Conservatives must ‘return donor money’, says Labour after Tory backer linked to corruption scandal

Boris Johnson says all donors properly ‘vetted’, as funder named in Pandora Papers

Adam Forrest
Monday 04 October 2021 12:23
‘Pandora Papers’: Financial secrets of world leaders revealed in data leak

The Conservative Party has been urged to return hundreds of thousands of pounds to a major political donor following claims he was involved in a telecoms corruption scandal.

Mohamed Amersi’s name featured in the massive leak of financial documents known as the Pandora Papers, which allegedly tie world leaders to secret stores of wealth.

The Tory donor 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”.

Mr Amersi’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.

Boris Johnson said on Monday that Mr Amersi had been properly “vetted” before the party accepted his donations – but Labour said the money should now be returned.

“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.

“This is not the first time that Mohamed Amersi has been embroiled in controversy. The Conservatives should return the money he donated to them and come clean about who else is getting exclusive access to the prime minister and the chancellor in return for cash.”

Mr Amersi – who was at the centre of an alleged “cash for access” row in the summer – has given nearly £525,000 to the party since 2018, Electoral Commission records show.

He revealed in July that a group of wealthy Tory donors known as the “advisory board” had been developed to connect the party’s biggest financial backers with ministers.

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

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.”

Responding to news about Mr Amersi and the Pandora Papers, Mr Johnson told reporters: “I see that story today. But all I can say on that one is all these donations are vetted in the normal way in accordance with rules that were set up under a Labour government … We vet them the whole time.”

Rishi Sunak also deflected questions about Mr Amersi, saying the party had carried out a series of “compliance checks” on all donors. He also said the HMRC will “look through” the Pandora Papers “to see if there’s anything we can learn”.

Asked if London’s reputation as a centre for tax avoidance was a source of shame, the chancellor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think it’s a source of shame because actually our track record on this issue is very strong.”

Mr Sunak also said tax avoidance was a global problem and claimed the UK was leading the world in “improving transparency”.

Meanwhile, the Tony Blair Institute has responded to allegations that Tony and Cherie Blair avoided paying £312,000 in tax on the purchase of a London property, after they were named in the Pandora Papers leaks.

In a tweeted statement, the former Labour prime minister’s institute said the office premises were acquired from “an offshore company which the Blairs had had nothing to do with”.

It added: “[Cherie Blair] brought it onshore. No stamp duty was payable because it was the sale of a company. But capital gains tax – likely to be much more than the stamp duty – will of course be payable when it is resold.

“The allegation that [the Blairs] avoided tax is therefore completely false. They have always paid their taxes in full and never used offshore avoidance schemes of any kind.”

Following the release of financial papers, the Crown Estate said that it was looking into the £67m purchase of a London property from a company which, The Guardian said, had acted as a “front” for family of Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev.

A spokesman for the Crown Estate said: “Before our purchase of 56-60 Conduit Street, we conducted checks including those required by UK law. At the time we did not establish any reason why the transaction should not proceed. Given the potential concerns raised, we are looking into the matter.”

Duncan Hames, policy director at the campaign group Transparency International UK, said the disclosures should act as a “wake-up call” for Mr Johnson’s government to deliver on measures to tackle “dirty money”.

“The UK must redouble its efforts in tackling illicit finance, bringing in long overdue transparency reforms to reveal who really owns property here as well as resourcing regulators and law enforcement to clamp down on rogue professionals and corrupt cash held in the UK,” the campaigner said.

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