Michael Gove's Tory donor friend Edmund Lazarus is linked to pension furore at private schools chain

Investigation into allegations of improper claims under state-run scheme for teachers

A director of a chain of private schools, which is being investigated over allegations of improper pension claims, is a close personal friend of the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and has donated tens of thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party.

Edmund Lazarus, a founding partner of City private equity company Bregal Capital which set up private schools company Cognita in 2004, met Mr Gove at Oxford University and has become a significant donor to senior Conservatives, including Boris Johnson.

The Independent has established that Mr Lazarus, who along with his wife has given £95,000 to the Tories in the past two years, including auction prizes worth £70,000, also made a donation of between £10,000 and £25,000 to Mr Gove's private office in 2008 while he was education spokesman. When asked about the donation, received via Conservative Party headquarters and recorded in Mr Gove's entry on the Register of Members' Interests, the minister's spokesman said it had been returned to Mr Lazarus in 2008 after he deemed it "not appropriate".

A spokesman said the record of a second donation from Mr Lazarus in Mr Gove's register entry for 2009 was an administrative error and no such donation was made. A source close to the Education Secretary added: "Michael Gove has not gained financially from his friendship with Edmund Lazarus."

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Mr Gove or Mr Lazarus. But the closeness of the links between the two men will increase scrutiny of Cognita, which is headed by former chief inspector of schools, Sir Chris Woodhead, and runs 57 private schools around the world, 45 in Britain. Mr Lazarus is a non-executive director of Cognita and several linked companies.

It emerged earlier this month that Cognita is being investigated by the Department for Education (DfE), following allegations from a former employee of the company that it made improper claims under the state-run pension scheme for teachers. The Observer alleged that the unnamed ex-employee claimed Cognita had registered headteachers of schools that were ineligible to benefit from the Teachers Pension Scheme at schools that were covered by the generous package.

An internal investigation at the company, whose results were conveyed to the former employee in a letter, found that there had been no dishonesty and that the complexities of pension law may have led to a "misunderstanding of the rules". It is understood that the ex-employee, who Cognita say they dismissed for misconduct, also alleges he was asked to conduct "commercial espionage" by posing as a would-be parent with another member of staff in order to obtain information about a rival school. Cognita did not respond to a request from The Independent to respond to the allegations, but Sir Chris said earlier this month that the company would defend itself "robustly" against the claims and denied any wrongdoing. Mr Lazarus said he had been informed that the former employee had made allegations and that the employment dispute was a matter of ongoing legal proceedings.

In a statement, Mr Lazarus said: "I have never communicated with Michael Gove or any associate of Michael Gove or anybody in the DfE or the Conservative Party in relation to the allegations of this ex-employee." The DfE confirmed Mr Gove "has never discussed the investigation of Cognita with Mr Lazarus" and said he had "declared all dealings" with the City investor to his senior civil servants "in the proper way".

A DfE spokesman said: "Mr Gove returned the money in 2008 because he thought that, given his close friendship with Mr Lazarus and Mr Lazarus's involvement in for-profit education businesses, he should not accept the donation. The donation was properly registered at the time because the money had been received, even though it was later returned."

Edmund Lazarus: Public-minded ethos

Armed with a first in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford and a keen interest in politics, Edmund Lazarus has combined success in the thrusting world of private equity with longstanding support for the Conservative Party.

A former state school pupil who rose to become President of the Oxford Union in 1990, Mr Lazarus has retained a public-minded ethos, supporting charities in particular in the education sector while masterminding multi-million pound takeover deals. He has balanced his progress through the world of high finance, including stints at Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, with 10 years' service as a councillor on Westminster Council, one of the jewels in the crown of the roll call of Tory local authorities which championed greater private sector involvement.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Belong: Volunteer Mentor for Offenders

This is a volunteer role with paid expenses : Belong: Seeking volunteers who c...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Reach Volunteering: Trustees with Finance, Fundraising and IT skills

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses reimbursable: Reach Volunteering: St...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in the devel...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent