Thursday 26 August 2010

Interesting bedfellows

Money talks, or so they say. And for the Conservative Party, any money will apparently do. According to the Daily Mirror yesterday, Conservative Central Office received £50,000 from a certain Tony Buckingham just after the election, and the same Mr Buckingham bunged another £5,000 in the direction of the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Association (who are not exactly short of a few bob to start with, as I've noted previously).

Mr Buckingham is described as an oil tycoon, with a personal fortune of £475million, but there's more to the story than that. He has a somewhat colourful past, having been one of the founders of a company called "Executive Outcomes", an incongruously innocent-sounding name for such a company.

The other founder was Simon Mann, who later came to fame in connection with a failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea; and Executive Outcomes was a company supplying mercenaries. There's more on Buckingham here, in a piece which includes the description:

"Buckingham was 'a businessman of the hard school', capable of summoning 'a small private army with little more than a few phone calls' and using that army 'to raise fabulous wealth'."

And that brings me to the point – is the money being donated to the Conservative Party coming out of the profits made from a wholly legitimate oil company, or is it the product of mercenary activity? The Tories would argue the former, no doubt. Indeed, the Mirror is careful to quote Heritage Oil as saying that "Mr Buckingham, 58, has had no involvement in military or security operations since 1998.". But is it as simple as that? Is Heritage Oil as a company as distant from the former Executive Outcomes as that, or did the connection go deeper than just the coincidental involvement of one man in both organisations?

As the Observer noted in 1997, "The Executive Outcomes mercenaries are not simply 'guns for hire'. They are the advance guard for major business interests engaged in a latter-day scramble for the mineral wealth of Africa [including] oil, gold and diamond-mining ventures... and offshore financial management services."

This analysis of the companies and their relationship confirms that suggestion. It says that "the Angolan government hired EO to fight for them in exchange for oil concessions – EO effectively became an oil company with a private army". And it appears that Mr Buckingham's oil company benefited from the activities of his other company's private army. That would make it difficult to argue that the 'oil fortune' used to donate to the Tories was itself not built, at least in part, on the activities of a private army carrying out mercenary activity in Angola.

That would be money which no political party ought to be accepting, yet the Tories seem not to have even thought twice about it. Mind you, given the recent payout which Mr Buckingham's company awarded him, the Tories may feel that they've just been given a bit of loose change…

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