Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dame Pauline keeps raking the dosh

SHE has done it again! Surely David Cameron's shadow security minister and foreign policy adviser Dame Pauline Neville-Jones deserves a Queen's award for industry, or something, for her apparent ability to attract big money and win the confidence of important overseas contacts?

In these economically troubled times when local authorities have lost millions in collapsing Icelandic banks, and people face losing their jobs, homes and pensions, we need a good tonic in the shape of High Society news to remind us that politics can be fun, and life need not be hard. That is presumably why Gordon Brown brought back Peter, now Lord, Mandelson. No sooner is he installed as Business secretary than lines are buzzing about his meetings with Oleg Deripaska, Russia's billionaire aluminium king. Oh Lord! Mandy's old office in Brussels admits they met on "social occasions", but says they never talked business.

Meanwhile Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne was being asked to say more about his meetings with Mr.Deripaska, and to tell about his stay at the Corfu villa of Nathaniel Rothschild. David Cameron himself is being urged not to be shy about his trips to see Rupert Murdoch aboard his yacht in the eastern Mediterranean.

Well, why not? We all know the Murdoch media's interest and balanced coverage of affairs of the eastern Mediterranean, and for all we know the boy Dave could have been hoping to persuade the media monarch to express his patriotism by generously paying tax in the United Kingdom.

When it comes to remunerative links however, there is nothing like a Dame! We have commented before, as have others, on how Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who was chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, met interesting leaders like Slobodan Milosevic at the Dayton peace talks on Bosnia and former Yugoslavia, and then joined NatWest markets, where her old boss Lord Hurd also found a job. The two of them helped arrange the privatisation of Serbia's telecomms industry, for which NatWest took big bucks in consultancy and its star employees were accordingly rewarded.

Dame Pauline went on to help guide the BBC through stormy times, occasionally appearing before the cameras to explain world affairs and security matters, but more reticent and modest about her role as a governor when director general Greg Dyke was fired, over the Kelly affair. Some people remarked about her £133,000 a year as chair of military hardware contractors QinetiQ.

But the enterprising Dame Pauline was able to pack in the BBC job and make much more by exercising her share option before QinetiQ was taken over by the US-based Carlyle Group. The National Audit Office reported that the British taxpayer received a raw deal. QinetiQ had been the MoD's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency(DERA). But Dame Pauline got some top level US conference engagements for her diary, and David Cameron decided she was just the person to advise him on foreign affairs.

Now the Dame is in the news again with a report in today's Guardian linking her office indirectly to a Ukrainian oligarch called Dimitry Firtash.

"Pauline Neville-Jones, shadow security minister, former chair of the joint intelligence committee and a key Cameron foreign policy adviser, currently has her office sponsored by Robert Shetler-Jones, a close associate of the foreign billionaire Dmitry Firtash.A company linked to Shetler-Jones is also making payments to Conservative Central Office.. It is called Scythian Ltd. Shetler-Jones chairs and part owns it.

"So far, more than £70,000 has been paid in total.

"Under current laws and rules the arrangement is legitimate: the money is coming from a British individual and a UK-based company. But the Electoral Commission wrote to the Conservative party in July, querying the status of Scythian Ltd. The company had apparently always been dormant and was overdue with its accounts. Donations are only permissible under the rules if they come from a company that is genuinely "carrying on a business" in the UK.

"The Conservatives obtained a letter from a Scythian Ltd auditor, they say, claiming the company was no longer dormant. But its accounts, which are a year overdue, have still not appeared on the Companies House register. The most recent Scythian declaration to Companies House, made only last month, described it as a "non-trading company".

The commission said last night it had been satisfied by Tory reassurances at the time, but were keeping the situation "under review".

A Conservative party spokesman said: "These donations have been declared to the Electoral Commission and are entirely permissible under the rules. The party has received confirmation that this company is carrying on business in the UK and the Electoral Commission has written to us stating they have no issues. All of our donations are declared to the Electoral Commission and we always adhere to the rules rigidly."

Shetler-Jones said yesterday: "All donations have come from me personally or from my UK company, Scythian Ltd, of which I am a shareholder. These donations reflect my personal support for the Conservative party and were not made in consultation with Dmitry Firtash or at his request."

Shetler-Jones denies that Scythian is dormant. The company's premises are located in Mayfair. "On the door of No 25 Knightsbridge, a palatial office block close to the Harvey Nichols store, Scythian is the only occupant listed.The only entries on the official Companies House register for Scythian show that it has so far always been "dormant", has only £2 nominal capital, has never so far traded and is a year overdue with its accounts.

The same first floor at No 25 is listed on company records as simultaneously occupied by the DF Foundation. This is part of the Firtash group, according to the group's website, which also says Shetler-Jones represents the foundation. The charity began to fund Ukrainian language courses at Cambridge in February 2007.

A third listed phone number at the same first-floor address is the recently-founded British-Ukrainian Society, of which Shetler-Jones is also a director.

The Guardian says Firtash is a former meat trader and second-hand car dealer, who made his fortune trading with Turkmenistan, supplying food and other goods in exchange for gas that was then sold to Ukraine. In 2006 he was revealed as one of the men behind a company that controls Gazprom gas supplies from Russia to Europe, via Ukraine. Yulia Tymoshenko, then prime minister of Ukraine, alleged that the firm, RosUkrEnergo, was overcharging the country and had links to organised crime. There were allegations that Firtash had links with Semyon Mogilevich, an alleged mafia chief who had been arrested in Moscow, but the claims were strongly denied in statements issued on behalf of Firtash by Shetler-Jones.

Some of the Shetler-Jones donations are coming in as a £5,000 quarterly donation to Neville-Jones's office expenses. She declares it as money from him, provided through Conservative campaign headquarters. Another £30,000 has come in as individual donations from Shetler-Jones to Conservative central office.

Tymoshenko told the BBC in 2006: "We provided the president of the Ukraine with documented proof that some powerful criminal structures are behind the RosUkrEnergo company."

Now that they are experiencing the rougher side of capitalism, Ukrainians and Russians may want to know more about how these oligarchs managed to approprite the wealth of previously state-owned economies. As for the sums making their way into British accounts, whether those of parties or political leaders, we are sure Dame Pauline Neville-Jones has plenty of experience from her time with the Joint Intelligence Committee during the Balkan entnglements. Anyway, we know the public would not like to see poor Pauline out of pocket for her dedicated political work, and besides, all this money coming into the country must be good for the economy wherever it comes from, isn't it?

We take Peter Mandelson's word that when he supped with the Russian billionaire they didn't discuss the aluminium business, and it didn't influence EU trading policy. Similarly, we hope that cheques coming into Dame Pauline's office won't have any influence on Tory foreign policy or attitudes to energy deals.

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At 7:05 PM, Blogger Freedom said...

Hiya, do you mind if I use this for the Blog Bites section of Freedom newspaper?


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