David & Samantha Cameron arrive at the 2014 party/Getty images

Doorstep lender and property moguls amongst guests worth £22bn at Tory fundraiser

A doorstep lender, property moguls and controversial bankers were among guests worth £22bn at the Conservatives’ most important fund raising event this year.

The list of 570 guests at the Tories’ Black and White party in February will heighten concern that wealthy individuals are potentially gaining access to ministers in secret.

A leaked table plan analysed by the Bureau shows that the prime minster and 21 other ministers including George Osborne were due to attend the event. Most of these have not confirmed their attendance at the fundraiser.

Earlier this year the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed how lobbyists and oligarchs had flocked to the 2013 Tory summer party attended by David Cameron and senior members of his cabinet.

Just like at that event, some guests at the black and white party sat with ministers whose portfolios were relevant to the guests’ financial interests.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal that, at the February 5 event:

  • Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has overseen a wide-ranging programme of welfare cuts, dined with directors of a doorstep lending company;
  • The then housing minister Kris Hopkins sat with prime central London’s largest residential landlord and two men whose companies operate in the “trophy” homes sector;
  • Michael Fallon, who was energy minister at the time, joined a table hosted by the directors of a firm that builds components for oil and gas platforms and offshore wind farms.

Seats with senior Tories came at a cost: “premier” tickets were charged at £1,000 compared with £450 for an ordinary ticket.

Under ministerial disclosure rules, meetings with business executives or individuals on a one-to-one basis or in ministers’ offices have to be declared. When ministers attend a reception or other large group event in their official capacity this must also be disclosed, but there is no requirement to list individuals met on these occasions.

All party political functions such as conferences and fundraisers are exempt from these rules.

Until the Bureau’s previous story, details of guests attending and the seating arrangements at the Tories’ fundraisers were unknown to the wider public.

Sir Alastair Graham, former chairman of the Committee for Standards in Public Life, said the public had a right to know that events were taking place and who was attending:

“So that we can track, over the forthcoming months, if policy sweeteners have been promised as an incentive to attract donations.”

He added: “Transparency about such fundraising events is particularly important in the run up to an election.”

Event is exempt from ministerial disclosure rules

The winter party is the Conservatives’ largest and most important fundraiser.

It was held at the same historical venue as the 2013 summer party – Old Billingsgate, the former fish market in the City – but hosted over 100 more guests.

The wealth of those invited amounted to more than £22bn, based on estimates in the Sunday Times Rich List and Forbes Billionaires list.

There is no suggestion that guests discussed either policy or their business interests with the ministers and MPs present at the black and white party. However, the presence of senior politicians and powerful executives in the same room behind closed doors has led for calls for greater transparency around such events.

The Bureau asked the 21 ministers listed on the table plan to comment on their attendance. Only Ken Clarke, who was minister without portfolio at the time of the party, did so, while the then Treasury minister Nicky Morgan and then environment secretary Owen Paterson said that they did not go to the party.

Development secretary Justine Greening, who according to the plan was sitting with a contractor for the Department for International Development (DIFID) commented on the department’s relationship with the contractor but did not confirm her attendance.

Philip & Susan Hammond arrive at the party/Getty Images

The table plan for the February fundraiser analysed by the Bureau lists two bosses of firms embroiled in the Libor-rigging scandal, along with a bankrupt tycoon, a landlord whose ban from acting as a company director had only recently ended and a financier who had been fined in the 1990s for insider dealing.

One person on the guest list is currently languishing in a Dubai jail. David Haigh, former MD of Leeds United, who was arrested for alleged fraud in the Gulf State in May 2014. Haigh has not been formally charged and denies the allegations. A British judge froze his assets in August after concluding there was a “good arguable case” for his involvement in the fraud.

Haigh had been hoping for nomination as a Conservative candidate in the 2015 general election.

A spokesperson for the party said: “All donations to the Conservative Party are declared and published by the Electoral Commission.

Lists of all ministerial meetings with external organisations are published on a quarterly basis. Ministers meet with a range of organisations – voluntary, commercial or educational.

Any suggestion that policy is influenced by donations is malicious and defamatory and will be treated as such.”

Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“With people’s trust in politics at an all-time low, parties need to look cleaner than clean.”

Given the extravagant fundraisers for some of the country’s wealthiest people is hardly beneficial to a public image of propriety, he added.

“So perhaps it’s no wonder that three-quarters of the British public believe big money has too much influence on political parties.”

The table plan shows:

*Peter de Putron, an offshore financier who is brother-in-law of financial services minister Andrea Leadsom, was seated with health secretary Jeremy Hunt and Jersey’s Treasury minister, Philip Ouzouf.
None of the three men have confirmed their attendance, though Mr Hunt was photographed arriving at the event.
*The then culture secretary Maria Miller’s table included several people from the luxury yachting world including a yacht architect, the managing director of a shipyard and an interior designer for boats.
Ms Miller, who was also pictured outside the venue, has made no comment.
*Development secretary Justine Greening was listed as sitting with with two executives from Salamanca Group. Salamanca was training diplomatic protection officers in Libya under a contract with DFID at the time of the event.
A DFID spokeswoman said: “DFID ministers had no role in contractual negotiation or sign-off with Salamanca Group. DFID contracts are awarded in accordance with rigorous procurement procedures that ensure efficiency and value for taxpayers’ money. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”
The two Salamanca executives listed as present have not responded to requests for comment.
*Listed at a table with Philip Hammond, who was defence secretary at the time of the event, is Kevin Lomax, who is chairman of two companies, one of which sells surveillance technology and the other, voice recognition-based security software.
Neither Mr Hammond, who was photographed outside the event, nor Mr Lomax would comment on their attendance at the party.
*The then planning minister Nick Boles was listed at the same table as a property developer who is a major donor and has been the subject of cash for access concerns in the past after acknowledging there is “20% truth” in accusations that political donations are made to buy influence.
Two directors of a property firm that specialises in retail development sat at the same table, according to the plan.
Mr Boles, the developer Mike Slade and the two executives did not respond to requests that they confirm their attendance.

Investigated by Melanie Newman, Nick Mathiason & Tom Warren

A version of this story was also published in the Guardian: Tycoons mix with top Tories at fundraising ball in London

Additional reporting Charlie Mole and Victoria Parsons

Originally published at www.thebureauinvestigates.com on October 12, 2014.


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