Kurdistan delegation led by Tory millionaire Nadhim Zahawi raises concerns that MPs will be vulnerable to lobbying

Zahawi leads cross-party group to oil field run by company he has shares in

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan, which is chaired by a prominent Conservative MP, was funded in part by one of the region’s biggest oil firms, it has emerged.

Millionaire Tory Nadhim Zahawi recently led a delegation of MPs on a four-day trip to the region in his role as co-chair of the APPG on Kurdistan. The locations they visited included an oil field operated by another energy firm in which Mr Zahawi has publicly declared he has shares.

Also in attendance was Gary Kent, who is paid directly by Gulf Keystone Petroleum International to provide secretariat services for the APPG. Gulf’s parent company, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange but registered in Bermuda, is a major oil player in Kurdistan.

The fact that Mr Kent’s services to the APPG are paid for by Gulf Keystone is fully disclosed on its Parliamentary entry and such funding is entirely permissible under Parliamentary rules. But those rules themselves will come under scrutiny today as MPs debate whether APPGs could be vulnerable to lobbying and conflicts of interest.

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi (far right) with Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani (second from right) in 2011 Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi (far right) with Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani (second from right) in 2011

The Kurdistan APPG’s report on its own delegation’s visit noted that three weeks later both Mr Zahawi and Mr Kent returned to the region to attend the annual Iraq-Kurdistan Oil and Gas Conference  in Erbil.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which also provides “additional administrative services” for the APPG, paid for the MPs’ visit in November 2013 and also Mr Kent’s trip to the conference, which was attended by 850 executives from the energy industry.

Mr Zahawi, who was born in Baghdad to Kurdish parents and whose family fled Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1970s, told Parliament in a debate on UK-Kurdistan bilateral relations last year that it should come as “no surprise” that he has “significant interest” in the region.

Mr Zahawi, who has been invited as a speaker at each of the three annual oil and gas conferences since the inaugural event in 2011, told The Independent he attended in “a personal capacity” and that his trip was not funded by the APPG or KRG.

MPs will debate a motion in the Commons today to implement proposals from their Standards Committee on regulating their activities.

Following the resignation of MP Patrick Mercer, who created an APPG as part of a paid lobbying effort, there is anxiety that such groups can be vehicles for improper lobbying. But there is also concern that tighter rules could destroy groups which many believe do valuable work. There is no suggestion of any impropriety in relation to the Kurdistan APPG.

Labour MP John Mann said the proliferation of APPGs has raised questions of transparency and welcomed today’s Commons debate.

He said: “Some APPGs don’t advertise what they are doing which brings into question what they are there for. In particular, why are people having a secretariat paid for by big business? There might be a very good reason for that but it needs to be totally up front and if there’s money and profits involved we need to know who is benefiting. Transparency is key.”

On the APPG’s itinerary during its trip in November last year was a visit to an oil field run by Genel Energy, the Anglo-Turkish oil and gas exploration firm run by former BP boss Tony Hayward. Mr Hayward has also attended the Iraq-Kurdistan Oil and Gas Conferences, having been invited to speak each year,

Genel Energy was formed from the $2.1bn merger of UK-based Vallares Plc with Turkish-based Genel Enerji in 2011. During his time promoting UK-Kurdistan economic links in his role as co-chair of the APPG on Kurdistan, Mr Zahawi became a major shareholder in Genel Energy.

He declared the investment last June in the MPs’ register of interests and such investment is permissible under parliamentary rules. The Stratford-upon-Avon MP declined to answer questions from The Independent on what the value of his shareholding is.

According to Parliamentary rules, an MP must register a shareholding if its value is at least 100 per cent of their salary – which for a backbench MP is currently £67,060.

Last November the Commons Standards Committee proposed a package of reforms “to improve transparency, accountability and clarity” on APPGs. Their report said: “APPGs can do a great deal of good, but it is reasonable to ask questions about their sources of funding and about external influences on their activity”.

MPs on the standards committee welcomed the decision last year to withdraw Commons passes from APPG staff but said there was still “great concern” over their susceptibility to lobbying.

The committee cited a survey of MPs where 48 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposition that APPGs were prone to be manipulated by lobby groups for their own purposes.

Labour has also asked Mr Zahawi to answer questions on whether there has been any blurring of business interests with the APPG. Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jonathan Ashworth said: “As co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan and a member of David Cameron’s No 10 Policy Board he needs to ensure no conflicts of interest have arisen.”

Mr Zahawi told The Independent: “Genel Energy is a well-respected PLC registered in the UK with interests across the Middle East and Africa, not just in Kurdistan. Like many thousands of other investors I chose to buy their shares, that are publicly traded on the UK stock exchange, on the strength of their business. I have never spoken with Tony Hayward about my shareholding nor have I been privy to any insider information.

“My ownership of shares in Genel Energy is properly declared in the Register of Member Interests. I do not mix my personal interests with my work as a member of the APPG. Should MPs never invest in UK companies that have business interests in a country in which they travel to as a parliamentarian? Would that include European countries, or America?”

Mr Zahawi insists the APPG is not “open to any improper lobbying”. He said: “The secretariat sponsorship is declared in the proper way and no member of the group has ever lobbied or acted in any way for Gulf Keystone.” Addressing his trip to the oil conference, he added: “My visit was not a follow-up visit nor was it with Mr Kent. I did not attend any meetings with Mr Kent. I did not travel with Mr Kent. I was attending in a personal capacity. As you know I am of Kurdish heritage so do visit the region regularly and did so before becoming a member of Parliament. Since entering Parliament I have always made sure that my personal visits are completely separate.”

Gary Kent said the APPG is not open to improper lobbying. He said: “I have not advocated or lobbied for [Gulf Keystone]. I am not expected to do so and have no expertise in energy issues in any case. The financial support given to the APPG is properly declared in Parliament and only enables me to help our independent advocacy of improved links between the UK and the Kurdistan Region.

“Our absolute priority is that British companies and public institutions such as universities don’t miss the opportunity to contribute to the renewal of the Kurdistan Region for their mutual benefit.” A spokesman for Genel Energy said neither the company nor Mr Hayward would comment.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
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

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam