Monday, March 01, 2010

£Ashcroft: Biggles, Bertie, Algy and Ginger Flaunting the Rules?

We've been following the rather ridiculous Baron Muchhousing Ashcroft of Belize for some time.

Here, for example is our archive featuring "Flying Lion" - the good Lord's private jet company - which has been ferrying shadow mimicsters and MPs around willy nilly. Not a UK company. Not paying tax here. With no base here. With no direct company interest in the demented big-C wasting involved in dashing around the globe.

Michael Ashcroft's Flying Lion has exploited an apparent loophole in the donations rules. These bar overseas companies and overseas based individuals from donating either money or in kind goods and services to UK political parties. With one exception. That being Travel.

This concession being designed to allow the Sultan of Brunei say to summon some UK polis at his own expense, to lobby them on his interests, to entertain them and to return them, educated, to the UK. Or let's say Tata to finance some travel to and accommodation in India to explain their prospectus for the UK.

Ashcroft's Flying Lion wasn't doing that. It was instead donating the services of a private jet and crew to ferry Mimicsters and MPs around the globe. To destinations and on missions entirely unconnected with Flying Lion's direct interests. That seems abusive to me. And the fact that this hasn't been outlawed when challenged says more about the Electoral Commission and PPERA (the relevant legislation) than it does about the activity.

The Commission and the Law look weak. And Flying Lion, an overseas company with no direct interest in the travel offered, appears to be providing an analogue of cash money. Donating money to a UK political party. Which is not allowed.

To make matters worse whenever Tory MPs get this cash equivalent donation, under the guise of the Travel concession, they always but always evaluate this gift as if it were a scheduled, even a budget scheduled flight. This is by no means representing the true cost of say a day's running costs.

Let's say 1/250th of a year's running budget for starters. Including depreciation and maintenance and hangaring and registration and wear and tear. And any and all airport fees. And enormously well-paid flight crew and attendants. Not even the actual cost of the aviation fuel for these thirsty jets would be covered. And really, the evaluation should be on a cost-plus basis anyway.

What would it cost to buy this service on the open market? Not meaning business class flying to Hong Kong say. Like £2000? But meaning what would it actually cost to charter a high end private jet for this journey. Which might be £100,000. And why would they continuously understate the value of such things? Well because (a) if retrospectively ruled out and clawed back the amount of cash would be far less; and (b) because if you want to claim Ashcroft donates only 1% of your whole it doesn't help if there's £2 million at true value of private jet setting to be included.

One might run a similar discussion over Taking the Michael's Bearwood Securities Limited. The UK firm that has been the main agent of his key marginals largesse. It would be completely illegal if Bearwood was simply passporting money through from an overseas, "ineligible" donor like Ashcroft say, and had no direct company interest in making such donations. To be an eligible donor a firm like Bearwood Securities would need to be carrying out a bona fide, uncontrived UK business AND not be acting as an agent for any ineligible donor.

People are trying to determine what's what on this. So we'll leave it there.

We've no time to discuss Michael's wife's donations and how those arise. Or what an all-round unpatriotic, ruthless, self-serving and cheeky arse Lord Ashcroft is being in trying to buy elections in the UK. Just has he has tried in Australia and New Zealand and Belize and elsewhere in Central America and the Caribbean.

And we've certainly got no time to try to work out what he's been up to in Belize. Taking the piss mostly. He's not popular. Very likely others will have a go at all this over the next day or two. We'll see. Perhaps we'll join in.

We do, naturally, have a man on the ground in Belize. Ashcroft beer is monopolistically bad. His cola is monopolistically bad. His phone company was monopolistically bad. His utilities and so on and so forth. He's fallen out with the new - more right wing but less in pocket - government. And the people think he's pocketing their money. Aren't people funny?

Connections with the disgraced Sir Allen Stanford, from Turks and Caicos, would of course be down-played and denied. What a gift it would be to the forces of progressive righteousness if there were a Stanford-Ashcroft-Cameron connection. Revealed perhaps in the long campaign? Or even during the sprint. Let's hypothesize. It's fun! What if they were all meeting up at Lords for the cricket while Stanford was working his million pound prize money and borrowed helicopter stunts for example.

Would make George Osborne's dalliances with Aluminium billionaire oligarchs and Rothschild hedgies whose family donated to GOO's office - which he tried to gloss over - it would make such dalliances look de nada. Just as well there is no Stanford-Ashcroft-Cameron connection.


Jimmy said...

"To destinations and on missions entirely unconnected with Flying Lion's direct interests."

I wouldn't be so sure about that.

Belize is interesting. If I understand correctly Ashcroft is threatening to get HMG to invoke its Investment Protection Treaty in respect of the nationalisation of the telecom company he previously denied owning any more. One of number of businesses in the region he denies owning any more. No doubt William Hague at the FCO would recuse himself.

ps I'm open to correction but I'm not aware of any substantial Stanford/Turks and Caicos connection.

Chris Paul said...

There is certainly a Turks and Caicos connection with Ashcroft, including but not limited to links noted here; which is nice.

Cam and AS both have an ambitious

Chris Paul said...

.. interest in cricket and in getting on. Was Cam at Lords on 11 June 2008?

Flying Lion are clearly flaunting the spirit of the travel concession in the eligible donors rules.

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Jimmy said...

Ashcroft yes, but not Stanford as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

It seems only right that Michael should pay when that nice Mr Hague does his bidding - good to see where this countries foreign policy priorities will lie should the Tories be elected.

Didn't Ashcroft and his companies make loans of C$10m to the disgraced former PM of the Turks and Caicos Michael Misick who was on Hague's vistor list.

Anyone for an invasion of Belize if they nationalise Michael's business interests?

Jimmy said...

Misick's House (think Gracelands only tackier) is on the Market of $17m. His official salary was 100k when he took over. Mortgage provided by Belize Bank (as was, now remamed British Caribbean). Discounted land provided by Leeward Ltd. Built by Johnston Intl Construction. Founder of both these companies? You're way ahead of me. Ashcroft claims to have severed ties with both cos by way of MBO. No-one believes him. Johnston's ownership appears to be structured so as to disguise the true position.

Ashcroft's tax status is probably the least of it.

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