Sunday, May 25, 2008

An odour of rat

From here:

Since 2003 [Prince Andrew] has paid three official visits to [Kazakhstan] in his capacity as Britain’s special representative for international trade and investment, a role which last year saw him run up expenses of £436,000, which were paid by the taxpayer. With his royal status and affable manner, he is an asset to corporations wishing to open doors and smooth the way for multimillion-pound contracts.
This is another transfer of money from poor to rich, ordinary taxpayers footing this bill for expenses for a very rich man to visit some rich tyrants on behalf of some rich businessmen who hoped to get even richer as a result. If the trip was worth £450k, the corporations expecting to benefit should have paid, not bus drivers and plasterers. But it gets worse, and this really does smell:
However, the prince has now taken to visiting Kazakhstan for his own reasons, too. He is there this weekend on a “private” visit, according to his spokesman.

His dealings with wealthy Kazakhs are not restricted to his jaunts to their home country either. It has emerged that last year he had several private meetings with one tycoon, Kenes Rakishev, whose financial interests include companies spanning most of Kazakhstan’s abundant natural resources.

The meetings between Andrew and Rakishev, which were held in London, sometimes went on for hours. Their exact nature is unclear. What is apparent, however, is that after their talks, Rakishev and his father-in-law Imangali Tasmagambetov became interested in purchasing Sunninghill Park, Andrew’s home in Ascot, Berkshire, which had then been on the market for five years without a buyer.

According to two sources close to the deal, the guide price was no more than £12m. Rakishev, however, agreed to pay £15m via one of his family’s offshore trusts, even though there were no other bids.
On the face of it, that's a £3m "fee", disguised in a property transaction - and that's not my opinion. Still from The Times:
Artur Krivov, who was at the time managing director of the UK branch of Rakishev’s Sat&Co conglomerate, said: “I personally was really surprised because there were much better [houses] at that price because I was helping look for a place for them . . .

“My impression was [the house sale] could be from some other dealings that they had where they owed something. It might have been a way to repay the debt or whatever, I don’t know. It’s definitely not for what it [the house] is.

“I do know that the Duke of York and Mr Rakishev met a number of times and I know that usually Mr Rakishev does not meet with anyone more than once if he does not need anything.”
The Prince denies anything fishy:
A source close to Andrew said: “There was no bidding war but it was a spiky, upward housing market. There was no formal asking price, £15m is simply a price that they decided to pay.”

A spokesman for Andrew, who receives an annual allowance from the Queen of £249,000, insisted that there had been no other “side” deals of a commercial nature connected to the sale.
But then, this is considered normal by such people:
Since putting Sunninghill Park up for sale, the prince has been able to buy a 75-year lease on Royal Lodge, the Queen Mother’s former home on the Windsor Great Park estate for £1m, despite it being given an estimated market value of 20 times that amount.

He was also allowed by the Crown Estate to forgo paying the 19th-century property’s annual £250,000 rent in exchange for carrying out a refurbishment.
Again, all transfers of wealth from poor to rich.


AVI said...

I think that this is possibly a case of bashing an easy target, to an extent at least.
I've worked in various places in Kazakhstan for a short while for each of the last few years, and I have seen the country slowly gaining in wealth, with living standards for the "poor, ordinary folk" rising.
This is as a result of the "rich elite" doing their business; their wealth and that of their businesses, enables them to employ Kazakhs at significantly favourable rates compared with local employers, obviously then freeing up their previous jobs to the unemployed, and injecting more spendable cash into the local market.

Of course one can rally against "excessively high salaries", but you have to bake the cake before you can distribute the slices.

AVI said...

Having re-read your post, Peter, I realise that my previous comment didn't really address the point I think you were making - about the use of British taxpayer's cash funding both the Prince and these visits.

I have to say that I'm not entirely against this. With some business deals at a high level, it has frequently been the case that officials from the DTI, or diplomats from the FO would be involved to smooth the way for business to be done. These, like Prince Andrew, are costs bourne by the taxpayer, but ones about we hear less.

If you're suggesting that none of this should happen, I'd probably agree with the theory, but in practice I don't see that as being practicable. Aside from the commercial profits to be had in business, there is a great deal to be said for having almost any country as our friend, trading partner and ally - arguably all the more so for one with an improving economy, good links through to Asia, and vast natural resources.

For opening up these markets, a few hundred thousand pounds seems like a good deal. If one affable Royal can make more of an advance than an army of faceless diplomats and civil servants, then that should be seen as a good thing, and we should make the most of that asset.

Anonymous said...

As far as the junkets go, I'm with you all the way.

But the property deals look like a willing buyer/willing seller arrangement so it's nobody else's business really, if the price looks "wrong" to some third party, is it?

Anonymous said...

In the first place Sunninghill Park was Crown Land, and not the personal property of The Queen.The Queen as an individual had no right to give The Duke of York the freehold.The Duke of York has made £15million,because The Crown Estate allowed The Queen to use Sunninghill Park as her own private property.Crown Lands are not the private property of the sovereign.All profits from Crown Lands go to The Treasury, so The Duke of York owes the taxpaper £15 million.A very very dodgey deal indeed !