The Conservative Party gets vast sums from an elite club of super wealthy donors that have made their money from polluting industries or are involved in backing climate science denial in the UK, a new analysis shows.
While the Labour party mainly gets by on small donations from lots of people, the Tories receive by far the largest donations from a select group. If donors give enough – at least £50,000 a year, to be precise – they get to be part of an elite club known as the ‘Leader's Group’, who get to wine and dine with Tory bigwigs, including the Prime Minister himself.
Analysis by investigative journalists at openDemocracy breaks these donations down by sector. It shows the elite group is increasingly led by those working in the financial sector and hedge funds, with many pro-EU members fleeing the organisation.
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The Conservative Party hasn’t published a list of attendees to Leader's Group events since the first half of 2018. A staff member in the Conservative Treasurer's Department told openDemocracy that they thought publishing details of Leader's Group donors was “a directive of David Cameron's, many years back” that had since ceased. No such lists have been produced in the six weeks since openDemocracy’s request was made.
In response to the investigation, Labour shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett wrote to Conservative chairman James Cleverly calling for “much greater transparency in how the Conservative Party handles its political donations and relationships with rich and powerful elites”.
An analysis of the list provided by openDemocracy by DeSmog shows a significant handful of the Tory party’s elite donors have ties to climate science denial or have made their money through particularly polluting dealings in some of the world’s most unstable regions.
Map by Richard Collett-White using data from openDemocracy.
Climate science denial backers
A couple of names on the list revealed by Open Democracy have ties to the UK’s principal climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
Michael Hintze is a long-standing Tory donor, who also bankrolled the Vote Leave campaign. He is one of the few known GWPF funders. He has also given significant sums to MPs with questionable climate credentials, including Boris Johnson.
Hintze is a trustee of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a lobby group with strong ties to other pro-Brexit, pro-market deregulation, anti-environmental groups based out of offices in and around 55 Tufton Street. The IEA is funded by BP and tobacco firms, among others.
Hintze was instrumental in setting up Atlantic Bridge, a thinktank founded by former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. In 2007, the group established a special partnership with US free-market lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), known for its efforts to quash climate policy. The group dissolved in 2011 after a Charity Commission investigation concluded Atlantic Bridge had been undertaking overly political work.
Hintze is also a major donor to the Natural History Museum, which was criticised for naming one of its galleries after him after receiving a £5 million donation given his support for climate science denial.
Read the full openDemocracy investigation -
Revealed: The elite dining club behind £130m+ donations to the Tories
Another Leader's Group member with ties to the UK’s climate science denial network is David Ord, co-owner of First Corporate Shipping (FCS). Ord co-owns FCS, which is the trading name for Bristol Port, with Terence Mordaunt – a GWPF director.
FCS has given very large donations to the Conservative Party and leading Tory politicians. Most recently giving £25,000 each to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in May 2019, in advance of the Conservative leadership election.
Energy industry members
There is a group of energy industry magnates that still form an important bloc with the Leader's Group, many of whom have operated in some of the world’s most unstable regions, and seemingly with different motivations for donating large sums to be part of it.
Middle East interests
The benefits were perhaps most obvious for Ayman Asfari, chief executive of Jersey-registered oil services provider Petrofrac. In September 2019, Petrofrac had a deal for an oil refinery in Oman backed by UK Export Finance (UKEF), a government agency tasked with supporting British enterprises abroad. It wasn’t the first time Petrofrac had secured a UKEF deal. The £733 million deal was criticised by campaigners at the time, who pointed out that Petrofrac was also under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for suspected bribery, corruption and money laundering. In February 2019, Petrofrac’s Global Head of Sales, pleaded guilty to 11 counts of bribery relating to contracts worth billions of pounds in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Petrofrac has recently been accused of keeping separate accounts to facilitate bribes and corruption in Kazakhstan between 2003 and 2010. The company denies the allegation.
In summer 2016, Asfari had met with Boris Johnson and other ministers to discuss the political situation in Syria. Asfari and his wife have donated almost £900,000 to the Conservative Party since 2009, according to Electoral Commission data, which doesn’t include Leader's Group data.
A Petrofrac spokesperson told DeSmog that, “Petrofac does not make political contributions or engage in political activity.” “Donations by Mr Asfari to the Conservative Party were made several years ago in a personal capacity. Mr Asfari is no longer a donor,” they added.
Map by Richard Collett-White using data provided by openDemocracy
Another donor with oil interests in the Middle East that is also part of the Leader's Group is Abdul-Majid Jafar, chief executive of Crescent Petroleum. The company has natural gas operations in Kurdistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, and was recently involved in some controversy in Iran. Given those interests, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Jafar is a leading voice calling for the expansion of gas operations, diversifying away from just oil, in the region.
Jafar has given over £400,000 to the Conservative Party since 2010, and was one of the donors to bankroll a visit by a group of MPs to Libya in 2017, under the auspices of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC).
Another long-standing Tory party donor who made his fortune through fossil fuel operations in controversial circumstances is Ian Roper Taylor, chairman of oil trader The Vitol Group. Roper Taylor has given over £2 million to the Conservative Party since 2011. Roper Taylor is also chairman of the Royal Opera House.
The company has been criticised for its dealings in countries subject to sanctions, such as Iran and Iraq, as well as its involvement with questionable individuals such as Serbian warlord Željko Ražnatović, better known as Arkan. Vitol has also been accused of ripping off vulnerable states such as Mozambique, and continues to operate in countries with poor reputations for corporate governance, such as Nigeria and Azerbaijan.
A Brazilian oil trader this month claimed to have received bribes from the group to secure Vitol favourable terms with state oil company Petrobras. Vitol said in a statement that the company has a zero tolerance policy towards bribery and corruption, and continues to cooperate with relevant authorities.
Roper Taylor is no stranger to political campaigning. He gave £500,000 to the Better Together campaign, which pushed for Scotland to remain part of the UK in advance of the 2014 referendum. And unlike the current leadership of the Conservative party, Roper Taylor is staunchly anti-Brexit and reportedly donated to the Remain campaign. Nonetheless, he donated £100,000 to the Conservative party as recently as April 2019, long after it had set its stall out for a hard Brexit.
A spokesperson for Vitol told DeSmog, “Vitol does not make any political donations” and that it “is therefore not part of the 'Leader's Group'. “Any donations made by employees, including Mr Taylor, are made in a personal capacity,” they added.
North Sea and UK interests
Current chief executive of UK-based fossil fuel company Enquest and former Petrofrac employee, Amjad Bseisu, is also part of the Leader's Group. He most recently hit headlines for taking a £1.3 million pay rise in April 2019.
Bseisu has lobbied for support to maximise exploration for fossil fuels in the North Sea, where Enquest operates. Cairn Energy, which also holds licenses for fracking blocks in the UK also has a large stake in Enquest. Bseisu’s own family also purchased 400,000 Enquest shares in October 2019.
Another energy magnate sitting within the Leader's Group with significant North Sea interests is Alasdair Locke, the former chief executive of oil and gas services company, the Abbott Group, which has operated in the North Sea and Africa. Locke is also non-executive chairman of India’s Hardy Oil and Gas, and is reportedly worth £230 million. He invested heavily in petrol stations in 2018 through The Motor Group and has interests in North Sea oil and gas decommissioning through Well Safe Solutions Plc. He has donated over £500,000 to the Conservative Party since 2013.
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Locke is joined by Michael Heller, chairman of coal mining company Bisichi, which holds the controlling stake in the Black Wattle Colliery mine in South Africa. Bisichi is listed on London’s junior stock exchange, the Alternative Investment Market, which has been described as a “wild west” for investors looking to profit from polluting activities abroad.
Heller was recently criticised for signing-off a £900,000 pay-packet for his son, Andrew Heller, the chief executive of Bisichi, despite the company only being worth around £11 million. Bisichi’s business model is underwritten by a large UK property portfolio, worth £14 million according to the company’s website.
Richard Barr, chairman of Centrax Industries, a company that makes gas power turbines based in the England’s Southwest, is also a member of the Leader's Group. Centrax has given almost £150,000 to the Conservative Party and its MPs since 2010.
Three members of Offshore Group Newcastle, a company that fabricates steel for oil platforms, have also been members of the Leader's Group. The company has donated almost £500,000 to the Conservative Party since 2012.
OGN is now in liquidation, but one of its former directors, Alexander Temerko, remains very politically active. He has given the Conservative Party and Tory MPs over £600,000 as an individual since 2012.
Ukrainian-born Temerko became a British citizen in 2011, describes himself as a “vocal champion of UK energy security and independence.” He is the former deputy chairman of Russia’s Yukos Oil Company. He is currently director of AQUIND Limited, which is building an electricity interconnector between the UK and mainland Europe.
openDemocracy reports that Temerko is said to be particularly close to Boris Johnson, with the two men sometimes calling each other “Sasha”, the Russian diminutive for Alexander, which is Johnson’s real first name. Temerko was reportedly involved in an unsuccessful attempt led by members of a group of hardline Conservative MPs, the European Research Group, to remove Theresa May as leader in December 2018.
The Conservative Party and all the donors named here have been contacted for comment.
Main image: Raymond Wang/Behance CC BY-NC-ND 4.0