The Conservatives have accepted a £50,000 election campaign donation from a senior city banker accused of being “grossly incompetent” by the party’s own chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.
Electoral records show that Alex Wilmot-Sitwell, the head of Bank of America’s European business, gave the money to the Conservatives last November. The size of the donation entitles Mr Wilmot-Sitwell to membership of the Conservative “Leaders Group” that meets with David Cameron and other senior party figures for meals and drinks.
But the year before Mr Wilmot-Sitwell was lambasted by a cross-party Parliamentary investigation into banking misconduct for his role in the failure to prevent the manipulation of Libor rates for profit when he was global co-head of UBS Investment Bank. UBS traders were deeply involved in Libor-fixing, leading to a $1.5bn (£1.01bn) fine.
When called before the Parliamentary Commission on Banking in 2013, Mr Wilmot-Sitwell told MPs that he met a UBS chief risk officer every day, but was never told about Libor manipulation. He added he could not explain how the bank’s internal procedures had failed to identify the scam.
“Why this was missed – why this did not get picked up through a whole series of internal audits and compliance reviews – I cannot answer, I cannot fathom and I cannot understand,” he said.
His remarks, and those of three other UBS figures who gave evidence with him, led Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chair of the Commission to conclude: “What we have heard today or seen today is a good deal of contrition. We have also heard about some appalling mistakes, which can only be described as gross negligence and incompetence. The best construction that many of us will place on that is that you were not only ignorant of what was going on but out of your depth.”
Later in the hearing Mr Tyrie said that the evidence he had heard from the UBS bankers made him think that they should not be on the “approved” list of bankers – a move that would effectively kick him them of the City.
“It strikes one that, since they have just acknowledged in front of us – this is the best construction they were able to place on their actions – that they were ignorant and grossly incompetent, they should not be on an approved persons list. Do you agree?” he asked Tracey McDermott, head of the Financial Crime Division at the Financial Services Authority.
Mr Wilmot-Sitwell and his new employers, Bank of America, did not comment directly on the accusations but pointed to a letter by Mr Wilmot-Sitwell’s lawyer shortly after the hearing saying he did “not accept any suggestion of any incompetence or negligence”.
A Conservative spokesman made clear Mr Wilmot-Sitwell’s donation was entirely legal, saying: “All donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with Electoral Commission rules. Any suggestion of impropriety by the party is malicious and defamatory.”