Paradise in Belize turns sour for Ashcroft

New Prime Minister fires vicious salvo at Conservative Party's biggest donor

Michael Ashcroft, the Tory peer and donor who is masterminding a key part of David Cameron's election strategy, has been denounced in his adopted homeland of Belize for using his money to "subjugate an entire nation".

In an extraordinary attack, the Prime Minister of Belize accused Lord Ashcroft of being "predatory" and implied that he had subjected the former colony to "new age slavery".

"There will be no more suffering of this one man's campaign to subjugate an entire nation to his will," said Dean Barrow in a specially convened parliamentary debate called to renationalise the country's main telephone company, which was formerly owned by Mr Ashcroft.

The ferocity of the attack suggests that the Belize government is out to break Lord Ashcroft's influence in the country, which could lead to more attacks and embroil the Conservative vice-chairman in a series of controversies most unwelcome to Mr Cameron.

Mr Ashcroft's political links in Belize are with the People's United Party (PUP), which lost control in an election last year to Mr Barrow's United Democratic Party (UDP).

Lord Ashcroft founded his fortune in Belize, where his father was posted by the Foreign Office in the 1950s, and where his huge business empire formerly included almost the entire telecommunications network. He now devotes much of his time to his role as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, and has a permanent office and staff at Tory campaign headquarters, though on his website he says: "If home is where the heart is, then my home is in Belize."

Yesterday, the Belize government seized control of Telemedia in a Bill rushed through Parliament, in the hope of ending a protracted legal dispute fought in law courts in Belize, the UK, the United States and Canada.

Mr Barrow, a 58-year-old lawyer and Belize's first black Prime Minister, introduced the Bill in an emotive speech which represented it as an attempt by a small nation to liberate itself from the overbearing influence of a billionaire.

"Lord Michael Ashcroft is an extremely powerful man. His net worth may well be equal to Belize's entire GDP. He is nobody to cross," he warned Belize's Parliament.

But he added: "This is our House, this is our country. Here we are masters, here we are sovereign. And with the full weight of that sovereignty we must now put an end to this disrespect, to this chance taking, to new age slavery.

"There will thus be no more Telemedia awards against us; no more Telemedia court battles; no more debilitating waste of government's energies and resources."

Lord Ashcroft's spokesman said yesterday that the peer no longer owns Telemedia, and that his name had been dragged into the controversy for purely political reasons. A statement issued by a charity called the Hayward Charitable Belize Trust said that it owned 70 per cent of Telemedia prior to nationalisation, with most of the rest of the shares held by the workforce.

"Michael has had no personal involvement in this," the spokesman said. "His involvement goes back some generations in corporate terms. The rest of it is just party politics. The fact that people try to drag him into this situation is indicative of the kind of party politics in Belize."

Telemedia was originally created as Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) when Mr Barrow's party was previously in power in 1987, to end the dominance of the UK telecoms group Cable & Wireless.

In 1992, the UDP lost control of the Belize government to the rival PUP, who sold BTL to Michael Ashcroft in a deal which Mr Barrow denounced as driven by "the predatory designs of one man, facilitated by the greed and hunger for cash of the then PUP administration".

Later, Lord Ashcroft relinquished control of the company. According to the statement by the Hayward Trust, he became involved again only because he was asked to by the government.

"They turned to Lord Ashcroft to find a solution to put an end to the complex litigation that they had got themselves into," the statement claimed. "Lord Ashcroft did not want to own Telemedia again and felt that there was an opportunity to make Telemedia an entity in which charities and employees could benefit. He used his skills over a long period of both time and attrition to achieve this objective."

The attack on Lord Ashcroft by Belize's Prime Minister echoed the feelings of Labour MPs struggling to hold on to marginal seats against candidates generously bankrolled by the billionaire Tory.

The Labour MP Gordon Prentice, who has campaigned to have Lord Ashcroft banned from making political donations in the UK until his tax status is cleared up, said yesterday evening: "I'm delighted that the change of government is bringing a wind of change to Belize. I just hope David Cameron is listening to what the Belize Prime Minister is saying."

Suggested Topics
News
people And here is why...
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
Life and Style
stoptober... when the patch, gum and cold turkey had all failed
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10
tv
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

LSA Level 3 required in Caerphilly

£50 - £60 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: O...

Welsh Year 6 Teacher required in Barry

£100 - £110 per day + Plus travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Welsh Teacher Year 2 required in Caerphilly

£100 - £105 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?