Jonathan Aitken was paid £166,000 for guide on Kazakh autocrat, leak suggests | Pandora papers

In April 2010 Jonathan Aitken flew to Washington. The previous Conservative MP and minister, famously jailed for mendacity, was within the US for the launch of his newest guide: a flattering biography of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. “Biographers are artists on oath,” he advised an viewers of senators and diplomats. “They like portray on a broad canvas.” He added: “I’ve by no means had a extra dramatic and turbulent canvas than the life story of Nazarbayev.”

Aitken’s speech on the prestigious Library of Congress failed to say one essential level: {that a} PR agency working for the Kazakh authorities seems to have secretly commissioned and paid for his guide. In accordance with the Pandora papers leak, Aitken received £166,000 for his literary efforts. The cash was routed by way of Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands and discreetly despatched to Oxford and the ex-MP’s firm, Aitken Consultancy & Analysis Companies Restricted.

Professing to have rediscovered his Christian religion in jail, Jonathan Aitken grew to become a priest three years in the past. {Photograph}: David M Benett/Getty Photos

In accordance with the paperwork, the agency, WorldPR, additionally picked up the invoice for Aitken’s abroad guide tour. His bills included a keep on the Capital Hilton, two blocks from the White Home. Aitken’s $1,527 (£1,117) receipt – discovered within the leak – lists three nights’ lodging, laundry, a meal within the bar and grill, in addition to Twigs restaurant, plus high-speed web entry. The PR firm paid the Library of Congress $6,996 for venue rent, with the Kazakh embassy bankrolling a later talking engagement at New York’s Harvard Membership.

Mockingly sufficient, Aitken’s political profession got here to a dramatic and sticky finish in 1996 after he lied within the excessive courtroom about who had paid for the same keep on the Ritz resort in Paris – not a central Asian dictator again then, however the king of Saudi Arabia’s son. Aitken sued following revelations within the Guardian and by the programme World in Motion that he had achieved the bidding of the Saudi royal household, working for the reason that Seventies as a glorified fixer.

The newest revelation is embarrassing for Aitken, who claims that he emerged a reformed character from a seven-month jail sentence after he was convicted of perjury in his libel motion in opposition to the Guardian. The paper disputed Aitken’s unfaithful declare that his then spouse, Lolicia, had paid the Paris invoice. On his launch Aitken wrote a memoir, Pleasure and Perjury. Professing to have rediscovered his Christian religion in jail, he grew to become a priest three years in the past: the most recent episode within the lifetime of a gifted however flawed particular person who as soon as aspired to be prime minister.

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What are the Pandora papers?


The Pandora papers are the biggest trove of leaked knowledge exposing tax haven secrecy in historical past. They supply a uncommon window into the hidden world of offshore finance, casting gentle on the monetary secrets and techniques of a number of the world’s richest individuals. The recordsdata have been leaked to the Worldwide Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which shared entry with the Guardian, BBC and different media retailers around the globe. In complete, the trove consists of 11.9m recordsdata leaked from a complete of 14 offshore service suppliers, totalling 2.94 terabytes of knowledge. That makes it bigger in quantity than each the Panama papers (2016) and Paradise papers (2017), two earlier offshore leaks.

The place did the Pandora paperwork come from?

The ICIJ, a Washington DC-based journalism nonprofit, just isn’t figuring out the supply of the leaked paperwork. With the intention to facilitate a worldwide investigation, the ICIJ gave distant entry to the paperwork to journalists in 117 international locations, together with reporters on the Washington Submit, Le Monde, El País, Süddeutsche Zeitung, PBS Frontline and the Australian Broadcasting Company. Within the UK, the investigation has been led by the Guardian and BBC Panorama.

What’s an offshore service supplier?

The 14 offshore service suppliers within the leak present company companies to people or corporations looking for to do enterprise offshore. Their purchasers are usually looking for to discreetly arrange corporations or trusts in calmly regulated tax havens such because the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Panama, the Cook dinner Islands and the US state of South Dakota. Firms registered offshore can be utilized to carry property resembling property, plane, yachts and investments in shares and shares. By holding these property in an offshore firm, it’s potential to cover from the remainder of the world the id of the particular person they really belong to, or the “useful proprietor”.

Why do individuals transfer cash offshore?

Normally for causes of tax, secrecy or regulation. Offshore jurisdictions are likely to don’t have any revenue or company taxes, which makes them probably enticing to rich people and firms who don’t wish to pay taxes of their house international locations. Though morally questionable, this sort of tax avoidance could be authorized. Offshore jurisdictions additionally are usually extremely secretive and publish little or no details about the businesses or trusts integrated there. This could make them helpful to criminals, resembling tax evaders or cash launderers, who want to cover cash from tax or regulation enforcement authorities. It’s also true that folks in corrupt or unstable international locations could use offshore suppliers to place their property past the attain of repressive governments or legal adversaries who could attempt to seize them, or to hunt to avoid onerous forex restrictions. Others could go offshore for causes of inheritance or property planning.

Has everybody named within the Pandora papers achieved one thing improper?

No. Transferring cash offshore just isn’t in or of itself unlawful, and there are respectable explanation why some individuals do it. Not everybody named within the Pandora papers is suspected of wrongdoing. Those that are could stand accused of a variety of misbehaviour: from the morally questionable by way of to the doubtless legal. The Guardian is barely publishing tales based mostly on leaked paperwork after contemplating the general public curiosity. That could be a broad idea which will embrace furthering transparency by revealing the key offshore homeowners of UK property, even the place these homeowners have achieved nothing improper. Different articles may illuminate problems with vital public debate, elevate ethical questions, make clear how the offshore trade operates, or assist inform voters about politicians or donors within the pursuits of democratic accountability.

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Aitken stays a high-profile public determine. He was ordained at St Paul’s Cathedral and has been working as an unpaid jail chaplain, connected to a parish in Westminster. He has been a member of a Conservative occasion taskforce on jail reform and has served as a trustee on the board of a number of legal justice charities. He has additionally spoken at spiritual conferences and on the Home of Commons. “I’m having a slight wrestle tempering my enthusiasm with correct Christian humility,” he stated, earlier than buying his reverend standing.

Within the acknowledgements to his guide, Nazarbayev and the Making of Kazakhstan: From Communism to Capitalism, Aitken thanked the Kazakh international ministry. It had paid for his lodges in Astana, the nation’s capital, and Almaty, he stated. Past this, Reuters reported that Aitken advised the company he acquired no cost from the Kazakh authorities – a declare that now seems to have been deceptive.

Nazarbayev was a preferred and compassionate chief, who had constructed a profitable economic system and rid his nation of Soviet-era nuclear weapons, Aitken wrote.

The critics have been unconvinced. The Guardian described the biography as “an enchanting, cleverly orchestrated snow job: fairly in all probability the hagiography of the yr”. The London Evaluate of Books was equally damning and stated its flattery ranged “from the banal to the cringing”. All remarked that it glossed over Nazarbayev’s autocratic behaviour and intolerance of dissent. Torture by his safety forces was widespread and “carried out with impunity”, Amnesty Worldwide famous.

In accordance with the paperwork, the under-the-table funds have been made by WorldPR, a agency run by Aitken’s one-time press adviser Patrick Robertson. Robertson is Kazakhstan’s honorary consul to the Bahamas. Its web site says WorldPR has “labored for a number of Kazakhstan authorities departments and companies since 2004”. Different purchasers embrace the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Azerbaijan, one other oil-rich post-Soviet state identified for persecuting opponents, whereas it additionally ran a “International Britain” marketing campaign.

In accordance with the leaked recordsdata, WorldPR purchased 3,000 non-public copies of Aitken’s guide from the writer Continuum, now part of the Bloomsbury Group. This value £30,000. Total, the biography bought 466 precise copies, purchased by the general public from bookshops and on-line. Robertson spent $96,000 in Russia on “media consultancy companies” and paid a Moscow writer $116,000 to translate Aitken’s follow-up guide, Kazakhstan and Twenty Years of Independence. The deal included 10,000 Russian language copies and a media launch.

Nursultan Nazarbayev
The previous president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Evaluations of Aitken’s guide remarked that it glossed over Nazarbayev’s autocratic behaviour. {Photograph}: Alexei Nikolsky/AP

Robertson is an ardent Brexiter who lives in St Moritz, Switzerland. Whereas a pupil at Oxford he based the Bruges Group, a rightwing thinktank whose advisers and members have included a collection of high-profile Tories, together with Margaret Thatcher. Robertson remained buddies with Thatcher. In 2011 Robertson despatched the previous prime minister a £100 bunch of flowers, his offshore information present.

WorldPR’s “strategic communications” actions have been a supply of controversy. In accordance to the guide Kleptopia by the Monetary Instances reporter Tom Burgis, Robertson was intently concerned in a “black PR” marketing campaign in opposition to the fugitive Kazakh businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov. This included “covert operations”, a plan for “cyber-assaults” and “media manipulation typically”, the guide alleges. Robertson despatched Ablyazov’s lawyer abusive texts, it additionally claims.

The Pandora paperwork counsel Aitken acquired his covert guide funds between 2007 and 2010. An bill dated April 2009 from Aitken’s agency to WorldPR for £33,333 is marked as “agreed last instalment payment for guide mission”. It’s unclear if this money covers one or each of Aitken’s Kazakhstan titles. WorldPR relies in Hong Kong and registered in Panama. Constancy Company Companies, an offshore administration firm within the British Virgin Islands, dealt with its monetary accounts, which run into a whole bunch of pages.

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The recordsdata give an perception into Robertson’s strategies. In 2011 he arrange a covert spinoff operation, Sovereign PR, to deal with a profitable new contract with Azerbaijan’s state oil firm, Socar. Robertson fired off a plan of motion for his consumer. It included organising a pro-regime “thinktank”, commissioning two books on the Nagorno-Karabakh area, claimed by Azerbaijan, and holding a “grand debate” on the Royal Geographical Society in London.

In the meantime, Aitken was rewarded for his biographical labours with a medal. In 2017 the Kazakh ambassador to the UK, Erlan Idrissov, gave him a authorities award. It was in honour of Aitken’s contribution to selling the nation’s world fame, Idrissov stated. Aitken didn’t reply to an e-mail asking for remark or to 2 letters despatched to his house handle in London. Equally, Robertson didn’t reply to 3 emails, a letter and a message left on his cell phone. Bloomsbury declined to remark. It will not say if publication of the guide was contingent on a deal to purchase non-public copies.

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