By Angela Haggerty
There have been renewed calls for the Better Together campaign to return a £500,000 donation from the chief executive of a company which once paid £1m to a Serbian paramilitary leader, after it emerged the donor would no longer offer funds to the No campaign.
Ian Taylor’s oil trading company, Vitol, was for years at the centre of controversial deals in Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Libya and was known to have links to Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. As well as his donation to the Better Together campaign, Mr Taylor is reported to have donated £555,100 to Conservative Party and he even attended a private dinner at Downing Street in 2011.
But public pressure has piled on Mr Taylor since details of his company’s previous business links emerged in media reports and the revelation last year that Vitol was “in talks” with HMRC to settle a tax avoidance bill after the company used the Employee Benefit Trust scheme (EBT) to pay staff.
According to a recent report in the Sunday Herald, he will now no longer donate to the No campaign, prompting the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson MP, to renew calls for the No campaign to return the £500,000 donation.
“By Ian Taylor’s own admission, Vitol owe the UK Treasury money because of the company’s tax avoidance arrangements,” said Mr Robertston. “It is disappointing that it has taken Ian Taylor to stop his donations instead of the No campaign recognising that they should return the money.”
In a recent YouGov poll, 43 per cent of those surveyed said the No campaign should return the donation while 34 per cent disagreed. The remaining 23 per cent were unsure.
Mr Robertson added: “We know Vitol gave the notorious Serb warlord Arkan one million dollars. Arkan was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for ‘wilfully causing great suffering, cruel treatment, murder, wilful killing, rape and other inhumane acts.’
“It is unbelievable that the No campaign is happy to accept these funds, especially after a poll showed the majority of Scots think this money should be returned.”
The Better Together campaign, led by Alistair Darling, has faced staunch criticism for keeping the money after revelations about Mr Taylor’s business dealings circulated, but Mr Darling has so far rejected calls to return the money and has previously described Mr Taylor as a “respected figure in Scotland”.
Mr Taylor is understood to have made the donation to the No campaign following a meeting with Mr Darling at the Labour MP’s holiday home on the Isle of Lewis.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont also leapt to the defence of Mr Taylor earlier this year despite discomfort within the party over the donation after Labour MP John Mann described his Tory party donations as “dirty money”.
Johann Lamont questioned in April about the donation
Mr Taylor faced criticism in April after threatening legal action against the National Collective website for publishing an article detailing allegations about his company’s murky business past.
The site – which describes itself as an “open and non-party political group of artists and creatives” – was temporarily taken offline but reappeared after Glasgow lawyer Aamer Anwar agreed to represent the group in any legal proceedings. National Collective director accused Mr Taylor of using “corporate bully boy tactics” and vowed not to be silenced.
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