Darling must hand back controversial donation say SNP

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP have called on Alistair Darling, the leader of the official anti-independence campaign, to return a donation of £500,000 from businessman Ian Taylor until questions are answered about how much they knew about Mr Taylor’s controversial business activities.

According to newspaper reports dating back to 2001, Mr Taylor’s company Vitol once had business dealings with the late Serbian warlord Željko Ražnatović – known as Arkan – who was indicted at the Hague for crimes against humanity.

The allegations, first reported in the Guardian newspaper, claim that  $1 million was paid to the Serbian war criminal by Vitol to settle a score over a secret oil deal to supply Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia with fuel.  Vitol asserts that there was no illegality involved with the transaction.

Arkan, who was heavily involved in organised crime, was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians.  He was assassinated in Belgrade in January 2000.  It remains uncertain who ordered the killing, but it is widely believed that he was assassinated on the orders of a rival Serbian criminal network.

Scottish born businessman Ian Taylor, who became the Chief Executive of Vitol in 1995, has previously made substantial donations to the Conservative party, and attended a private dinner with Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street in November 2011.  The Labour MP John Mann, a member of the Treasury Select Committee, described Mr Taylor’s donations to the Tory Party as ‘dirty money’.

Although born in Scotland, Mr Taylor was educated and brought up in England and has not lived in Scotland since he was a small child and is not registered to vote in the 2014 referendum.

According to the Sunday Herald, he made the controversial donation of £500,000 to the “Better Together” campaign after a private meeting with Labour MP Alistair Darling on Lewis.  Mr Darling, who heads the pro-Union cross party alliance has a holiday home on the island.

The SNP now wants Mr Darling to explain just how much he knew about Mr Taylor’s background, his status as a non-Scottish resident who has no vote in the referendum, and his business dealings.

The SNP also want the Labour MP to explain why he believed that Mr Taylor was an appropriate person from whom to accept a large donation given that other members of the Labour party have described his political donations as “dirty money”.

There are also reports his company pled guilty in a New York court to breaching the UN sanctions regime against the government of Saddam Hussein.  According to Reuters, Vitol was ordered to pay fines and restitution amounting to $17.5 million.

In September 2012, Reuters claimed that Vitol had skirted sanctions in order to trade in Iranian oil, selling it to China.  Despite being in direct breach of EU and US sanctions, Vitol as a registered company in Switzerland, was not obliged to adhere the sanctions.  Vitol has denied there was any wrong-doing in the deals.

In December 2012 the Telegraph reported that Vitol paid some employees through a tax avoidance scheme, so-called Employee Benefit Trusts.  The scheme allowed the company to avoid paying tax on UK employees’ salaries.  According to the newspaper, Vitol is now engaged in negotiations with HMRC in order to reach a settlement on paying off the outstanding tax bill.

Speaking to the Sunday Times following the revelations, Mr Taylor said: “We will have to pay something.  We will work hard to do what is best for our employees, but we must abide by the legislation – and we will.”

In 2011, according to the Financial Times, Vitol also played a controversial role in the Libyan conflict, reportedly providing fuel to Libyan rebels in exchange for crude oil.  The deals were set up by Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister.  Mr Duncan is a friend and former colleague of Mr Taylor and has received a number of donations from him. 

Angus Robertson MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said the onus was now on Alistair Darling to launch an internal investigation into Mr Taylor’s £500,000 donation and has called on him to return the money until the investigation is complete.

Mr Robertson said:

“This information is extremely serious, and raises urgent questions which Alistair Darling must answer. The No campaign must return this money immediately pending full answers to these questions.

“Material fully in the public domain states that during his tenure as chief executive Mr Taylor’s company paid $1 million to the Serbian war criminal Arkan, who was indicted at The Hague for crimes against humanity. Arkan’s appalling crimes of ethnic cleansing were well documented as far back as 2001, and included the cold-blooded massacre of 250 patients and staff in a hospital.

“Among other issues, also during Mr Taylor’s tenure it is reported that ‘Vitol pled guilty in a New York court to paying surcharges to Iraq’s national oil company during Saddam Hussein’s regime, undermining the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq’; and was involved in a tax avoidance scheme in the UK for over a decade.

“Mr Taylor’s donations to the Tory Party were questioned and criticised by Labour’s Douglas Alexander in relation to a conflict of interest about oil contracts in Libya, so the No campaign must have been aware of these matters.

“And it was a Labour MP and member of the Treasury Select Committee John Mann who described Mr Taylor’s donations to the Tory Party as ‘dirty money’.

“We know that Alistair Darling met Mr Taylor to discuss his donation, and we need to know if he asked him about any of these issues. In the interests of transparency and a fair referendum campaign, the No campaign must hand this money back to Mr Taylor until Mr Darling has been able to answer:

  • Will the No campaign launch an internal investigation into this matter and make its conclusions public?
  • What Mr Darling and Mr Taylor discussed, and did it include these issues?
  • What Mr Darling and No campaign knew about these issues, and what their opinion is of them?”

A spokesperson for Vitol said:

“The company has taken legal advice and will take whatever steps are deemed necessary to have these inaccuracies corrected, and to prevent their further publication.”

The company has not said which parts of the information it considers inaccurate.

In a response to the media reports, Better Together described Mr Taylor as a respected intternational figure and accused nationalists of carrying out “a co-ordinated dirty-tricks campaign”

In a statement, they added:

“Allegations were made about one of our donors in a nationalist blog a few days ago. These were only covered in the press after a fresh and cynical attack by SNP MP Angus Robertson as they desperately tried to create a story. We understand that the claims are now being dealt with by lawyers representing Ian Taylor. As such we are limited in what we can say on this. However, they have made it clear to the media that the reports are inaccurate.

“What we are happy to say is that Ian Taylor is a respected figure internationally, in the UK and in Scotland. He has a long history of philanthropy and his personal investment has revived the Harris Tweed industry in Scotland.  He set out his own reasons for supporting Better Together in an article last Sunday.

“While this is disappointing it is not surprising. Other supporters of Better Together have faced personal attack, hate mail and boycotts – all because they dared to oppose the break-up of the UK.”

Meanwhile the Yes campaign has published details of its donations.  Yes Scotland has received £1,625,797 in donations since last year.  Five individuals have donated a total of £1,283,000 since the campaign began, while the SNP has provided a non-cash contribution of £342,797.  More than 7,000 small donors have also contributed around £112,000. 

All donations over £500 come from Scottish residents.  The largest 2 donations to Yes Scotland, £500,000 each, were received from lottery winners Colin and Christine Weir. 

Yes Scotland chief Blair Jenkins has called on the No campaign to accept only donations from individuals registered to vote in Scotland. Yes Scotland will only accept donations of larger than £500 – the amount which must be separately declared – if the donor is registered to vote in Scotland and can cast a ballot in next year’s referendum.

The No campaign during the 1979 Home Rule referendum likewise received substantial donations from business interests outwith Scotland. 

The fact that the largest single donation to the No campaign comes from a donor who does not live in Scotland, and the No campaign are apparently actively soliciting such donations, calls into question the Prime Minister’s refusal to participate in a debate with First Minister Alex Salmond.  In a statement, Downing Street claimed that Mr Cameron’s refusal was because this is “a debate for Scottish people to have themselves”.

Mr Jenkins said:

“Thousands of people in Scotland have donated to the Yes Scotland cause and have given what they can according to their financial means. We are deeply appreciative to each and every one of them.

“Although we will not be in the regulated period of the campaign until 16 weeks before the referendum, I said when I took up my appointment that we intended to be transparent about funding and that is why we are publishing this information today.

“The information given today also reflects the fact that Yes Scotland is a self-financing campaign and that we are being funded by Scotland for Scotland.

“That, in our view, is how it should be and why, unlike our opponents, we are not prepared to accept large donations from people outside Scotland.”

He added: “We believe the appropriate position is that both campaigns should agree that any donation above £500 – the legally recognised level over which money given becomes a ‘donation’ – should come only from those registered to vote in Scotland’s referendum. Yes Scotland is sticking firmly to that.”

 

[In a precautionary move, Newsnet Scotland has take down an article in which we reported claims made by the online site National Collective.  National Collective along with the Herald newspaper have we understand received letters from lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Taylor.  We wish to stress that as of this moment, Newsnet Scotland is not aware of any letters having been sent to our own lawyers.

We would also point out that all of the claims reported in this article have come from respected news sources from outwith Scotland and none rely on reports from either the Herald or National Collective.

Newsnet Scotland has also taken the precaution of disabling comments on this article.  We would ask that visitors respect this decision and not try to circumvent by posting messages on other articles.]{jcomments off}