National security threatened when politics are in the grip of money | Nick cohen
TThe sight of Winston Churchill’s grandson threatened with legal action for passing on warnings about a political influencer ‘s relationship with a hostile foreign power should stir national memories. A tingle of alarm perhaps. A feeling that the Patriots should be heard, not shut down by London lawyers charging £ 500 an hour to any passing member of the world’s super-rich.
Last week the Financial Time Told how former Tory MPs Sir Nicholas Soames and Charlotte Leslie passed memos that allegedly dealt with past relations in Russia from a businessman and philanthropist named Mohamed Amersi to Ben Elliot, the Conservative Party’s co-chair.
Amersi and his Russian-British partner, Nadezhda Rodicheva, have given the Tories more than £ 750,000 since 2017. In the leadership election, Amersi found he had supported every horse by donating £ 10,000 each to Jeremy Chasse, Michel gove, Boris Johnson and Rory stewart. Whoever wins would be accountable, except for Stewart, who returned the money, period.
Elliot read the memos. He wasn’t worried and accepted another $ 50,000 from Amersi. Amersi discovered the private memos. Elliot did not pass them on to him, I am told; they came through a third party. He hired Reya and Carter-Ruck’s Mishcon to threaten Soames and Leslie with libel and data breach claims and says he has already spent nearly £ 300,000 on legal fees.
Amersi seems to want to fit into one of the most sensitive areas of foreign policy by creating an alternative organization to the Conservative Middle East Council of Soames and Leslie. He is the sole named shareholder of a group called the Conservative Friends of the Middle East and North Africa.
It’s a matter of public record that Amersi made part of his fortune by making deals in 2005 with a business empire that a Swiss court ruled controlled by an associate of Vladimir Putin. Amersi was accused in a separate 2006 trial in the Southern District of New York of attempting to “extort” a payment of $ 2 billion from a businessman on behalf of a Russian oligarch.
In 2002, an English High Court judge called Amersi’s conduct “lamentable” and his testimony “unreliable”. Amersi told the FT that the judge behaved like a “farmer” who did not understand the sophisticated business world. When I spoke to him, he alleged that the judge was biased. He added: “I believe in freedom of the press. When asked why he was threatening Soames and Leslie then, he replied that it would be up to the courts to decide the truth of the matter. He added that he made $ 7 million by the time he ended his relations with Russia in 2007 and that the money went to an apartment in Dubai and not to the Conservative Party. As for the New York court case, he denied ever having been involved in the extortion.
He seems determined to go to court and maybe the truth will come out there. But as anyone who has followed Russian attempts to manipulate Western democracies knows, this story did not come out of nowhere.
I have spoken to many Conservative sources who are concerned about the direction their party is taking and also concerned that the security services are shirking their responsibilities. A security source said MI5 could not interfere in the political affairs of the parties. He cited the “Wilson Doctrine,” the Harold Wilson rule that security services should not wiretap MPs’ phones. As no one is suggesting that they should, but should rather examine government manipulation attempts, the response missed all available points. I must add that the Observer tried talking to MI5 but, perhaps inevitably, that didn’t answer our questions.
Let me step away from the Amersi case to explain why there is so much fear about where Johnson is taking sides and his country. Russia and China want to influence British politics. One way to do this is to donate money to the ruling party and run front organizations. In the 2010s, Sergei Nalobin of the Russian Embassy created the Conservative Friends of Russia. In 2015, his diplomatic visa was revoked after the intervention of the security services.
What would happen to a conservative Friends of Russia today? Who would the security services warn if they could muster the courage to do their duty? Russia’s intelligence and security committee report explained why MI5, MI6 and the National Crime Agency withdrew from the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the Brexit referendum. It was a political “hot potato” and no one wanted to face the backlash from the right that close scrutiny might entail. The report added that Russian money had created a growing industry of “lawyers, accountants and real estate agents” in London who acted as “facilitators”.
A catalyst is Ben Elliot, whose company Quintessentially provides “concierge services” to the oligarchs, including advice on what art and wine to buy and how to get their children to the best schools. Quintessentially has an office in Moscow. There is money out there, so why not? Amersi was a client and was pictured enjoying a party with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Elliot’s aunt and wife of our future King.
In the past, MI5 has reportedly spoken to the cabinet secretary. But today’s cabinet secretary is Simon Case, who is relatively young and inexperienced and appointed by Johnson.
Which leaves our dear Prime Minister. Such is the decadence of the Johnson regime, nobody expects anything from it. Johnson makes rich men pay for his vacations, his decorators and even the food on his plate. To say that he is for sale is to downplay the case against him. It has already been purchased.
The post of Prime Minister Johnson marked our transition from a society with residual notions of honor to a country where money is all you need.
Formerly, you had to respect a code if you wanted to join the establishment. If you were caught breaking it, you had to go lest your vices discredit the elite at large. Today, if you pay the right politicians enough, they will offer you concierge service and ignore anyone who asks boring questions about the national interest. The old Great Britain of the good guys who could be relied on, occasionally, to do the right thing is dead. We no longer have a government of good guys, just bad actors.