Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Some peers can be all too human

(Apologies to Ros Scott for the play on her blog title.)

I've just finished reading "The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and other conflicts I have known" by Craig Murray (obtainable from the author direct or from In an epilogue, he exposes Baroness Amos as a beneficiary of New Labour's conversion of the Commonwealth Development Corporation from a means of channelling development money into projects on the ground into a vehicle for the financial services industry.

This week, the Sunday Times and Guido Fawkes revealed that Baron Truscott, the former Labour DTI minister – once a special envoy for Tony Blair – is now a director of oil and mining companies controlled by Frank Timis, a twice convicted heroin dealer.

Truscott is a director of two Timis ventures. One, African Minerals, is active in Sierra Leone, the world's biggest source of blood diamonds (African Minerals was formerly called the Sierra Leone Diamond Company). In September 2008 the Sunday Times reported that Timis was facing the prospect of a court case over disputed mineral rights. The other company, Eastern Petroleum is involved in oil prospecting in the former Soviet Union.

Craig Murray was Deputy High Commissioner in Ghana (the equivalent, in a Commonwealth country, of the deputy Ambassador). He got to know West Africa very well, and maintained his contacts after he left the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (over being too honest in Uzbekistan - but that's another story).

He writes:
West Africa is now the third largest centre in the world for money-laundering and narcotics capital formation. But in terms of the percentage of total capital formation which drugs money forms, it is far ahead. Money laundering is the raison d'etre of many West African financial institutions. In March 2008 a World Bank sponsored conference held in Accra on money-laundering heard an estimate that over 60% of the capital of the mushrooming private banking sector in Nigeria could be drugs money. Recently, Nigerian banks have started taking out huge poster adverts all over the UK's major airports. That is drugs money.

The actual bank executives and fund managers are of course not themselves necessarily involved in narcotics; they just fail to query adequately the source of their investors' cash.

Murray took care that the African companies he assisted dealt with tangible assets. Even so, as a director of a Ghanaian energy company, he was approached by the manager of Travant, a Nigerian private fund management company. This man surprised Murray by revealing that his firm had access to Department for International Development (DFID) funds because Baroness Amos was a director, something that Murray felt was, to say the least, inappropriate. Baroness Amos was the Secretary of State for DFID until 2003 and until 2007 was Leader of the House of Lords.

There's an old journalistic saw that coincidences go in threes. Nevertheless, there is doubtless much scurrying about by investigative teams in the London press, searching West African company registers for the names of British peers.

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