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
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
people

Far-right organisation has defended its actions on Facebook

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
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

English Teacher

£4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

Science Teacher

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

Cover Supervisor

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker