Dr Jekyll?
    Mr Winston, please come back all is forgiven.
    Mr Sharples, if I give you the seats will you give me the country?
    Mr English I didnt vote for myself, honestly…

  8. John Stevens 9

    HC will sell her sole to keep in power.
    Hello Winnie, fancy a ride?

    Paranoid lefties, Mr. Ashcroft is an honourable gentleman just like Owen & Winnie.

    Maybe we should be asking questions on people HC meets at these socialist leaders conferences behind closed doors and what they are saying.

    [lprent: Why exactly do you think that Helen sells fish? Sometimes the inadvertent humour of these troll comments is amusing. At least this dickhead normally keeps his comment levels down and sometimes writes things that are vaguely interesting. Still not worth engaging, but I think that I should assist with the spelling.]

  9. John Stevens,

    Sole sounds pretty cheap for the prime ministerial role to me. LOL

    Pat,

    For someone in the finance industry you sure sound naive.
    Have you been reading the newspapers lately.

    John Key and his Wall street mates have created the biggest speculative bubble ever for the last twenty years and it’s coming down around our ears as I write this.

    No bailout plan is stopping this sucker from going down as Dubbya so eloquently put it.

  10. Matthew Pilott 11

    Her sole, John Stevens? Her sole what? Toaster?

    Maybe we should be asking questions on people HC meets at these socialist leaders conferences behind closed doors and what they are saying.

    That would be distinctly better than posting nonsensical comments here. Unlike you, if Clark was doing the equivalent of Key, people here would probably notice and care.

  11. Felix 12

    John, I can see you’re not what anyone would normally describe as a smart man, but I’d still love to hear your reasoning for labeling Ashcroft as “honourable”.

    My guess is that you’d never heard heard of him until you saw him on TV a couple of weeks ago, you haven’t read or learned anything about him except what you’ve seen on the TV news, and you base your judgment solely (there it is) on the fact that Key likes him.

  12. Dom 13

    I think JS is one of those people who is impressed by private planes and titles like ‘Lord’.

    He also thinks Helen would sell her fish (or is that part of her shoe?) to stay in power…

    Thanks for posting all this inforamtion. Clearly Key did not Google Ashcroft before agreeing to meet with him.

  13. Go The Right 14

    Who cares really you guys are struggling on Key must be really pissing you off. What ever you find will be no worse than Mike William’s going over to see Owen Glenn. Cap in hand asking for the big cheque, and a job as well because he knows Labour is gone on November 8th.

    [lprent: Really. Tell me do you ever have anything interesting to say?]

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