Stourbridge MP Margot James’s political operation received a £5000 share of multiple donations to the Conservative party from an oligarch-led oil industry contractor that later went out of business, owing hundreds of thousands of pounds to a struggling local authority.
The MP’s office was passed money from the deeply troubled oil industry engineering yard Offshore Group Newcastle (OGN) in December 2015 by Conservative Central Office in London, parliamentary records show.
The donation arrived at Ms James’ office two months after OGN’s then head, the fugitive Russian former oil company boss and prominent Conservative party backer Alexander Temerko hit out at the Government on a lack of energy policy.
At the time of the donation, Offshore Group Newcastle (OGN) had shrunk from being one of the North East’s biggest employers to a shell with just a handful of employees and a dwindling order book. But it had maintained a stream of gifts to the Conservative Party totalling over £470,000 between August 2012 and December 2015.
OGN had previously been embroiled in a donations controversy when it gave £140,000 to the Conservative party after the group secured a Government offer of an initial £4.5m grant to help it move into wind power engineering.
In addition, the Conservative Party received more than £480,000 in personal cash donations and auction prize bids from Ukranian-born Mr Temerko, who arrived in Britain as a fugitive after being linked to allegations of fraud and tax avoidance by the Russian government and was granted citizenship in the UK.
In all, OGN – whose former holding company OGN Investment Partners remains based in the offshore tax haven British Virgin Islands – and Mr Temerko contributed a total of almost a million pounds to the coffers of the MP’s Party HQ since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
Towards the end of 2015 Ms James and six other Conservative MPs shared a total of £60,000 in further donations from OGN, passed on by Conservative Central HQ.
OGN eventually foundered in July 2017 after it failed to win a major contract to support the construction of a giant wind farm off the Norfolk coast. Among its unpaid debts were £270,000 to the already cash-strapped local Waveney District Council in Norfolk, which is now struggling to maintain essential services after Government cuts.
Mr Temerko was number two at the former Russian oil company giant Yukos. He won the right to stay in the UK in 2005 after a judge found Russia’s attempt to extradite him on fraud and tax evasion charges was politically motivated. He has been a vocal member of the Leader’s Group, the Conservative Party’s top ‘Meet the PM’ social and networking event for high net-worth party backers, where ‘invitations’ in 2015 cost £50,000.
Senior figures from OGN and and their local Labour MP Mary Glindon had lobbied the Government hard for support as it battled to build a foothold in the UK’s then rapidly expanding wind power sector, with hopes pinned on the building of the Race Bank giant wind farm off the coast of Norfolk.
But OGN missed out on the wind farm project, which has since been completed and commissioned by Danish engineers Orsted. OGN blamed the loss on the timing of the Government’s abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Within 18 months OGN filed for liquidation with substantial debts against assets. The remains of the group operations at the historic Hadrian Yard site in Wallsend were then acquired by the Belgian engineering giant Smulders. Mr Temerko’s directorship was terminated in November 2017.
The parliamentary record, Hansard, shows that Ms James declared her receipt of the OGN donation on February 17, 2016, a week after OGN put its site lease at Wallsend on the market amid warnings that its future ‘looked bleak’.
Ms James’ entry in the Register of Interests also records an earlier £10,000 donation for her 2015 re-election campaign made by Jeremy Asher, another tycoon involved with the offshore oil drilling and energy industry, also directed to her by Conservative Central Office.
There is no suggestion that either Ms James or Mr Temerko were involved in any wrongdoing. In February 2018, Mr Temerko threw his weight behind a campaign for Ms James’ neighbouring MP, Kinver member and current Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister, describing Mr Williamson in The Sun newspaper as ‘like Churchill’.
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