January 20, 2008
of Prince Hewitt to Afghanistan. Or, at least, if he was sent there it would be covered by a DA-Notice, the voluntary system of self-censorship where newspapers agree to Government requests to spike stories.
And you wouldn’t read about it in your paper or see it on the news.
Blogs, however, would be under no such constraints.
November 29, 2007
Boasted £11 million donated by Tesco cut tax bill by £20 million
by Greg Palast
For the Guardian On Line
It was a stunning admission. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s crony explained to the U.S. businessman, in evil detail, exactly how the fix is done in Britain.
Unfortunately, for Jon Mendelsohn and his partners, the “businessman” was, in fact, an undercover reporter for The Observer of London.
Today, Brown’s foes are calling for Mendelsohn’s resignation as chief fundraiser of the Labour Party for his admitted knowledge of £630,000 ($1.2 million) in dodgy, possibly illegal, campaign contributions to Labour.
What’s odd here are the protestations of shock at the behavior of Mendelsohn, described in the Guardian as an “ethical” lobbyist. “Ethical” my arse.
It was exactly nine years ago that Mendelsohn and his lobby firm partners were caught trading cash for access. How this Mendelsohn character ended up heading Labour Party fundraising and how he obtained the sobriquet ‘ethical’ is the real shocker.
I know a few things about this Mendelsohn. The “businessman” with the hidden microphone was me. In June 1998, joined by my recorder and a real US businessman, Mark Swedlund, who designed my elaborate corporate front, I met Mr. Mendelsohn at his tony Soho London office. There Mendelsohn confirmed what was already on tape from his partners in the lobby firm he founded, LLM.
I explained my corporate needs: some environmental rules needed bending. I hinted I was with Enron. Mendelsohn’s partner Neil Lawson told my recorder that, if I paid LLM £5,000 to £20,000 per month, “We can go to anyone. We can go to Gordon Brown if we have to.” Brown was at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer. Could the lobbyist provide concrete examples of a fix?
Easily. Here is a short list of LLM claimed accomplishments:
– Inside information on then-Chancellor Gordon Brown’s budgets.
– Tax avoided by a supermarket chain following millions donated to a New Labour pet project.
– A pass on anti-trust action against client Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
– And for Gordon Brown, a favor that the Mendelsohn team expected to redeem.
Tesco Goes Tax-Free
LLM, which stands for the founders Lucas, Neil Lawson and Mendelsohn, were about to derail Brown’s plan for a tax on car parks (”parking lots” as we say in the States). This would cost Tesco, the supermarket chain, an LLM client, £20 million annually. LLM was holding secret meetings that week in June 1998 with Tony Blair’s Downing Street Policy Unit to get Tesco exempted from the proposed tax.
The tax threat went away after LLM advised Tesco to drop £11 million into funding for Blair’s odd Millennium Dome project.
[To my US readers: The Dome is a gargantuan tent costing $100 million – no kidding.]
“This government likes to do deals,” Lucas told me.
But this deal was complex, Mendelsohn said, not so simple as cash paid for a tax break. “Tony is very anxious to be seen as ‘green’,” Mendelsohn explained to me and my confederate. “Everything has to be couched in environmental language – even if it’s slightly Orwellian.” So LLM devised a set of cockamamie gimmicks for Tesco, like offering bus services to the elderly, which would paint the retailer green.
It worked. Tesco was spared the tax – though the company denies categorically that its cash dumped into the Dome bought any favors.
Message for Murdoch
The year of my paper’s original investigation (dubbed, “Lobbygate”), anti-trust authorities were looking into Rupert Murdoch’s companies’ alleged predatory pricing practices. LLM carried the word from Downing Street, according to Lucas, that, if Murdoch’s tabloids toned down criticism of new antitrust legislation, the law’s final language would reflect the government’s appreciation. On the other hand, harsh coverage in Murdoch’s papers could provoke problems for the media group in Parliament’s union-recognition bill.
The message to muzzle journalists was not, said Lucas, “an easy one in their culture” – journalists being a trying lot. However, the outcome pleased LLM clientele.
A Peek at the Budget
It also happened that on one of the days I recorded Mendelsohn’s partners, they boasted of informing an LLM client about details of Gordon Brown’s budget plans before the Chancellor’s announcement went public.
A lobbyist competing for my “business,” when asked to match the offer of inside information and deal-making held out by LLM and another New Labour firm said, “It’s appalling. It’s disturbing,” and added that he would refuse to match LLM’s services at any price.
If LLM appeared favored by Brown’s operation, Brown himself received favors from LLM. “Gordon Brown asked us to have our client KPMG [the consultancy] host a breakfast for him where it was pre-arranged that they would praise him for his prudent budgets.” Brown basked in this Potemkin praise-fest – a favor that would be returned with special access (for my own clients, if I paid the retainer).
Whether Mendelsohn, Lawson and Lucas actually pulled off all they claimed, I can’t say. Though just kids in their twenties, LLM had garnered millions in revenue, a lot of loot if for mere advice. No one seriously investigated; no one asked uncomfortable questions of Mr. Brown, Mr. Blair or the man at the center of several of these supposed “deals,” Mr. Peter Mandelson, now an EU Commissioner.
However, that Mendelsohn made these tawdry claims (or grinned at me while his partner made them), and that they were published on page one of every newspaper in the realm – part of an LLM tape broadcast on BBC’s Newsnight – one would think that the perspicacious Mr. Brown would have avoided Mendelsohn like the plague.
But the PM embraced Mr. Let’s-Make-A-Deal. The reason was made clear to me by Mendelsohn himself, a man as brainy as he is cynical and wealthy. Those many years ago, at the dawn of the Blair regime, Mendelsohn handed me a confidential manifesto he’d penned for LLM clients only. It was a map of the soul of New Labour.
Here was a chilling combination of Mendelsohn, Mandelson and Nietzsche. “AN OLD WORLD IS DISAPPEARING AND A NEW ONE EMERGING,” he announced in upper case. In the “Passing World” were “ideology” and “conviction” – which would now be replaced by “Pragmatism” and “Consumption.” “Buying” would replace “Belief.”
And ultimately, in this Brave New Labour World, style was all: “WHAT YOU DO,” wrote Mendelsohn, was passé, replaced by, “HOW YOU DO IT.”
So why demand Mendelsohn’s head now? Gordon Brown is a prudent man whom, I suspect, reads a newspaper or two – and knew exactly whom he had positioned to fill his party’s coin sacks. Mendelsohn is just a gun for hire, a forgettable factotum. I wouldn’t place the blame on the hired gun, but on the man whose finger is on the trigger.
The series “Lobbygate: Cash for Access” was originally published by The Observer (UK) in July 1998 by Greg Palast and Antony Barnett. For a complete history of the scandal, read, “Blair and the Sale of Britain” in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Penguin/Constable & Robinson 2004). Excerpt at http://www.gregpalast.com/tony-blair-and-the-sale-of-britain/
November 18, 2007
Project Wing – Northern Rock Executive Summary
The following is an excerpt of Project Wing – the executive summary of a plan, put together by Merrill Lynch, Citi and The Blackstone Group, to sell stricken mortgage lender Northern Rock, code-named Blackbird. This “Briefing Memorandum” has been sent to all potential acquirers.
Mmmm – A short extract from Project Wing and a link to the full summary was posted here. But, has now been removed without informing me. Is it whack-a-mole time?
Quick, WordPress, another one: Project Wing
September 22, 2007
From the website of Craig Murray, now taken down after threats from Usmanov’s lawyers, Schillings:
September 2, 2007
Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist
I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:
“Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.”
Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.
Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socilist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.
Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.
Usmanov has two key alliances. he is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.
Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.
Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out – with the owners having no choice – the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.
All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here:
Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.
I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.
Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters – as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any – can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.
October 16, 2006
601,027 Iraqi civilians killed since the March 2003 invasion.1
290,000 Iraqi civilians killed during 20 years of Saddam’s rule.2
1. Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
2.Human Rights Watch. Iraq: State of the Evidence
October 10, 2006
The pre-trial hearing of two men accused of leaking a memo that recorded George W. Bush’s proposal to bomb Al-Jazeera has been held in secret at the Old Bailey.
David Keogh and Leo O’Connor have been charged under the Official Secrets Act.
Mr Justice Aikens ordered that the session was held in secret following his earlier ruling that the public should not hear parts of the case which could affect national security.
Mr Keogh, a former Cabinet Office official, denies two charges of making a damaging disclosure of part of a government document in his possession as a Crown servant without lawful authority.
Mr O’Connor, a former researcher for an MP, denies a charge of making a damaging disclosure of a document passed to him illegally.
The trial will take place on April 18 next year.
September 26, 2006
Tony Blair is to give his final speech as prime minister to Labour’s annual conference with a plea for the party to focus on a fourth election victory.
Mr Blair faced protests during his TUC conference speech a fortnight ago, but he is expected to be given a hero’s send off by Labour delegates.