This is the heading in an article in today’s Observer. It’s worth a read. Some excerpts:
So extensive are his interests, and so arcane some of his methods, that many Belizeans believe Ashcroft owns businesses that he may not. “He uses so many shell companies you look inside a company and there is another company inside and another inside that, and so on and so on,” said Russell Vellos, editor of Amandala, a leading Belize newspaper that has been a persistent critic of Ashcroft. “He may own lots of businesses around here, but you would never know it.”
For the Tories, too, the row is toxic. The ugly juxtaposition of impoverished Belize and the Tories’ super-wealthy deputy chairman are damaging to the David Cameron brand at a time when the party is trying to escape claims that it is a haven for the rich and powerful.
The row also threatens to focus attention on Ashcroft’s tax status. When he became a peer in 2000, Ashcroft pledged to return to the UK and pay income tax. But despite repeated requests for clarification from opposition parties, Ashcroft’s status remains known only to himself and the taxman.
But Cameron cannot afford to sideline Ashcroft. The peer has given more than £5m in cash and services to the Tory party since 2003, much of it used to shore up prospective MPs fighting marginal seats. His wife, Susan Anstey, has also given hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent months.
Ashcroft is interested in New Zealand. He is the Treasurer of the International Democratic Union, and visited John Key in his private jet just before the last election.
With that background and history, he would have absolutely no difficulty in setting up shell companies registered in New Zealand that could all give $10,000 to the National Party – he gave John Howard $1,000,000 in 2004. It would all be legal and deniable and we would never know.
That’s why much greater transparency about donations is needed in our electoral law. Anything over $1.000 should be disclosed.