Archer 'used charity role in bid for Iraqi oil'

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard is being asked to investigate allegations that Jeffrey Archer secretly used his fund-raising position for the Kurds in an attempt to secure exclusive rights to energy reserves in northern Iraq.

The former Tory deputy chairman is alleged to have set up a Panama-based company to exploit oil and gas fields in Kurdistan with the contacts he made during his Simple Truth charity appeal for the region. The allegation adds to the mystery surrounding the fate of the £57m which Archer claims the appeal raised.

Documents seen by The Independent show that Archer is named as chairman of Systems Engineering and Technology Company (Setco), which was set up at the same time as the appeal. Setco wanted the "exclusive authority to explore for, produce, export and sell oil, gas and other mineral resources on, under and within the area known as Kurdistan... for 25 years", according to company documentation.

According to Kurdish sources, Archer used a visit to northern Iraq in 1992, carrying a letter from the prime minister at the time, John Major, to Kurdish leaders, to gather information about the oil and gas deposits. Meetings were later held at Archer's flat at Alembic House, on The Embankment, with representatives of two Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.

But the Kurds believed that Setco's demands were too greedy. One of the Kurdish representatives who took part in the talks at Archer's flat recalled this week: "Lord Archer always led us to believe that he had the support of the British government. But the terms Setco were asking for were too harsh, we felt. We asked the Foreign Office for advice and they told us to be careful." The negotiations came to nothing.

The oil and gas deals fell through with a change of policy by the US and British governments, when they moved to a wider Iraq scenario. The Simple Truth appeal has since been beset by allegations that only a tiny proportion of the £57m claimed to have been raised found its way to the Kurds.

Sardar Pishdare Rostam, a Kurdish leader and businessman, is preparing to present police with a dossier of evidence of Archer's alleged dishonesty over the oil reserves. Archer's actions, claims Mr Pishdare, cost him $250,000 (£175,000) he had sunk into the energy scheme. Millions more were lost in future projected earnings from the sale of oil and gas.

Mr Pishdare had met Archer in 1992, soon after the Simple Truth appeal, along with the late Lord Ennals of Norwich, a former Labour minister who campaigned for the Kurds.

Mr Pishdare asked Archer if money from the Simple Truth appeal could be loaned to carry out research into the oil resources in the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq. The peer however, maintained that all of the £57m had been spent.

Mr Pishdare then sought investment in the US but, on his return, discovered the existence of Setco and that it had started negotiations with Iraqi factions. He told The Independent: "I contacted Jeffrey Archer at the time about the matter. He told me that he was a writer not involved with any business enterprises. I knew this was false.

"Jeffrey Archer was a very powerful man at the time... I knew that Archer had stolen my ideas and he had gone behind my back... Now Jeffrey Archer has been exposed as a criminal I feel the police should look at what happened."

Last night Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, a former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat MEP, whose formal complaint to the police started the Kurdish Appeal investigation, said the account of Archer's Panamanian company was "highly significant".