Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell faces inquiry over 'chocfinger'

A cabinet minister faces a parliamentary inquiry into his links with a cocoa magnate who donated £40,000 to his political office.

Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, denied any wrongdoing by intervening on behalf of Anthony Ward, a wealthy businessman nicknamed "Chocfinger" who was seeking to get a trade ban lifted.

Sources close to the minister insisted that proper procedures were followed. But a Labour MP last night referred the case to the Commons standards watchdog, claiming the contacts between the two men raised serious questions about the minister's conduct.

Mr Ward's company, Armajaro Holdings, donated £40,000 to Mr Mitchell's parliamentary office between 2006 and 2009 to support his work as shadow International Development Secretary.

As well as the donations to Mr Mitchell, Armajaro gave a £40,000 gift to the Conservative Party in 2004.

With a personal wealth estimated at £36m, Mr Ward is one of the world's richest cocoa traders, having cornered much of the global market.

In Ghana, however, Armajaro was hit by a ban last year on trading in parts of the country following allegations that one of its contractors had been smuggling cocoa.

According to documents obtained by a Sunday newspaper, Mr Ward wrote to Mr Mitchell weeks after the general election asking the new minister to lobby "at a presidential level" against the embargo.

In his letter he protested that the ban was disproportionate and was being felt throughout the company. Mr Mitchell telephoned the British high commissioner in Ghana on the subject, even though it was outside his department's remit. His officials also contacted the Foreign Office to say the ban on Armajaro required "urgent attention".

Henry Bellingham, the Foreign Office Minister, lobbied Ghana's vice-president on behalf of the company. The ban has now been lifted in all but one of the west African nation's districts.

Internal papers released to The Sunday Times under freedom of information laws suggested that civil servants in the Foreign Office queried whether it was appropriate to intervene. One official wrote: "Is this... something we should lobby on? Or should the UK company realise they have broken the rules and have to pay the price?"

A spokesman for the Department for International Development said: "The letter from Armajaro was dealt with in accordance with normal ministerial procedures and it was immediately made clear that the Conservative Party had previously received donations from the company." He added that the matter had been referred to the Foreign Office "through the normal channels".

The department confirmed that Mr Mitchell had spoken to the High Commissioner in Ghana, but stressed he declared his personal interest and said he was only seeking an update on the situation. A record of the conversation was taken by officials.

But John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said: "Reports that Andrew Mitchell lobbied on behalf of 'Chocfinger' raise serious questions about the Secretary of State for International Development's conduct. Was Mr Mitchell acting in the best interests of the British Government or a donor that has subsidised his Parliamentary office and funded the Conservative Party?"

He said he had personally referred Mr Mitchell's case to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to "ensure the British people get answers to these important questions".

Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, said Mr Mitchell had been "naïve at best" to become involved in the case.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee