Real Media: Northern Ireland, Conservatives & Dark Money (1/2)
Adam Ramsay of Open Democracy discusses his investigation into the Democratic Unionist Party and dark money during the Brexit campaign (Part 1) Real Media, UK, Northern Ireland, conservatives, Open Democracy, Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, dark money, Brexit, Adam Ramsey, Theresa May
ADAM RAMSAY: I’m Adam Ramsay, and I’m editor of Open Democracy UK. Think about, for example, who gets to go on telly, and who gets to be on Question Time or the news or whatever, who gets to set the agenda in British politics, and a lot of it is about think tanks. There’s lots of great think tanks who are entirely honest about where they get their money from and they’re clever people sitting in a room doing honest work, trying to work out the best policies for the country, and from different political persuasions, but they’re honest about that.
But there’s also a lot of organizations which call themselves think tanks, big famous ones, Institute for Economic Affairs for example, who are on T.V. regularly, who refuse to tell us where they get their cash from, and what that means is, that I think you and I should just see them, they’re corporate lobbyists. These are people who are based in buying their way into political influence, and representing secret interests that we know nothing about, and I think that a very simple thing that we could do in British politics is create a law or rather a rule, the BBC Charter, which says that the BBC shouldn’t let on unless you declare where your money comes from, and if you don’t, then you should be introduced as a corporate lobbyist.
The week of the European Referendum, I had been off down interviewing people in Doncaster, and I arrived back home to Edinburgh. I got off the train, and there, just outside the station, were these two Leave campaigners, and you didn’t see many Leave campaigners in Edinburgh, so that was odd, so I stopped to talk to them, and I got a nice photo of them, and as I was talking, I realized that the materials they were holding said in the bit at the bottom that’s called the imprint, “Printed and promoted by Jeffery Donaldson, Democratic Unionist Party, Dundela Avenue, Belfast.” I thought, “That’s very strange. Why is the Democratic Unionist Party paying for campaign materials in Edinburgh when it doesn’t run in elections in Edinburgh, it’s got nothing to do with Scottish politics?”
As I walked home, I thought, “Well, there’s only one reason for that,” which is that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where if you give lots of money to a political party, that it’s not public who’s given the money. So if you wanted to secretly give money to the Brexit campaign, you could give your cash to the DUP, and then that money would then get used to pay for campaign materials across the UK. “So,” I thought, “someone is trying to hide their donation to the Brexit campaign.” Then I did nothing at all for about four or five months.
Then there was an election in Northern Ireland, the government collapsed, and I thought, “It’s quite important that we find out who gave this money,” and we start digging into it, and I was doing some work on this and a friend reminded me that another journalist, a guy from Ireland called Peter Geoghegan, also based in Scotland, had also pointed out that this was quite likely. He’d spotted a massive wrap-around advert in the Metro that they’d also paid for, and he pointed to the same reason for it. This is dark money, it’s not kind of some little quirk of a weird party in Northern Ireland, it’s a way to get this dark money into the referendum campaign.
So I rang Peter, and the two of us did some work. Pulled together one story, worked out they’d spent at least quarter of a million pounds on this campaign, and that the most they’d ever spent before was around £60,000, so that’s big difference. It’s not their own money, I went back to their old accounts, and their turnover was less than that amount of money, so this wasn’t money from their own source, someone had given them the cash. We published that, and then it was raised in the election debate during the campaign in Northern Ireland, and so it became a big issue, and they kept getting asked questions about it. Eventually, they were so bored with being asked about it and not being able to say anything else, that they kind of half told us where it came from.
They said, “We got £435,000, in fact, from this group, the Constitutional Research Council,” who’s chair is a man called Richard Cook, who’s a Scottish Tory. Now, the Constitutional Research Council isn’t really a think, it doesn’t register on Companies House, it’s not a trade union or anything like that. It’s what’s called an unincorporated association, which means it isn’t registered any other way. But Richard Cook is a person you can look into, so as soon as he was revealed, I went onto his account in Companies House and there, went through various documents and eventually found he’d set up this company called Five Star Investment Management Ltd with two other people. One of them was Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. I thought, “Oh, that’s odd.” So I looked him up and it turned out he’s the former head of the Saudi Arabian Intelligence service, and also father of the current Saudi Ambassador to the UK. The second man was this man called Peter Haestrup.
So we published a piece about the Saudi prince, and there was a lot of people who were like, “Oh, wow,” and then we couldn’t found much about Peter Haestrup, but gradually, it turned out there was someone called Peter Haestrup, maybe the same person, maybe not, who’s this Danish man who’d been involved in a thing called the Purulia arms drop. Purulia arms drop is what’s been described as the biggest crime in the history of the Indian state, in other words, since India became independent in the 1940s, where hundreds of Kalashnikovs were dropped from a former Soviet airplane into an area of West Bengal, where there were lots of people from this Hindu terrorist group. He’d been accused by the Indian Prosecution Service of coordinating that, and has now been arrested for it.
We got hold of him on the phone, he admitted that he was the same person who was accused of this crime and had set up this company with Richard Cook, so we published that story. To this day, all though I’ve been round all of London, I’ve cornered these various DUP MPs and asked them if they knew where the money’s from and so on, we still don’t know whether that’s where the cash came from, we still don’t know exactly where this money’s come from. So, huge donation to the Dup from some secret source that made a big amount of money spent in the Brexit referendum, we still don’t know where it came from.
There’s a huge problem in British politics, and we see this in American politics too, that people with a lot of money can have massive influence on our politics, much more influence than you and I can ever have, and with more and more sophisticated campaign technology. So for example, some of the DUP’s money was spent with a company called Aggregate IQ, who were very influential in the Trump campaign, and also used by all the different new campaigns in the Brexit referendum, who are very good at targeting messages particular people to persuade them to vote how they want on social media and so on, so the huge amount of money that really very rich people can spend can be used very strategically to target you, to persuade you to do a thing that they want you to do. So it gives rich people a huge amount of power over our politics.
What Northern Ireland is an example of, and it’s not the only example, it’s one example, is of how they can get away with not only doing that, but also being entirely secret where this money comes from. There’s more and more examples we keep finding we keep finding of dark money that’s flooding into British politics through all these cracks in our leaky system, and allows very wealthy people, and we don’t know which wealthy people, to have huge influence over our politics.
Richard Cook has been very reticent to talk to us. There’s been a few journalists try to track him down. He talked to the Sunday Times not long after we wrote this story, and he said to them that any idea that he had any connections at all to the Saudi Intelligence Service was ridiculous. Now, the thing that’s extraordinary about that is that Companies House is a public website, anyone who’s watching this video can go on Companies House, they can search for Richard Elliot Cook, they can find this document that shows he founded a company with this guy.
If he’d said, “Yeah, look, I did set up a company with a Saudi prince, it folded, it didn’t work out. It had got nothing to do with my belief in Brexit,” then that might be true, but the fact that he just said straight out to the Sunday Times that this was ridiculous indicates to me that, you know, why doesn’t he just admit something which is obviously true. Even the Sunday Times wrote after his quote that he did set up this company with the former head of the Saudi Intelligence, ’cause he did, it’s on public record.
I sometimes tell people the most important thing to remember about the British state is that Britain is responsible for more penguins than any other government on Earth, because in fact, Britain is responsible for more land in the Southern Hemisphere than the Northern. Britain, we often think of as a collection on islands in the North Atlantic, kind of three quarters of an archipelago. But what it really is is the kind of vestige of a dying empire, and the way that a lot of the corruption comes into Britain is through the cracks that are left by this old empire, and the biggest of those is Northern Ireland.
Ireland was Britain’s first colony, and we don’t like to look too closely at Ireland, because if you’re British and you look closely at Ireland then you very quickly realize quite what horrific things we did there, and so we don’t pay attention to it, we’ve been ignoring it for 20 years, and that means that we’ve allowed these things to fester, including laws that allow dark money to be put through politics there, but also a whole range of other problems in the politics there as well, which people in Britain have really just turned a blind eye to for a very long time.
Absolutely, so there are two important things. The first is that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has it within their power to release all the donations given to Northern Irish parties in the last few years. Basically, there was a law a few years ago, which said that at some point, they will reveal all the information they have. So the first thing is the Tories, they say that they will at some point do this, they just keep not doing it. Tories we should put under pressure to release the information they have.
The second thing is that, and this is another bit of work that I’ve been doing a lot of research on, actually the Electoral Commission don’t have as much information as they’re meant to, so unincorporated associations, if they have given more than £25,000 to a political party, are meant to register. I’ve found at least one organization which gave £100,000 to the Scottish Tories only last year, and actually didn’t register and, you know, just by looking at Electoral Commission’s own records, I showed this and they hadn’t noticed this themselves.
So there’s a huge gap there, but then also, all those ones who registered are meant to declare all donations to them of more than £7,500. But despite the fact that the Tories have made £12 million from this kind of organization since this law passed in 2009, only one of them has ever declared any donations to it, and only declared donations from two different people, amounting to a total of, I think, £7,500 each from those people, so basically they’re all just ignoring the law that means that we can find out where the money’s coming from. They’re all pretending that this whole sum of about £12 million to the Tories has come in donations of less than £7,500. In some cases, that might be true, but I don’t really believe it’s true of all of them.
Earlier this year, we forced the Democratic Unionist Party to confess that they had got £435,000 from an unknown shady group called the Constitutional Research Council in order to campaign for Brexit. Now, we then did some digging into the Constitutional Research Council, we found out that in 2013, its chair, Richard Cook, had set up a company with two other men, the former head of the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service, and a man who’s been accused of running guns to Hindu terrorist groups in India, but we don’t yet know where that money truly came from.
Now, if the DUP is going to have any involvement in the British government at all, we have to know where they got £435,000 from just last year, so please, donate to our investigation, you can click on the link with this video and help pay so that we can continue digging, and get to the bottom of who on Earth gave the DUP £435,000 for their Brexit campaign.