Pandora papers: Tory donor Mohamed Amersi ‘involved in £162m corruption scandal’

Rishi Sunak says HMRC will inspect ‘Pandora papers’ as details of offshore deals emerge

Adam Forrest
Monday 04 October 2021 09:49
‘Pandora Papers’: Financial secrets of world leaders revealed in data leak

A Conservative party donor who helped fund Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign was involved in a major corruption scandal, according to an investigation into a trove of leaked financial documents.

Mohamed Amersi reportedly advised Swedish telecoms giant Telia on a £162m deal with the daughter of Uzbekistan’s former ruler Islam Karimov – a payment later described by the US authorities as a “bribe”.

The Swedish company was later fined £700m by the US authorities over the deal and accepted that the money given to Gulnara Karimova was a “corrupt payment”.

Mr 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 was involved in the controversial payment to Ms Karimova using a Gibraltar-based offshore company in 2010, according to an investigation by BBC Panorama and The Guardian.

Mr Amersi’s lawyers have denied that he “knowingly” helped facilitate any corrupt payments and had “no reason” to believe the money given to Ms Karimova might be a bribe.

They said underlying arrangements for the deal were in place two years before his involvement.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Monday that the HMRC will inspect the leaked Pandora Papers, the documents arranged by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposing the secret financial dealings of some of the world’s most powerful people.

Asked if he had ever benefited from an offshore arrangement, he told Sky News: “No. I haven. I’ve seen these things overnight … and of course HMRC will look through those 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 told the BBC that the Tory Party follows the law by carrying out all required “compliance checks” on donors.

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.

A client of Tory co-chair Ben Eillot’s concierge company Quintessentially, Mr Amersi said the donors’ group worked in a similar way to the private firm. “One needs to cough up £250,000 per annum or be a friend of Ben,” he told the Financial Times.

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.”

Daniel Bruce, chief executive at Transparency International UK, said the latest allegations show due diligence on major donations should go beyond “the box ticking exercise” of finding the donor on the electoral roll.

“These allegations add further weight to the case to reform regulation of political donations in the UK. There is a clear and growing consensus that the current rules controlling the money in British politics are out-of-date and in need of urgent reform,” he said.

The ICIJ said the dump of 12 million files are linked to about 35 current and former national leaders, and more than 330 politicians and public officials around the world.

Tony and Cherie Blair avoided paying £312,000 in tax on the purchase of a London property by acquiring an offshore company, the leaked papers reportedly show.

But in a tweeted statement, the Tony Blair Institute said the 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.”

Meanwhile, Jordan’s King Abdullah was alleged to have used offshore accounts to spend more than £74m on luxury homes in the UK and the US.

DLA Piper, a London law office representing Abdullah, told the consortium of media outlets that he had “not at any point misused public monies or made any use whatsoever of the proceeds of aid or assistance intended for public use.”