Tuesday 16 September 2008

Tory £s world tour

The Sunday Times carried an interesting story on Sunday on the source of Tory funds. Particularly, the paper highlighted funds emanating from their former Treasurer and current Deputy Chairman, Lord Ashcroft. It seems that the Tories and Ashcroft have been finding ingenious ways of circumventing the legal restrictions on overseas donations.

Whilst there is no suggestion that they have actually broken the letter of the law, it is clear that they have been deliberately subverting both the spirit and intention of the law by using a string of companies – some of which seem not to actually do very much other than funnel funds into the Tory Party – to route money from Belize into Tory funds. The net result is a transaction which would have been illegal if the money had gone directly from its original source to its final destination.

If I were challenged to define 'money-laundering', my definition would bear an uncanny resemblance to what seems to have happened here. As Sir Alastair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said "Money is being bounced around the world before it ends up in Conservative party accounts. This breaks the spirit of the law on foreign donations."

The register of donations on the Electoral Commission website helpfully lists the donations which Ashcroft's company, Bearwood Corporate Services, has given to a whole string of constituency parties across the UK.

It has long been understood that Ashcroft was somehow giving money to a long list of marginal constituencies to try and buy a Conservative victory in the General Election. It remains unclear whether he has ever honoured the commitment he gave when accepting his peerage that he would become UK domiciled, and start paying taxes like the rest of us. Giving money through a company avoids the questions that might be raised if a non-domiciled person made such donations, of course. And it is highly unlikely, according to the Sunday Times, that any tax has ever been paid on the money which is now keeping the Tories afloat.

I'll admit that it was something of a surprise to me to find that this particular company appears not to have channelled any of Ashcroft's pennies into Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (unless they've simply forgotten to declare it). But a quick perusal of the list of donors reveals that they probably don't need any of Ashcroft's money – they have another source of income.

The London office of a New York-based company, Christofferson, Robb & Co, has channelled £40,000 into the Tory coffers locally, in two tranches of £20,000 each over a period of just five months. Interestingly, this constituency is one of only two which seem to be benefiting from their largesse – the other was Harlow, which received a mere £10,000.

Conservative central office received an additional £131,000 in three tranches. I have no idea, at present, why a New York based company would choose to bung £40,000 into Tory coffers in this part of the world, but I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who can enlighten me.


Plaid Whitegate said...

They may not be getting the money in future... "Christofferson, Robb & Company is a private money management firm that invests in the global structured credit and asset backed securities markets."
Credit crunch for the Tories?

Of equal interest, is that the company used to have a v large interest in wind farms across Europe. Where to Carmarthen Tories stand on wind farms?

John Dixon said...

Oh, there's more than that. Follow-up post due later today.

John Dixon said...

Plaid Whitegate,

I've now posted my follow-up.

"They may not be getting the money in future..."

Far from being damaged by the credit crunch, it seems to me that it's at least a possibility that the Tories could benefit from it.