Howard opens for business with ex-spooks

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Michael Howard, the former leader of the Conservative Party, is to replace politics with business by "going plural" with a portfolio of company directorships.

After representing Folkestone & Hythe for more than two decades in the House of Commons, Mr Howard has had enough hot parliamentary air. He is casting around for more boardroom seats to add to his burgeoning portfolio.

The man famously described as having "something of the night" about him is launching his corporate career by joining a commercial spy agency set up by ex-spooks. The former Home Secretary is taking on the European chairmanship of Diligence, a company that digs up dirt for companies looking to do business in risky places.

"They do things I'm interested in and my experience and expertise will enable me to make a significant contribution to them," Mr Howard, who joins Diligence at the end of this month, said yesterday. He will work alongside the former US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt, who chairs Diligence worldwide.

Although Mr Howard is taking on an executive role within Diligence, he said he would work only part-time for now. He will step down as an MP at the end of the current parliament.

Diligence, which was set up in 2000 by a small group of former members of the US Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's MI5, claims to be the largest of a spiralling number of companies that offer old-fashioned spy services to blue-chip corporates.

Diligence is backed by private equity investors and counts Lord Powell of Bayswater, a former foreign affairs adviser to Margaret Thatcher, among its founders. Mr Howard said an initial public listing was "not on the agenda for now". He will serve on Diligence's advisory board and work on its global business strategy.

Mr Howard said he would make "further announcements shortly" about which other directorships he was taking on. He already sits on the boards of Finex, a business communications agency, and Eschmann Holdings, which makes operating tables.