Greed More Greed from the Tories and Their Crownies

My observations on Heritage Oil Chief Recruits Former Tory Candidate For Access To Libya’s Reserves  I decided to enclose the article to do it justice:
Tony Buckingham, the British former soldier of fortune who heads Heritage Oil, the exploration firm, appears to have sought assistance from a would-be Conservative MP to get a foothold in Libya, following the role of UK forces there in installing the new regime.

According to leaked correspondence, Buckingham – with another ex-special forces soldier, former SAS commander Major General John Holmes – is working with a would-be Tory MP, property developer Christian Sweeting.

Buckingham is also buying into local Libyan oil operators, paying $19m last month for a share of a little-known Benghazi-based oil trader called Sahara Oil Services Holdings.

Sweeting wrote to William Hague this year on Heritage’s behalf. His letter gives an insight into the world of political influence, in which Sweeting sought, apparently unsuccessfully, to get a meeting for Buckingham with the foreign secretary.

Buckingham himself had made sizeable personal donations to the 2010 Tory election campaign – £50,000 to Central Office and £5,000 to the key marginal of Carmarthen West. The local party chairman there was the lobbyist Stephen Crouch.

Crouch’s own lobbying activities have generated recent controversy. He was revealed to have donated to an aide to the former defence secretary Liam Fox, and subsequently gained a meeting with arms sales minister Gerald Howarth.

Sweeting, who narrowly failed to win a 2010 general election seat in Torquay, wrote his letter to the foreign secretary on 10 May, marking it confidential and reminding him that the two men had met recently at the Carlton Club, a Conservative party watering-hole.

He said Heritage Oil was “untainted” by any association with the Gaddafi regime and “the UK should capitalise on this”. He wrote: “The executive directors of Heritage would welcome an opportunity to meet you or your officials to discuss their proposals, to demonstrate that they are being provided in the national interest.”

Sweeting, whose Bentley is said to be a familiar sight in Conservative circles, asked a favour: that UK visas be granted to the group of Libyan insurgents with whom he had been negotiating. “I would be most grateful if in these special and to some extent unique circumstances your office could ask the UK Border Agency to expedite the issue of a single visit visa to the Libyans nominated below … This visit would be hosted by Heritage.”

Sweeting signed his letter “With warmest regards… Christian Sweeting KCSG MRICS”. These initials denote his membership of the royal institution of chartered surveyors, and his papal knighthood in the order of St Gregory.

There is no evidence the four Libyans concerned received any special official treatment as a result. Foreign office sources say they were processed in the normal way.

Sweeting has set up a company, International Mineral Resources, with Patrick Newman. Newman, who has links with the British-Uzbek Society, also makes commercial introductions, according to Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan .

Sweeting went to Benghazi to promote Heritage, with Gen Holmes. Like Buckingham, Holmes moved from the army to the world of private military companies. He joined Erinys, which had security contracts in Iraq, and recently set up his own firm, Titon. Holmes succeeded in “bumping into members of the UK military mission who he knew”, on the trip, according to Sweeting’s letter.

Sweeting told the Guardian: “I wrote to the foreign secretary at an early point in the Libyan rebellion not to lobby him but to inform him and ensure that our efforts were known to HMG.

“The request for visas was for members of the national transitional council and/or their key advisers – at a time prior to recognition when the only visa office available to those persons was located in Tripoli and consequently unavailable to ‘rebels’ in Benghazi.”

The Jersey-registered Heritage Oil company declined to comment on the Sweeting letter.

At the age of 59, Buckingham himself has had a colourful history. He is reported to have served in the secretive Special Boat Service [the SBS].

His mansion at Bucklers Hard on the Beaulieu river in Hampshire, bought in 2004 for £4.5m, faces across the water to the former £5m estate of his ex-special forces colleague, Simon Mann, although Buckingham has not had contact with Mann since 2000.

Mann last month published his memoirs of the failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea which led to him spending five years in an African jail. His career began when he joined forces in the 1990s with Buckingham and the mercenary group Executive Outcomes to fight against rebels in Angola.

Buckingham parlayed Angolan and Sierra Leonian profits into diamond and oil ventures and built Heritage Oil into an aggressive exploration firm, specialising in winning concessions in high-risk areas, including Uganda, the Republic of Congo and Kurdistan. His fortune is estimated at about £500m.

My Observations:

1. The price of oil has increased by the barrel while the fat cats live in their luxury homes and continue to donate to the Conservative Party while inflation fell to 5 per cent today – but prices are still rising twice as fast as wages.

2. The latest figures from the government’s Consumer Price Index showed inflation in October dip slightly from a three-year high of 5.2 per cent the month before.

3. The Retail Price Index, which factors in living costs such as council tax and mortgage payments, showed inflation at 5.2 per cent, down from its 20-year high of 5.4 per cent in September.

4. Boffins at the Office of National Statistics put the drop down to a supermarket price war coupled with bumper crops for some domestic growers, fuelling the biggest fall in food prices for the quarter since 1996.

5. The new rate is still over twice the government’s inflation target of 2 per cent and double the 2.5 per cent rise in average earnings.

6. Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King appeared unmoved, saying he expected the rate to fall more sharply “in the next six months or so.”

7. But Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the fall offered only slight relief to families struggling to cope with the rising cost of living.

“While inflation has been consistently above target for many months, public-sector workers have been stuck on a pay freeze, stretching to two years for some.

“We know our members are already cutting back on basic essentials and are worried about heating their homes and putting food on the table this winter.”

8. The pressure on family budgets had become unsustainable, especially as public-sector workers now faced the prospect of losing a larger chunk of their wage to pension contributions.

9. The higher contributions planned by the government were “nothing more than a tax on public-sector workers to pay down the country’s deficit,” he said, arguing that a fairer government would tackle the bankers who caused the financial crisis instead.

10. The talk follows reports earlier this month that Chancellor George Osborne had sought advice on scrapping the “uprating” system that increases benefit payments in line with inflation.

11. The government is expected to announce any change to the scheme early next month.

12. While Government ministers traditionally visit factories to announce contracts and to bask in the public acclaim for protecting jobs in the crucial manufacturing sector.

13. Transport Minister Theresa Villiers broke new ground today by visiting Bombardier headquarters in Derby for a number of meetings with management and trade union representatives and delivering absolutely nothing.

14. If  Villiers expected the company and the unions to be awash with gratitude for Scotrail’s award of £15 million three-year contract operational support and supplies for its Class 170 Turbostar fleet of 177 vehicles, she must be on another planet. All contracts are welcome but on their own merits.

15. The Scotrail contract can neither replace not bear comparison with the £3bn deal to build trains for Thameslink, which the coalition government chose to award to German transnational corporation Siemens.

16. The Tories and Liberal Democrats have put the blame for this abject failure to safeguard a key industrial asset on the previous Labour government’s drafting of rules underpinning the tendering process.

17. As far as they were concerned, British manufacturing companies could stand on their own two feet and, failing that, could go to the wall.

18. Scandalously, the Tories and Liberal Democrats dishonoured this pledge, although they have since felt bound to offer another, smaller, loan to Forgemasters.

19. However, their betrayal of the Derby Bombardier workforce has not yet been reversed, even though it risks the destruction of Britain’s last train-building capacity.

20. The government constantly parrots the claim that EU regulations prevent it from reopening the tendering process with a view to awarding the contract to Bombardier rather than Siemens.

21. The bidding process was effectively rigged against Bombardier from day one when the tender was designed as a PFI-style contract, in which companies would take on not only building the train carriages and their maintenance but also arranging finance.

22. Given the A+ credit rating enjoyed by Siemens, this carried far more weight than it should have done against Bombardier’s experience of building for Britain’s rail industry.

23. That’s apart from the social impact of a decision that sentenced 1,400 skilled workers in Derby to the dole queue and possibly 10 times that number in related industries.

24. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna was correct to highlight last week the reality that both France and the Netherlands have won European Court of Justice approval for policies on tendering that factor in the effect on employment.

25. The trade unions and people of Derby have not accepted that the last word has been spoken on the Thameslink contract and neither should they.

26. Coalition ministers seem more worried about possible loss of face than about doing the right thing, so there must be no slackening of pressure on the government to demand that the Siemens contract be reassigned to Bombardier without delay.

27. Show your support by joining the trade unions on the day of action on 30 November show the coalition that we will not sit ideally while they cut our pensions and don’t let the the Fatcats get away with it.


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