The City Diary: Glorious Kazakh benefit
Sunday 05 December 2010
Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of natural resource-rich Kazakhstan, has a starring role in the US Embassy cable leaks, with tales of his "cordial relationship" with Prince Andrew, and his fondness for horses. Not included (so far) is a story about Nazarbayev and Kazakhmys – the FTSE-100 miner – uncovered by campaign group Global Witness earlier this year, although the tale dates back to 2006 and a five-night stay at London's swanky Lanesborough hotel.
The president ran up a £30,000 tab, but more interesting is the fact that the bill was sent to Kazakhmys, a firm that has batted off suggestions that it is, in effect, run by the Kazakh regime. It explains: "In November 2006, Kazakhmys paid some accommodation and expenses for the visit of a major Kazakh trade delegation to London. Mr Nazarbayev was part of this."
Still, what catches the eye is the bill's penultimate entry, which shows the President spending £9 on "Spectator Magazines". That would be the issue carrying a substantial feature on Kazakhstan, entitled "Who needs Borat?". The author? One N Nazarbayev. You'd have thought he'd have got a free copy.
A month ago I speculated how the dishy Antonio Horta-Osorio, set to take charge of Lloyds Banking Group, might change the bank's culture once he's up on the black horse. One area floated was strengthening the risk department, after Horta-Osorio bragged to the Treasury Select Committee last year that this was one reason for the decent crisis enjoyed by his former bank, Santander. That guess proved unusually prescient. Juan Colombas was announced last week as Lloyds' new chief risk officer. The most famous (independent thinking) head of risk at Lloyds' HBOS arm was Paul Moore, who kept raising concerns about the bank's exposure to then boss Sir James Crosby. Moore's reward? He got whacked.
Politicians on stage ...
Yes, Prime Minister is now running at London's Gielgud Theatre, starring David Haig as PM Jim Hacker. But you can also find the inspiration behind much of its humour in the real world. The Office of Tax Simplification – it really does exist – has identified 1,000 areas of tax relief that might be axed, and some rules are so obscure that they can only have been designed to give civil servants work to do. There's the "historic exemption from excise duty on the importation of Angostura bitters"; income taxes on "non-UK residents participating in the 2012 Olympics helping to deliver the games"; and "cycle to work days – provision of meals" which are exempt from income tax and National Insurance. The spirit of Sir Humphrey lives on.
... cover your backs
Incidentally, the stage play is all about the financial crisis and global warming (oh, and underage sex). Still, here's one of my favourite gags from the script: "The definition of a political memoir? The case for the defence."
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