Tory co-chair refuses to answer questions about cash-for-access claims: ‘Stop bothering me’

Top donor wants ‘special investigation’ into Ben Elliot

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 05 October 2021 10:17

‘Stop bothering me’, says Tory co-chair at party conference

The Conservative Party co-chair Ben Elliot has refused to answer questions about allegations he has raised money from organising meetings between wealthy businessmen and his uncle Prince Charles.

Mr Elliot has been accused of introducing clients of his concierge company Quintessentially to the future king if they spend tens of thousands of pounds on a membership scheme.

Appearing the Tory conference in Manchester, the co-chair was asked repeatedly whether he was offering access to Prince Charles for money.

“Please, please … I wish you would stop bothering me,” he told Sky News – also refusing to respond to questions whether there was conflict of interest between his company and his role as Tory fundraiser.

It comes as the leading Tory donor Mohamed Amersi has suggested the party convenes a “special investigation” into the potential conflicts of interest surrounding Mr Elliot.

Mr Amersi – who has this week denied involvement in a major corruption scandal after his name appeared in the so-called Pandora Papers – said the Conservatives should look into “lapses” in governance.

“[Ben Elliot] has done a great job in terms of raising money,” the entrepreneur and philanthropist told Sky News. “If there are any lapses in governance ... they can be easily structured and addressed.”

He added: “Then the party and the board has to see whether [Mr Elliot] is somebody who’s willing and able to work within those structures. If the answer to that is yes, give him a chance. If the answer to that is no, then perhaps invite him to reconsider his position.”

Mr Elliot has been accused of trying to solicit charity donations in return for access, but there is no suggestion that Prince Charles was aware of an alleged attempts to raise money.

Mr Amersi has said that in 2013, Mr Elliot’s firm Quintessentially arranged for him to fly to meet Prince Charles over “an intimate dinner” at Dumfries House in Scotland.

He later became a trustee of one of the Prince of Wales’ charities, and has since donated more than £1.2m to causes supported by the future king.

Mr Amersi has also claimed the Tory donors’ group worked in a similar way to Mr Elliot’s private firm. “One needs to cough up £250,000 per annum or be a friend of Ben,” he told the Financial Times.

However, Tory co-chair Oliver Dowden dismissed concerns about possible conflicts of interest, saying: “Most people give money to political parties as part of their civic duty and civic sense of responsibility.”

Defending Mr Elliot, Mr Dowden told a fringe event on Tuesday that he was “getting along great” with his colleague. “Ben is a fantastic man and one of the great fundraisers of the Conservative Party … he’s broadened our base of supporters and brings a great deal of expertise.”

A Conservative spokesperson added: “Ben Elliot’s business and charitable work are entirely separate to the voluntary work he does for the party. Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission.”

Meanwhile, it emerged that Mr Amersi advised Swedish telecoms firm Telia on a £162m deal with the daughter of Uzbekistan’s former ruler in 2010, according to the BBC and The Guardian – a payment later described by US authorities as a “bribe”.

The Tory donor’s lawyers have denied that he “knowingly” helped facilitate any corrupt payments and had “no reason” to believe money given to Gulnara Karimova might be a bribe.

And in a statement, Mr Amersi said he categorically rejected “any suggestions of wrongdoing” in his work as a consultant assisting Telia.

He added: “Exhaustive investigations have been carried out into Telia by multiple governmental authorities and no allegations of misconduct or criminality have ever been made against me. My work as an adviser has always been conducted appropriately and legally.”

Labour said the Tories should return donations from Mr Amersi. “It’s really concerning that the Conservatives have accepted hundreds of thousands of pounds from a man who appears to be closely linked to one of Europe’s biggest corruption scandals,” said Labour chair Anneliese Dodds.

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