Category: Corruption

Housing benefit assessors jailed over £1m fraud and money laundering

Justice

Seven benefit assessors have been sentenced to prison for a total of 17 years for their roles in housing benefit fraud which saw more than £1m stolen from three councils in London.

The assessors worked in the local authorities of Lambeth, Kingston and Barking and Dagenham creating false housing benefit claims over a period of six years and sending the funds to accounts they controlled.

Lambeth employee Menelik Cowan, one of the driving forces of the fraud, and six others, denied fraud but were convicted by a jury after a three-month trial at Southwark Crown Court. They were sentenced today (18 March).

Cowan was sentenced to six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. He had diverted £293,147 from his employers over six years. Others received between three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and 18 months.

The gang would identify properties, collect details for false claims and create appointments for the fraudsters at the council.

They also approved false claims and used their systems to ensure council letters, which might have revealed their fraud, were not sent to the properties.

Money was sent into accounts controlled by money launderers who left the country before they could be charged.

The Crown Prosecution Service worked closely with investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions Serious and Organised Investigation Team to bring the prosecution.

Ben Reid, of the CPS, said: “These council-employed assessors were trusted to look after badly needed public money meant to help people find somewhere to live.

“Instead they corrupted the systems and sent over one million pounds to money launderers in the criminal underground.

“During their trial they said they had no idea the claims were false and that they were simply processing papers given to them by their managers.

“However, the CPS prosecution showed the jury messages between them and their co-conspirators planning the whole thing.

They have now been convicted by the jury and these public funds are safely out of their hands.”

A timetable for proceeds of crime hearings will now be set out where the CPS will seek to recover any outstanding assets.

Summary of sentencing:

  • Ben Reid is a Specialist Prosecutor in the Specialist Fraud Division’
  • Menelik Cowan (D.o.B 27/01/1981) pleaded guilty to one offence of fraud by abuse of position and one offence of possession of false identity documents with intent. He was then convicted of five further offences of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £293,147. He was imprisoned for six-and-a-half years
  • Hugh Small (D.o.B 05/01/1979) pleaded guilty to one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement. He was then convicted of one further offence of fraud by abuse of position after trial. The value of his offending is £112,983. He was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years
  • Rahel Asfaha (D.o.B 20/05/1982) was convicted after trial of eight offences of fraud by abuse of position, worth £181,872. Imprisoned for two-and-a-half years
  • Alex Williams (D.o.B 01/08/1979) was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £240,345. Imprisoned for three-and-a-half years
  • Cassandra Johnson (D.o.B 22/10/1980) was convicted after trial of three offences of fraud by abuse of position worth £106,834. Imprisoned for 18 months
  • Jessica Bartley (D.o.B 25/08/1983) was convicted after trial of one offence of fraud by abuse of position worth £71,600. Imprisoned for 18 months, suspended for 18 months, and given 200 hours unpaid work
  • Natasha Francis (D.o.B 21/03/1980) was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £2,868. 18-month community order, and 200 hours unpaid work
  • Donna Francis (D.o.B 04/01/1961) was convicted after trial of one offence of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £8,323.43. 12-month community order
  • Derrick Williams (D.o.B 02/02/1960) was convicted after trial of two offences of entering into or being concerned in a money laundering arrangement worth £14,168.03. Imprisoned for 15 months, suspended for 18 months.

This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0.

 


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London solicitor linked to Panama Papers fined £45,000 with further £40,000 costs

lawyer-fined-for-failing-to-identify-panama-paper-clients-pep-status (1)

A law firm partner is facing an £85,000 bill for failing to excercise adequate due diligence to check the background of his clients, following a disciplinary hearing centering around the huge data leak from former Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

London solicitor, Khalid Mohammed Sharif, partner at the Westminster private client company Child & Child, has been fined £45,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). Costs of £40,000 were also imposed.

According to the SDT findings, Sharif’s failings led to a “large amount of money being laundered” and his “culpability was high”. However, the tribunal noted that he co-operated with the investigation and had voluntarily reported himself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The tribunal representative also said that Sharif “failed to take any or any adequate steps to ascertain from publicly available information” and that the fine was an “appropriate and proportionate sanction in all the circumstances.”

Under the current rules and legislation concerning money laundering, (regulation 14 of The Money Laundering Regulations 2007) any person connected with senior political officials should be considered as a politically exposed person (PEP) and simple due diligence should have ensured that this protocol was followed.

Sharif claimed that the two women had no political connections. But, according to the published outcome, Sharif admitted that he failed to take adequate steps to check this, when even an internet search may have identified them as PEPs.

The solicitor, admitted to the roll of solictors in 2005, also admitted to not undertaking enhanced customer due diligence even though he had not met the clients. Sharif was the company’s money laundering reporting officer (MLRO).

The judgement said: “The respondent was wholly culpable for his misconduct. Further, he was the MLRO at the firm. This should have heightened his sense of his obligations, and his awareness of the risks.”

Sharif’s clients were not identified in the ruling but have been reported to be two daughters of the president of Azerbaijan. The women Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva – the daughters of President Ilham Aliyev – set up a secret offshore company to help manage their multimillion-pound property portfolio in Britain. The firm, Exaltation Limited, was based in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. The properties were worth nearly £60m.  

Although contracts were exchanged in 2015, the deal failed. Again, when completing the source of funds for the reported £14 million worth of deposits, the PEP status was still not recognised by the lawyer.

It has been alleged that the clients were also the owners of a British Virgin Islands company that was set up by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm from which sensitive information was stolen during the Panama Paper data breach. The list of failures to ascertain the PEP credentials of the clients has culminated in the conclusive verdict from the Tribunal.

However, while the Tribunal viewed the potential of money laundering through property to be extremely serious, the SDT also conceded that the misconduct “was not so serious that the protection of the public and the protection of the reputation of the profession required him to be removed from practice.”

Details of the offshore company emerged in April 2016 following the Panama Papers leak. Child & Child had instructed Mossack Fonseca to incorporate the company.

The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm and corporate service provider (Mossack Fonseca.) The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC.

Reporters found that some of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.

The documents reveal the myriad ways in which the wealthy – including some public officials – can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians exposed, as well as their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.  The leaked files identified 61 family members and associates of prime ministers, presidents and kings, and members of their families, including Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark Thatcher.

In a 2013 letter, unearthed by the Financial Times to the then president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, from the then Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron said that offshore trusts should not automatically be subject to the same transparency requirements as shell companies. Cameron’s personal involvement in the EU-wide debate emerged as he continued to face questions about his family’s connections to Blairmore Holdings Inc, the offshore trust set up by his late father, the existence of which was revealed in leaked papers from the database of  Mossack Fonseca. 

While no standard official definition exists, the International Monetary Fund describes an offshore financial centre, or tax haven, as a jurisdiction whose banking infrastructure primarily provides services to people or businesses who do not live there, requires little or no disclosure of information when doing business, and offers low taxes.

Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality. Oxfam blamed tax havens in its 2016 annual report on income inequality for much of the widening gap between rich and poor. “Tax havens are at the core of a global system that allows large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, “depriving governments, rich and poor, of the resources they need to provide vital public services and tackle rising inequality.”

It’s widely known that the world’s super-wealthy have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at trillions of pounds, from their home countries’ economies and hoard it abroad – and the offshore drain involves a sum larger than the entire American economy. The sheer scale of hidden assets held by the mega-rich also strongly suggests that standard measures of inequality, which tend to rely on surveys of household income or wealth in individual countries, radically underestimate the true level of inequality – the gap between rich and poor.

It also strongly suggests that the Conservatives are radically overestimating the value of their hero ‘wealth generators’ and their contribution to the UK economy, along with their strange neoliberal theory of ‘trickle down’. Then again, perhaps these are justification narratives to prop up the immoral financial habits of a wealthy and powerful elite.  

Mossack and Fonseca were detained February 8, 2017 on money-laundering chargesIn March 2018, Mossack Fonseca announced that it would cease operations at the end of March due to “irreversible damage” to their image as a direct result of the Panama Papers.

 


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Serco, government contracts and the new minister for justice: what could possibly go right?

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is conducting a criminal investigation into Serco (and G4S) regarding electronic monitoring contracts – specifically concerning the tagging of prisoners. Although the case was opened and announced in 2014, the case is still ongoing, and is listed under ‘current cases’. Serco is reliant on the UK public sector for half of the group’s sales: £1.2 billion last year. As a “strategic supplier”, Serco’s contracts include running prisons, Royal Navy tugs and the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Labour’s Richard Burgon has written to justice secretary David Gauke to express concern over the appointment of a new  junior minister who previously worked for the outsourcing giant Serco – which is under criminal investigation for overcharging Gauke’s own department. 

In 2013 Serco agreed to pay £68.5 million for overcharging the Ministry of Justice. There were allegations that the government had been billed for the electronic monitoring of people who were still in jail, were not tagged anymore, or were even, in a few cases, dead. Serco also had to pay back £2 million over claims of fraud concerning its prisoner transfer contract. In May 2014 a Survation poll for campaign group We Own It, found that 63% of respondents thought Serco should be banned from bidding for any new public contracts after the firm was investigated for overcharging on government contracts.

Despite the ongoing criminal investigation, it’s rather worrying that Serco continues running one of its most lucrative operations after it was announced in 2016 that the struggling government contractor was to retain its role in the manufacture and maintenance of the warheads for Britain’s Trident ­nuclear deterrent, and in the storage of UK atomic waste, especially given claims that the company has “mishandled” the disposal of nuclear waste. 

After months of contractual wrangling in which investors had feared that Serco and its joint venture partners would lose the work, the Ministry of Defence announced that it is keeping the contract to run the Atomic Weapons Establishment, based at Aldermaston, other sites in Berkshire and at Coulport in Scotland.

It was revealed in the Paradise Papers that Appleby, an offshore law firm, regarded Serco, who run “sensitive” government services in Australia and the UK, as a “high-risk” client, expressing concern about its “history of problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”. The company had also presented false data to the NHS  at least 252 times, was accused of fraudulent record keeping and had allegedly manipulated results when it failed to meet targets, Appleby’s compliance team warned. 

In health services, Serco’s ‘difficulties’ include the poor handling of pathology labs and fatal errors in patient records. At St Thomas’ Hospital, the increase in the number of clinical incidents arising from Serco non-clinical management has resulted in patients receiving incorrect and infected blood, as well as patients suffering kidney damage due to Serco providing incorrect data used for medical calculations. A Serco employee revealed that the company had disgracefully falsified 252 reports to the National Health Service regarding Serco health services in Cornwall. 

On 24 October 2017, it was reported that Serco was preparing to buy healthcare contracts from facilities management business Carillion. The deal included 15 contracts, with annual revenues of approximately £90m, for which Serco would pay £47.7m, with Carillion losing £1bn from the value of its order book. 

Chief among the law firm Appleby’s concerns about Serco were the  numerous allegations of fraud, the cover-up of the abuse of detainees, and the “mishandling” of radioactive waste in the UK.

Serco say: “Within the UK and Europe we work across public service sectors in Justice, Immigration, Healthcare, Defence, Transport and Citizen Services. From providing critical air navigation services for our aviation customers to pursuing innovative approaches to reduce reoffending in our prisons, we seek to transform the experience of our services users”. The company have a finger in many lies.

Edward Argar, Conservative MP for Charnwood, has replaced Phillip Lee at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) following Lee’s resignation last week over the way Theresa May is delivering Brexit. He is ex-head of UK and Europe Public Affairs at Serco, working there until nine months before he was elected as MP for Charnwood in 2015.

Argar was previously head of UK and Europe public affairs at Serco, which has a number of prisons contracts and previously ran Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, in County Durham, prior to its closure in 2014.  Serco runs  a total of five private prisons on behalf of the MoJ – Doncaster, Ashfield, Dovegate, Lowdham Grange and Thameside. Doncaster was criticised by inspectors in 2016 who found vermin infestations and “overwhelmed” staff.

In September 2013, Serco was accused of extensive sexual abuse cover ups of immigrants at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre prison in Bedfordshire. In August 2014, Serco, along with G4S, was criticised for using immigrant detainees as cheap labour, with some being paid as little as £1 per hour. 

The decision to give the company a new £70 million eight-year contract to run Yarl’s Wood has been criticised. Natasha Walter, of Women for Refugee Women, said “Serco is clearly unfit to manage a centre where vulnerable women are held and it is unacceptable the government continues to entrust Serco with the safety of women who are survivors of sexual violence.”

In January this year, a damning report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee described the programme – by this point five years late and £60 million over budget – as “a catastrophic waste of public money which has failed to deliver the intended benefits.”

Argar’s new role will include overseeing the establishment of proposed “secure schools” as part of efforts to place a greater focus on the education and rehabilitation of young offenders.

Argar’s voting record reveal a staunch and mean neoliberal, who believes, unsurprisingly, that the government should make the asylum system more ‘strict’ and should be ‘tough’ on illegal immigration. He strongly supports academy schools, austerity; welfare cuts, including the bedroom tax; mass surveilance and of course, increases in the tax-free allowance. He supports the replacement of Trident 100%, too, which is also unsurprising, given Serco’s role in the nuclear industry. He’s not so keen on equality and human rights legislation, however.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has quite rightly asked whether Argar will be dealing with any contracts related to his former employer as part of his work. 

The letter, sent on 15 June by shadow justice secretary, Burgon, says: “It is essential that government ministers can command public confidence that they are capable of holding such companies [as Serco] to account.”

It goes on to ask whether “Mr Argar will be involved in any way in liaising on behalf of the Ministry of Justice with the Serious Fraud Office about the ongoing investigation” or “dealing with any of the ministry’s contracts with Serco in his new ministerial capacity”.

The campaign group Transparency International has said that the government should have “mechanisms” in place to avoid the possibility or perception of any firm ‘gaining an advantage.’

Research manager Steve Goodrich said: “When appointing new Ministers it’s imperative that all real or potential conflicts of interest are fully scrutinised and addressed, and mechanisms are in place to avoid any decisions made in the interest of previous employers.

“Failing to do so can lead to the perception or reality that a Ministers may seek to put private interests first at the public’s expense.”

An MOJ source stressed: “There is no conflict of interest simply because someone has worked for a particular employer earlier in their career.

 “The Government benefits by having Ministers with a breadth of previous experience.”

And big business benefits by having Ministers in government with a breadth of big business experience, who vote on issues that affect and promote big business interests.

The Ministry of Justice has declined to comment further, when asked if any  mechanisms of transparency and accountability would be put in place, but said that Argar had been appointed “in line with normal procedures and rules.”

You can’t help but wonder just how many catastrophic failures it will take to demonstrate conclusively to an ideologically paralysed government that in reality, existing public services markets are a far cry from the paradigm of ‘competitive efficiencies’ in perfect markets.  Serco alone has perpetrated more scandals than a public agency would have ever survived. Yet this government has rolled over hundreds of major outsourcing contracts in 2017 without review, many of them 10 years long, because of the current Brexit workload. 

Within the neoliberal idiom of public services, there is clearly a fundamental inability to consider collective public interests because of the private profit motive. 

You also have to wonder what part of this idiom constitutes “sound public finance.” Yet despite the clear wake of crises thrown up by a fatally flawed outsourcing model, the government stumble on dogmatically, hiding their own ideological reach behind a privatised wall that completely blocks out transparency and democratic accountability.  

The companies profit, while all of the risks of privatisation are carried by citizens using the diminished, ‘streamlined’, ‘efficient’ facade services. Meanwhile, democratic transparency and accountability is denied; due to the ‘commercial sensitivity’ of private companies, they cannot be held to account by public appeals to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOI), debarring openness and transparency – the essential foundations for democratic decision making. 

Here is Richard Burgon’s letter in full:

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing about the appointment of Edward Argar MP yesterday as a Justice Minister following the resignation of Dr Phillip Lee earlier this week.

Press reports today state that Mr Argar was formerly Head of Public Affairs in the UK and Europe for Serco, the outsourcing giant. A Serco spokesperson confirmed to the media that Mr Argar was employed there for over three years until August 2014.

As you know, Serco plays a significant role in our justice system, including by running five private prisons and in transporting 24,000 prisoners per month to court through the Prison Escort Contract.

The role of the private sector in our justice system is increasingly contentious given the widespread performance failings, for example in the probation service and in detention centres for young people such as Oakhill.

Serco itself has a controversial record in our justice system. It is currently under criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging in an offender tagging contract. In 2013 it was forced to repay £68.5m to the Ministry of Justice after having charged for tagging offenders, some of whom had died or were back in prison. In addition, Serco previously had to repay £2m to the Ministry of Justice after being found to have falsely recorded prisoners as having been delivered to court on time.

It is essential that government ministers can command public confidence that they are capable of holding such companies to account, that the interests of the public, and not the profits of the corporations, are being put first and that there is no perceived conflict of interest.

Given this could you confirm whether Mr Argar will be involved in any way in liaising on behalf of the Ministry of Justice with the Serious Fraud Office about the ongoing investigation or will be dealing with any of the Ministry’s contracts with Serco in his new ministerial capacity?

Yours

Richard Burgon MP

As I’ve said elsewhere, in the UK market economy, everything is for sale, with the very wealthiest people finding considerable discounts on moral obligations and behavioural ethicality. It’s become very easy to lose track of why some things simply shouldn’t be. The Conservative’s privatisation programme has proved to be a theme park for economic crime and party profit; firms and politicians collude to ensure we have the ‘best’ system that money can buy.  It’s a system, however, that is incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.

We hear a lot from the new right fundamentalists about how the market place extends ‘liberty’, but there is little discussion about the fundamental imbalance built into the system that has systematically disempowered many others who can’t afford to pay for their liberty. Or their legal fees and penalties. The market place is not neutral. It’s a place where class discrimination is rampant, traditional power relations are fortified and morally constrained behaviour is only ascribed to and required from the poorest citizens. All of this has profound implications for democracy. 

‘Public choice’ economics has shaped the neoliberal reforms to the civil service and public institutions, resulting in the slippery sloped internal market in the NHS, the dismantling of the welfare state and outsourcing of many other state functions, student fees in higher education, the destruction of social housing, legal aid provision and the deregulation, bonfire-of-the-red-tape approach of the pro-market regulatory agencies of many other areas of public life, including the financial sector.

The wake of scandals to date, in which large corporations more generally, politicians, and bureaucrats have engaged in criminal activity in order to profit personally, facilitate mergers and block competition; in which officials accept private payments to facilitate private interests, and for public services rendered, demonstrates only too well the extent to which corruption is driven by the very economic and political reforms that are claimed to decrease it. 

 

Related

Neoliberalism and corruption: hidden in plain sight

 


 

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Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

Lord Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Three former Conservative Cabinet ministers have been secretly filmed and exposed trying to sell information on Britain’s exit from the European Union. The former cabinet ministers have denied any wrongdoing despite being caught on camera offering to receive money in exchange for advising a fictitious Chinese company. 

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley, and Andrew Mitchell were caught trying to profit from providing “intelligence” on Brexit negotiations to a Chinese companyaccording to a joint investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

The Sunday Times was tipped off by sources within Whitehall that Brexit had triggered a “lobbying frenzy,” as businesses are eager to get information about the negotiations. Undercover reporters then invited a number of former ministers to interviews for a job on the advisory board of ‘Tianfen’, a fake Chinese company.

Lansley, who served as health secretary when David Cameron was prime minister, was filmed being offered tens of thousands of pounds for information and “intelligence” on Brexit. He also said the deal could be kept secret from authorities if he was employed through his wife’s PR company, Low Europe, to avoid scrutiny.

He said: “If you have a contract with Low then basically I come with Low. So if you had a contract separately with me it would have to appear separately on the transparency register as a contract with you. But if it’s with Low then its covered by the Low contract.” 

Low says it’s core strategy “is to attract business primarily from clients who have pan-national projects in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.” Lansley is employed by the company, which has recently moved from the UK to Brussels.

On their site, Low say of Lansley: “He has extensive experience of managing reputational issues by communicating through the media; a wide knowledge of how the media works; and a large network of media contacts at the most senior levels.” However, he was clearly complacent regarding the risk of exposure via investigative journalists. 

Peter Lilley, who was the Tory party’s deputy leader between 1998 and 1999, also expressed interest in approaching key ministers for Tianfen. He told the undercover reporters that he sits on two advisory groups with influence over the Brexit process.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who was the international development secretary in Cameron’s government, was willing to give paid advice to the company for £6,000 a day and said he would work up to 10 weeks a year. The Times reported he already gets paid nearly £75,000 for his job as an MP. “My constituents don’t mind what I’m paid,” he said while being filmed.

Lansley said he was already making €5,000 a day (around £4384) by giving Brexit advice to his pharmaceutical clients. He spoke about his connections at the top of government, such as Prime Minister Theresa May and Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.

However, he appeared to draw the line at lobbying the Government directly, saying conversations had to “follow the rules”. However,  he did offer introductions to senior Brexit figures.

Lansley said in a statement that he always kept his outside interests separate to his Lord’s duties. 

Lilley revealed his “good relationships” with Liam Fox and David Davis, and said he was happy to have chats with them on behalf of Tianfen. Last week, he denied being asked or agreeing to have private conversations with any ministers on behalf of Tianfen, and any suggestion the company would get insider information was “wholly misplaced.”

Mitchell said he could advise the owner of the company on Brexit, by drawing on his business experience and inner knowledge of government. He said last week that all of his outside interests were fully declared on the Commons register.

In total, the Times has discovered that more than 20 politicians are making money out of Brexit.

The Channel 4 documentary was initially pulled from transmission last week amid a string of complaints from the three men, prompting an emergency review involving Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, and the director of television, Ian Katz.

Lilley accused Channel 4 of a “tawdry attempt at entrapment” and insisted he had done nothing wrong. Mitchell said he was “totally innocent” and suggested that he had launched his own investigation and alerted MI5 after suspecting the approach was fake.

The final decision to delay transmission, by Channel 4 and the Sunday Times, had been taken because of warnings about the potential impact of airing the programme on the health of Lansley, who is currently being treated for cancer.

However, by this time, the former ministers had also briefed their version of events to  the Mail on Sunday last week. That front page account outlined how the three former ministers were asked to come to the Mayfair property and were greeted by a woman named Fei Liu, who claimed she represented “Chinese millionaires.”

Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the committee on standards in public life, said the behaviour displayed in the footage was unacceptable. “To take advantage of this difficult time and confusion to make extra money doesn’t demonstrate a great deal of concern for the public interest,” he said.

The first of the Nolan principles of public life is that “holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest” and the second is that “holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.”

Lansley has said: “I made it clear in these meetings, which took place while I was undergoing cancer treatment, that I would apply the terms of the House of Lords code in any business relationship; and that this would be written into any contract that I entered into.

“No privileged access, insider information, lobbying activity, parliamentary advice or services were offered,” he claimed.

The code of conduct for MPs clearly states that “information which members receive in confidence in the course of their parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties. Such information must never be used for the purpose of financial gain”.

However, Lilley insists that he was not referring to any confidential information – and does not possess any. “That I am a member of groups with experts who express views on Brexit was relevant only to show that I am engaging in the many ways that Brexit can benefit Britain,” he told Channel 4.

He insisted: “I have not undertaken any venture which would involve me breaking the codes of conduct referenced nor the Nolan principles. I repeatedly made it crystal clear I would not use confidential information. I possess no such information. If I did I wouldn’t make it available to anyone.”

A Channel 4 spokesman said: This investigation raises important questions about transparency and accountability in public life. We are continuing to work on the film [Politicians for hire: cashing in on Brexit], which will be broadcast soon.”

Meanwhile, outraged Peter Lilley has referred Channel 4 to Ofcom, making a lengthy complaint about the planned Dispatches documentary, which you can read here.


Related 

A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves

 


 

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Prologue to the Chilcot Report

 

“The children of Iraq have names.
Their names are not collateral damage.”

David Krieger, peace wager, founder and president of The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“I saw things that I won’t forget for as long as I live… When you hear people shouting the words ‘gas’ or ‘chemicals’ — and you hear those shouts spreading among the people — that is when terror begins to take hold, especially among the children and the women. Your loved ones, your friends, you see them walking and then falling like leaves to the ground. It is a situation that cannot be described — birds began falling from their nests; then other animals, then humans. It was total annihilation. Whoever was able to walk out of the town, left on foot. Whoever had a car, left by car. But whoever had too many children to carry on their shoulders, they stayed in the town and succumbed to the gas.”

Kherwan. From: Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal.

“It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”

Photo journalist Kaveh Golestan, describing the Halabja Massacre, a chemical weapon attack on Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, which was part of the Iraqi Al-Anfal Genocide Campaign.

All lives are equally precious. 

Many good writers have added their own footnotes to the Chilcot report. However, there is a broader context to the war in Iraq, which has been edited from the mainstream narrative. There doesn’t seem to be anyone writing about that context. In fact that’s been purged from the conversation. I don’t like to see issues reduced to political opportunism and party politics, but that has happened, too. 

“Lamp post or bonfire for Mr Blair.” Gosh, we get to choose.

But the mainstream column of truth has more than one hole in it. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a temporary solace, a curious savage satisfaction and a kind of sublimation value to be had in simply hating Blair. I’ve done it. But it’s rather like trying to put an ocean onto a teaspoon in the long run. Besides, whilst I know emotions are a fundamental part of being human, and as such are important, I also value rational discourse, too. There’s so much more to be said on this, regarding the historic political expedience of successive western governments, which has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences beyond the Iraq invasion. That must not be excluded from mainstream conversation. The UK government also played a part in arming a brutal dictator with chemical weapons, which resulted in atrocities and genocide.

For the record, I protested against the Iraq war. I didn’t like Tony Blair because he betrayed the working-class, he was an advocate of neoliberalism. I didn’t like his anti-terrorism laws or his anti-social behaviour legislation, which were repressive and symptomatic of a horrible “lowest common denominator” type of populism creeping into public policy. But I nonetheless valued some of his social policy programme, most of which the current government are so busy trying to repeal. That’s a clear indication that at least most of his social policies were not ideologically Conservative, even if his economic approach was, albeit a diluted version.

The Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, the Worker’s Rights and Union laws, the Every Child Matters Policy (repealed the day after the Tories took office in 2010 by Michael Gove), animal welfare legislation and the Gender Recognition Act, repeal of Section 28, were all examples of very good public policies. Saying that does not make me  a “Blairite.” It simply makes me someone who looks critically at policy with a balanced and evidence-based approach. Everyone knows what Blair did wrong, few are prepared to recognise nowadays what he actually got right.

All of this said, as an ideological experiment, New Labour’s dabble with neoliberalism has had profoundly damaging consequences for the Labour Movement, and the Left more generally. It resulted in widespread disillusionment, a sense of working-class disenfranchisement and alienation, factionism, infighting and disunity. But much of this, curiously, only became clearly evident from 2010 onwards, when a much harsher neoliberal government gained Office, imposing a strict and devastating austerity programme and an unprecedented authoritarianism on the UK. 

So, the man who worked with Mo Mowlem, sitting down with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to broker peace with the Good Friday Agreement, is now regarded only as a “warmonger.”

Meanwhile I’m utterly bewildered, watching on as Jeremy Corbyn, a staunchly anti-neoliberal leader and the thoroughly decent bloke that I voted for, is being hung by the Bolsheviks, on orders from the Mensheviks. No-one is ever good enough to lead the Labour Party, apparently. It beggars belief and shows a fairly widespread lack of joined-up thinking. At the very least, it shows how rubbish the Left are at organisation, strategic thinking and tactical voting, from grassroots level upwards. We really need to learn. Because a class-war waging authoritarian government imposing such an unforgiving ideological brand of Conservative neoliberalism and desolating austerity can never be better than a Labour government, be it under the leadership of Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn.

I digress. 

Some history

In 2003, most of the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives voted to send British troops into military action in Iraq, the Conservative votes carried the motion that authorised the Iraq conflict, since 140 Labour MPs rebelled against their party’s whip. Robin Cook resigned and there was a memorable backbench rebellion. Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to Cook yesterday in parliament, and said that he had: “said in a few hundred words what has been confirmed by this [Chilcot] report in more than two million.” All of the Liberal Democrats voted against military action, too. Let’s not forget the then Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who was also an implacable opponent of the Iraq war, despicably demonised by the mainstream media. He’s officially vindicated by the Chilcot Report, like Cook and others. The Tory whip, John Randall, also resigned over his party’s stance on Iraq. Throughout the conflict, Blair remained the strongest supporter of the United States plan to invade Iraq, though originally seeking a UN Mandate. 

Parliament gave Blair the go-ahead for the Iraq war. It highlights a big problem with democracy: we didn’t vote for that. In the end, despite a total of seven resignations from the government, and three from the Tory shadow cabinet, the Iraq war happened. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Iain Duncan Smith had led Conservative MPs in demanding a rush to war from 2002, too. 

Before the invasion, the (then) UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, advised Blair that the war would be in breach of international law for six reasons, ranging from the lack of a second United Nations resolution to UN inspector Hans Blix’s continuing search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Ten days later on 7 March 2003, as UK troops were massing in Kuwait, Lord Goldsmith changed his mind, saying:

“I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force … Nevertheless, having regard to the information on the negotiating history which I have been given and to the arguments of the US Administration which I heard in Washington, I accept that a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution.”

He concluded his revised analysis, saying that “regime change cannot be the objective of military action.”

From John Major’s Commons Statement on the first Gulf War – 17th January 1991: Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) In view of the precipitate abandonment of sanctions and the onslaught of this bloody conflict, will the Government learn some lessons? For example, the arms and ammunition used against our service men will have been sold to Iraq by western nations. Indeed, components for the manufacture of arms have been sold from this nation. Will the Government make serious efforts to develop an arms embargo to curtail the wretched trade in arms throughout the rest of the world and make sure that the opportunity for conflicts such as this is limited? Or do the Government intend to put profit before peace?

It emerged that during the first Gulf War, “friendly fire” killed more British troops than the Iraqis did – of 16 British soldiers who died, nine were killed by Americans. Of 148 Americans who died, 35 were killed by friendly fire. Iraqi deaths were estimated at 50,000, with 100,000 wounded.

Some more history: when our friend Saddam was gassing Kurdish people.

Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 with the support of the Arab states, the UK, United States, and Europe. Many viewed Iraq as “an agent of the civilized world.” So they said. The blatant disregard of international law and violations of international borders were completely ignored,  Iraq received economic and military support from its allies, who turned a blind eye to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurds and the Iranians, and to Iraq’s efforts to develop a nuclear programme. The United States provided diplomatic and military aid, financial aid and also supplied Iraq with “satellite photos showing Iranian deployments.

The US had opened full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated: “No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis’] continued involvement in terrorism… The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran, because the West, Russia and China feared the potential expansion of revolutionary Iran’s influence in the region.” 

The biological weapons programme

During the early 1980s, five German firms supplied equipment to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin to Iraq. Strains of “dual-use ” biological agents and material from France also helped advance Iraq’s biological warfare programme. From the United States, in addition to exporting the advanced computers, some of which were used to develop Iraq’s nuclear programme, American Type Culture Collection – a non-profit organisation, and the Centers for Disease Control sold or sent biological samples to Iraq up until 1989, which Iraq claimed to need for medical research.

These materials included botulism, anthrax and West Nile virus, camel pox, rotavirus, Brucella melitensis, and Clostridium perfringens (gas gangrene). Some of these were used for vaccine development, whilst others were used in Iraq’s bioweapons research programme. Details of the bioweapon programme surfaced only in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91)

During UN inspections in 1998, it was evident that Hussein had overseen prisoners tied to stakes and bombarded with anthrax and chemical weapons for experimental purposes. These experiments began in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War, after initial experiments had been carried out on sheep and camels. Dozens of prisoners are believed to have died in terrible agony during the programme. According to an article in the London Sunday Times:

“In one incident, Iranian prisoners of war are said to have been tied up and killed by bacteria from a shell detonated nearby. Others were exposed to an aerosol of anthrax sprayed into a chamber while doctors watched behind a glass screen. Two British-trained scientists have been identified as leading figures in the programme …”

The deployment of chemical weapons

On 16 March 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with chemical weapons, using a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, 5,000 civilians were massacred, 10,000 more were maimed, disfigured or seriously debilitated. Thousands more died from the after effects of the attack. The massacre was part of the Al-Anfal Campaign – a genocide programme designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of rural northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. Hussein’s goals were to systematically terrorize and exterminate the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, to silence Hussein’s critics, and to test the effectiveness of his chemical and biological weapons.

Hussein launched chemical attacks against 40 Kurdish villages and on thousands of innocent civilians in 1987-88. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, but Hussein’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attacks. Apparently, the US supported this account of events, changing the story several years later. The Al-Anfal genocide campaign also targeted Assyrians, Turkoman people, Shabaks and Yazidis people and Mandeans, many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also completely destroyed. Human Rights Watch estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed. Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating that some 182,000 Kurds were killed in total.

Iraqi Kurds have been especially critical of the UK, given its support and arms shipments to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. The extent to which Margaret Thatcher’s government was responsible for arming Iraq was revealed in 2011, when secret government files from 1981 were made public. The documents show Thatcher’s approval of large military contracts with Iraq and indicate her turning a blind eye to ongoing private sales of allegedly “non-lethal” military equipment. According to the documents, she sought to “exploit Iraq’s potentialities as a promising market for the sale of defence equipment.”  So the “free-markets” of the West aren’t morally discerning at all. Nor are those promoting them. Whilst the world turned a blind eye, many thousands died as a direct consequence. 

John Major’s government faced an ongoing inquiry into how ministers such as Alan Clark had encouraged businesses to supply arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in breach of the official UN arms embargo, and how senior ministers had, on legal advice, attempted to withhold evidence of this official connivance when directors of Matrix Churchill were put on trial for breaking the embargo. It’s funny, the things we forget when someone else is drawing all the fire. Despite the interview with John Pilger, and the Scott Inquiry.

The Iraq Arms scandal period coincided roughly with the 8 years of war between Iraq and Iran, when Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. The revelations prompted the Scott Inquiry, set up in 1992 after the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial, which reported in 1996. Four directors of Matrix Churchill, a British machine tools manufacturer in Coventry, were put on trial for supplying “equipment and knowledge” to Iraq, but in 1992 the trial collapsed when it became clear that the company had been advised by senior government ministers and officials on how best to circumvent its own arms embargo. Much of both the report itself and the Inquiry’s evidence remain classified.

Sir Richard Scott’s three-year inquiry led him to conclude that the government had secretly “eased” UN and its own guidelines on arms sales to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The British Cabinet had set up a secret sub-committee to oversee the project, with both the Home Office (MI5) and MI6 ordered to support the illegal exports. Michael Heseltine, Willie Whitelaw, Francis Pym, Geoffrey Howe and the then PM Thatcher gave the project government approval. During the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial, ex-Minister Alan Clark said “The interests of the West were best served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, and the longer the better.”

It is inconceivable that Major, as Foreign Secretary in 1989, could have been unaware of the Matrix Churchill export to Iraq. The affair caused a major scandal which contributed to growing dissatisfaction with the then Conservative government of John Major and somewhat ironically contributed to the victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour at the 1997 general election.

By the end of the 1980s, Baghdad had acquired a massive arsenal – enabling it to fight against Iran and launch offensive operations such as Al-Anfal. 

In 1990, a case of nuclear triggers bound for Iraq were seized at Heathrow Airport. The British government also financed a chlorine factory that was intended to be used for manufacturing mustard gas. A chemical plant which the United States said was a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985. Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14m plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production. 

Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was quite properly pressing for controls on such types of exports. He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public.

The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a “strong plea” from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world if news got out: “I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover”.

The Ministry of Defence also warned that it could be used to make chemical weapons. But Mr Channon, in support of Mrs Thatcher’s policy of supporting the dictator, said: “A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good.”

Saddam Hussein was internationally condemned for his use of chemical weapons during the 1980s against Iranian and Kurdish civilians during and after the Iran–Iraq War. In the 1980s, he pursued an extensive biological weapons programme and a nuclear weapons programme, though as far as we know, no nuclear bombs were built.

However, the United States and the UK blocked condemnation of Iraq’s known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticised Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. On March 21, 1986 the United Nations Security Council recognized that “chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces.” This statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained). The UN confirmed that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after dispatching a team of specialists to the area in 1984, and again in 1986 and 1987, to verify the claims of the use.

By 2002, according to reports from the previous UN inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq produced 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin, and nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, that remained unaccounted for. UN weapons inspectors, the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany and other countries thought that this declaration failed to account for all of Iraq’s chemical and biological agents. Many of these countries had supplied the Iraqi regime with the technology to make the weapons in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War. However, there was no evidence of Iraq having built any nuclear weapons.

Oil on troubled slaughter

Declassified UK government documents indicate that the Iraq war was also about oil. At the time that the UK invaded, Iraq had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves – and government documents clearly state that oil was a consideration before the war. In May 2003, a Foreign Office strategy paper highlighted  government motives which related to Iraq’s oil resources:

“The future shape of the Iraqi industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of Opec, in both of which we have a vital interest.”

and:

“… an oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields.”

Bush administration officials quite openly considered proposals that the United States tap Iraq’s oil to help pay for a military occupation. Such a move, however, fueled existing suspicion of US motives in Iraq. Officially, the White House agreed that oil revenue would play an important role during an occupation period, but only for the benefit of Iraqis, according to a National Security Council spokesman. 

But there were strong advocates inside the administration, including in the White House, for appropriating the oil funds as “spoils of war,” according to a source who has been briefed by participants in the talks. “There are people in the White House who take the position that it’s all the spoils of war,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “We (the United States) take all the oil money until there is a new democratic government.” The source said the Justice Department had doubts about the legality of such a move.

Days after the US invasion, the (then) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a congressional panel that Iraqi oil revenues would help pay for reconstructing the country, ie a cost of the war. “The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon,” he said.

One month before the war, the White House press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, said Iraq “is a rather wealthy country … And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.”

Britain co-sponsored a resolution in the Security Council which gave the US and UK control over Iraq’s oil revenues. Far from “all oil revenues” being used for the Iraqi people, Resolution 1483 continued to make deductions from Iraq’s oil earnings to pay compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

David Whyte and Greg Muttitt have pointed out that:Buried in deep in volume 9 of the 2.6 million-word report, Chilcot refers to government documents that explicitly state the oil objective, and outlining how Britain pursued that objective throughout the occupation. But he does not consider this evidence in his analysis or conclusions. Oil considerations do not even appear in the report’s 150-page summary.

To many people around the world, it was obvious that oil was a central issue, as Iraq itself had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves, and together with its neighbouring countries nearly two thirds. There was a clear public interest in understanding how that affected UK decisions. Chilcot failed to explore it.

Section 10.3 of the report, in volume 9, records that senior government officials met secretly with BP and Shell on at several occasions (denied at the time) to discuss their commercial interests in obtaining contracts. Chilcot did not release the minutes, but we had obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act: they are posted here. In unusually expressive terms for a civil service write-up, one of the meeting’s minutes began, “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there” (emphasis in original).

That same section 10.3 refers to numerous documents revealing the UK’s evolving actions to shape the structure of the Iraqi oil industry, throughout the occupation until 2009. The government did so in close coordination with BP and Shell. This full story was told in Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq.

Despite US and UK denial that oil was a war aim, American troops were detailed to secure oil facilities as they fought their way to Baghdad in 2003. And while former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld shrugged off the orgy of looting after the fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, the Oil Ministry – alone of all the seats of power in the Iraqi capital – was under American guard.

Chilcot does include references to several pre-war documents that identify a British objective to use Iraqi oil to boost Britain’s own energy supplies. For example, a February 2002 Cabinet Office paper stated that the UK’s Iraq policy falls “within our objectives of preserving peace and stability in the Gulf and ensuring energy security”. But the Foreign Office strategy paper in May 2003, which Chilcot omitted, was even more explicit.

Chilcot also acknowledges that the British government was angling to ensure British oil firms could exploit the UK’s involvement in the war. Chilcot’s documentation confirms, for example, that the US and UK worked together to privatise Iraqi oil production and guarantee a takeover from foreign companies.

“By 2010 we will need [a further] 50 million barrels a day. The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies”

Dick Cheney; US Vice-President, 1999

Operation Avarice

In 2005, the CIA collaborated with the Army Intelligence Corps, contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had possession and knowledge of all the legacy chemical WMD stockpiles and munitions in Iraq. The Operation was classified, most of the armed forces knew nothing about it. Chemical specialists and ordnance disposal units were assigned to the task of destroying and disposing of the recovered WMDs. It’s unknown who the individual is, or how the weapons had come into his/herpossession. Nonetheless, the person cooperated with US intelligence and sold all of the chemical WMDs to the units heading Operation Avarice. As a result, the CIA and army intelligence acquired over 400 rockets, missiles, and other chemical weapons in varying states of operational viability.

At one point, 150 separate rockets containing chemical agents were traded. Chemical experts then destroyed the weapons. Some of the weapons analysed had a concentration of nerve agents much higher than military intelligence had expected Iraq held the capabilities to develop, with the highest “agent purity of up to 25 percent for recovered unitary sarin weapons”, which was considered highly lethal.

The mission resulted in the largest recovery of chemical weapons during the Iraq war. It was confirmed that these weapons were remnants of the Iraqi weapons programme first developed during the Iran-Iraq war and also confirmed that the Hussein government had failed to dismantle and dispose WMDs in its possession. The collaboration between US military intelligence and the unnamed Iraqi proprietor resulted in minimal attacks on US military and coalition personnel or Iraqi citizenry from WMDs on a scale seen during the Iran-Iraq war, although small-scale attacks still occurred. Operation Avarice did succeed, however, in keeping the weapons off the black market.

Conclusions

The West, including the UK, had supplied Iraq with the components for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Prior to Blair taking office, there was the Scott Inquiry and a wake of revelations and scandals from the Thatcher administration regarding the supply of components for the assembly of WMDs (biological and chemical weapons are also classified as WMDs). Had that not been the case, there may well have been a little more clarity about Iraq’s arsenal and capabilities in 2003. Either way, I would never endorse the war. However, it is still worth considering that the UK-funded Falluja 2 featured in Colin Powell’s dossier of reasons why the world should go to war against Iraq, which was presented to the UN security council. 

Spy satellite pictures of Falluja 2, identifying it as a chemical weapons site, were previously published by the CIA, and a report by Britain’s joint intelligence committee, published with Tony Blair’s imprimatur, also focused on Falluja 2 as a rebuilt plant “formerly associated with the chemical warfare programme.” Blair also knew that we (the UK, along with the US and other countries) had sold Iraq the components for building WMDs previously, under the Thatcher/Reagan administrations. 

UN weapons inspectors toured the Falluja 2 plant in 2002 and Hans Blix, the chief inspector, reported to the security council that the chemical equipment there might have to be destroyed.

Thatcher’s government covertly supplied Iraq with armsfrom spare tank parts, terrain-following radar and Hawk fighter jets to military air and naval bases, all sold from the UK to Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime. 

“Contracts worth over £150m have been concluded [with Iraq] in the last six months including one for £34m (for armoured recovery vehicles through Jordan)” wrote Thomas Trenchard, a junior minister, in a secret letter to Mrs Thatcher in March 1981.

The letter also says that a meeting with Saddam Hussein “represent a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which … should produce both political and major commercial benefits”.

Mrs Thatcher wrote by hand at the top of the letter that she was “very pleased” by the progress being made.

Throughout her premiership Mrs Thatcher took a key role in securing deals for British defence companies, calling her efforts “battling for Britain”. Partly thanks to “free marketeering” efforts, the UK climbed from being the fifth to the second-largest supplier of military equipment over the decade. The terrible escalating logic of neoliberalism just sweeps humane, ethical and rational considerations triumphantly out of its way as it advances.

On record is the mercenary and duplicitous Thatcher’s greatest defence coup over the decade, which was the Al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia in 1985 and 1988, one of the largest arms deals in history worth about £40bn to British Aerospace and other British companies. The push to sell arms in Iraq, encouraged by the privatisation of British Aerospace in 1981, in the end caused serious embarrassment when, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Britain then found itself at war with the country they had been selling weapons to just a few months earlier. Such are the risks of unregulated “market forces”, and unfettered free-trade.

As mentioned, another consequence was the Scott Report, published in 1996, which gave a very damming assessment of the Conservative government’s role in selling arms to the Middle East through the 1980s. The released report also shows that some in the government were concerned about Mrs Thatcher’s “aggressive arms sales policy.”

Monstrous free-marketeering. 

One prime ministerial brief in January 1981 warned that “if we expose ourselves to serious accusations of breach of neutrality obligation [in Iraq] or deviousness our efforts could backfire”.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait almost certainly never would have happened without the US and the UK’s support for Iraq during the eighties. And even once it had happened, it could have been reversed without war.

Blair’s actions in initiating an unwarranted, unwanted and unforgivable war are the very tip of a very big shitberg, most of which is submerged in the murky waters of public amnesia, selective focus and party political opportunism. The war prior to that was even more unforgivable. If Blair lied or misled parliament, it can’t ever, nonetheless, touch the utterly monstrous Machiavellianism and psychopathy of his political predecessors. That doesn’t excuse what Blair did, but it would be disingenuous to disregard the broader context and history of successive government’s iniquity that led to the Iraq wars. The UK’s previous involvement in selling arms to a despot has had horrific consequences, most of which are being obscured simply because of a media and public unwillingness to recognise them. 

Most of the many thousands of Kurds that were massacred by Saddam Hussein were women and children. The UK is partly responsible for the Al-Anfal genocide. Not because of Blair’s actions, but because of Thatcher’s.

The first Gulf War probably would never have happened had Saddam Hussein not been armed by the West. It would have been very difficult to justify had Hussein not invaded Kuwait. On the balance of probabilities, nor would the second war, though oil was a significant motivating factor for the Iraq invasion, it would have been much more difficult to justify without reference to Hussein’s previous use of WMDs , which the West had provided illegally in the 80s. That permitted speculation and suspicion that some of those weapons still existed after the Gulf War to be used as a justification. 

We can’t make complete sense of events and learn anything of value if we only take a partial and ahistoric view, because the meaningful context in which events are situated matters a lot, too. Our collective short-sightedness has had terrible and ongoing consequences. 

Kurdish civilians and children matter just as much as Iraqi civilians and children. It would be without heart, hypocritical, compassionless, incoherent and unconscientious of us not to acknowledge that. 

Related

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Margaret Thatcher and Iraq

How £1bn was lost when Thatcher propped up Saddam

CIA Report: Prewar Movement of WMD Material Out of Iraq

CIA: Biological Warfare. Annex B (2004)

Excerpts from “The Death Lobby. How the West Armed Iraq”

Britain’s dirty secret

Iraqi bio-scientist breaks silence

The real motive for the Iraq war is buried under the 2.6 million words of the Chilcot report

 

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Transparency International slams Cameron on corruption: “UK must get its own house in order”

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Image courtesy of Steve Bell

In 2014, I wrote a lengthy article called A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves, and in it, I discussed the many facets of Conservative corruption. I also highlighted that Transparency International have flagged up many areas of concern in their report: A mid-term assessment of the UK Coalition Government’s record on tackling corruption.

Here is a list of the main causes for concern from 2014, many of which we have reported also:

  • There is no coordinated strategy or action plan to combat corruption in the UK. Data on corruption are not currently collected or are subsumed with other data such as fraud.
  • There is no strategic plan or clear channels of accountability; this is symptomatic of the lack of coordination surrounding Whitehall’s anti-corruption efforts.
  • Resources available to the institutions responsible for fighting corruption have been significantly reduced by the Government. Notably, the Serious Fraud Office’s budget has been cut from £51 million in 2008-9 to £33m in 2012-13. Its budget is expected to fall further to £29m by 2014-15.
  • The Government is seeking to amend the Freedom of Information Act to make it easier for authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds.
  • This Government is threatening to reduce the access of civil society and others to use judicial review mechanisms.
  • Legal Aid is being cut extensively, this is likely to deny access to justice to individuals and groups who are victims of corruption.
  • The Government’s Localism Act abolished the Audit Commission, which in addition to overseeing and commissioning audit for local government and other bodies like the NHS, had statutory functions for investigating financial management and value for money. There was insufficient public discussion and consultation on the decision to abolish the Audit Commission and to debate and discuss the alternatives to it.
  • The Leveson enquiry and associated criminal investigations revealed a disturbing picture of the cosy relationship between politicians and the media, the bribing of police officers by journalists and the lack of will to hold the media accountable even when laws had clearly been broken.
  • Concentration of media ownership remains a significant corruption risk. The Government has thus far failed to implement the Leveson reforms or any alternative.
  • Labour’s Bribery Act has succeeded in encouraging many private companies to implement adequate procedures to combat corruption. However the Coalition has reduced resources for investigation and prosecution.
  • The “Generals for hire scandal” in October 2012 suggests that the current system of controls and oversight of movement between the Government and the private sector is insufficient. There have been too many similar scandals. In July 2012 the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) recommended that Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) be replaced by a new, statutory, Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. This recommendation has been ignored by the Government.
  • The Government has failed to address the problems with Tory political party funding.
  • Cash-for-access scandals indicate that donations to the government are a major source of vulnerability to corruption. Current funding rules lead to a lack of public trust in political parties. 42% of voters believe that donations of over £100,000 are designed to gain access and influence over the Tory party.
  • It has been estimated that billions of pounds of dirty money is laundered into and through the UK each year. Currently the UK and its Overseas Dependent Territories and Crown Dependencies do not require companies to declare who the ultimate beneficial ownership are of companies and trusts. Action taken against the facilitators and enablers of corruption is inadequate, for example, the lawyers, bankers and accountants that handle corrupt transactions.

Now, Tom Pride writes that the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, has issued a warning that Cameron must do more to combat corruption. 

You can read the the full statement here.

Read Tom Pride’s full article on Pride’s Purge.

 

Pride's Purge

In an extraordinary statement, anti-corruption organisation Transparency International has told David Cameron he must do more to combat corruption in his own country.

The strong warning comes on the same day Cameron hosted a summit of international leaders focusing on combating corruption.

Transparency International openly derides the UK’s credentials on corruption, slamming UK companies for “overseas bribery“, the City of London for “laundering corrupt assets” as well as “dirty money” in the UK’s property market and “political corruption scandals” at home.

You can read the the full statement here.

The mainstream press in the UK is unlikely to report this, so please share. Thanks:

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Big questions for Boris over corrupt billion dollar property deal

Channel Four Exclusive: Boris Johnson is under fire over his handling of a £1bn deal for a Chinese firm to redevelop a huge site on London’s historic Royal Albert Dock.

From Michael Crick, political correspondent.

This follows an investigation by Channel 4 News into the track record in China of the firm which won the contract – ABP – and into whether ABP were given favourable treatment during the tender process.

There are also questions over donations to the Conservative Party from an Anglo-Chinese businesswoman who acted as adviser to ABP.

Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the government’s Committee on Standards in Public Life, suggested to Channel 4 News there should be an independent investigation into the tendering process for the development, which will take place on publicly-owned land.

“It has the smell of a semi-corrupt arrangement, doesn’t it?” he told Channel 4 News:

“If, in fact, somebody is going through a sham process to ensure that someone they want to be successful in the process, but it’s not a level playing field for UK companies, and there have been some financial transactions of an intimate nature then that smells to me of a semi corrupt arrangement.”

In May 2013 the Greater London Authority granted Advanced Business Park – known as ABP – the tender to develop the 35-acre site at the Royal Albert Dock, a derelict site opposite London’s City Airport. The development was hailed by Boris Johnson as “a beacon for investors”, and ABP hope that the site will become an important forum for scores of Chinese firms operating in Britain. The project will include 3.2 million square feet of office space, leisure facilities, and 845 residential flats. It is thought to be China’s largest property investment in the UK.

ABP’s human rights record

Our film raises serious concerns about ABP’s human rights record in China. We discovered that ABP, and their partners in Chinese local government, were involved in the forced removal of some residents from their homes at the site of their one completed development in Beijing. We have obtained amateur video footage, shot by a resident, of demolition teams tearing down a family’s home with all their possessions inside, on Christmas Day 2010. The family also say they were denied fair compensation for losing their home. We have substantial legal paperwork detailing their efforts to secure proper compensation in the Chinese courts.

Boris Johnson confirmed to me in an interview for Channel 4 News that neither he, nor the Greater London Authority (which Johnson runs), assessed ABP’s human rights record in China as part of the evaluation process.

Johnson also said ABP’s human rights record in China “wasn’t relevant to the tendering process.” But the Mayor promised to “look at” any new information.

Sir Alastair Graham disagrees: “Of course, in any bidding process one of the first things you look at is the track record of what they have done. Are they a safe pair of hands, or have they got a style of operation that would be totally inappropriate and alien in the UK?” Enquiries by Channel 4 News strong also suggest ABP had what could be perceived as an unfairly cosy relationship with London and Partners, Boris Johnson’s taxpayer funded agency set up to attract foreign investment to London.

In particular, London and Partners has been sharing an office with ABP in Beijing since March 2012. London and Partners was involved in the marketing of the project, and was described as a “stakeholder” in the tender process. Channel 4 News has official documentation which show that they were asked to make an assessment of ABP’s claims that the company had lined up other Chinese companies that would take space in the new development – a critical aspect of ABP’s pitch.

What’s more, Tongbo Liu, the former head of London and Partners, who used to act as Boris Johnson’s personal representative in China, left the agency to work for ABP in March 2012, while the tender process was still going on. He has told us that ABP took over the lease of the office at the same time paying 70 per cent of the rent.

‘They are a subsidiary of the Mayor’

We have confirmation from London and Partners that ABP currently have the lease of the London and Partners office in Beijing and L&P pay 30 per cent of the rent. In a statement we were told that ABP moved into the office in Beijing in 2011, but that the two bodies had separate leases with the landlords until January 2013.

Nicky Gavron, Labour’s most senior member on the Greater London Assembly, told us: “The Mayor set up London and Partners, and London and Partners are his inward investment arm, and he funds two thirds of them. So they are a subsidiary of the Mayor. The Mayor appoints the Chairman. So you would expect the Mayor to have a grip on the practices of London and Partners.”

Gavron added: “If there are questions raised about London and Partners, I think then it raises concerns about the Mayor’s overseeing of the practices of London and Partners.” She agreed that the buck stopped with Boris Johnson.

“When you are executive Mayor and a one-man band, it does.” The Mayor of London Boris Johnson told me in an interview this week that the tendering process was “fair and square” and the development was good for London: “This area you are talking about in the Docklands, has basically been derelict for about 50 years,” he said. “The proposal to develop it and create a new business park seems to us to be very positive and I think it will be a very great thing for London.

It will represent a significant investment in the city. It will drive jobs, drive employment, enable us to get homes built, because when you get jobs, you can get homes going.”

Xuelin Black, married to the Home office minister

The third area our film explores is the role played by Xuelin Black, an Anglo-Chinese businesswoman who is married to the Home office minister Lord (Michael) Bates. Black suggested the Royal Dock site to the boss of ABP, Xu Weiping, and even registered a company called ABP London China to help push the project forward, though the company was dissolved two years later, and she says she established it without the knowledge of Xu Weiping. Between 2010 and 2012 Xuelin Black gave donations which total at least £162,000 to the Conservative Party.

Since ABP won the contract these big donations have dried up. She insists the money was hers, and didn’t come from ABP or Xu Weiping, and she says she has continued to give money to the Tories. But her donations are now about £5,000 a year, not enough to appear on the Electoral Commission’s public register of party donations. Our revelations about the Royal Albert Dock development are unlikely to prove fatal to Boris Johnson, but they may add to his reputation for cutting corners. The post of Mayor of London was established to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and push through major projects like this.

But in his rush to bring big foreign investment to London at a time of recession, should Johnson have done more to examine ABP’s background, and did the cosiness of his people with ABP mean that the whole process was not a level playing field, and therefore unfair to the dozen other bidders for the development, most of whom were British.

Read the investigation from Channel Four here