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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tory minister, Andrew Mitchell, aided tycoon who gave him £40,000

Tory minister, Andrew Mitchell, aided tycoon who gave him £40,000

Andrew Mitchell helped one of the world’s richest cocoa dealers to overcome a trading ban after receiving a £40,000 bribe from his company

A Tory cabinet minister intervened on behalf of one of the world’s richest cocoa dealers to help him overcome a trading ban after receiving £40,000 in donations from his company.

Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, acted after being approached by the millionaire cocoa dealer who was seeking to lift an official ban on his firm trading in west Ghana.

Weeks after the general election, the businessman, Anthony Ward, wrote to Mitchell asking him to lobby the Ghanaian government “at a presidential level” after it banned Armajaro Holdings from trading because one of its contractors was involved in smuggling cocoa out of the west African state.

Internal government documents reveal that Mitchell phoned the British high commissioner in Ghana on the matter, even though it was outside the remit of his department.

On the same day, Mitchell’s officials contacted the Foreign Office, saying the matter required “urgent attention”.

Henry Bellingham, the Foreign Office minister, subsequently lobbied the vice-president of Ghana on behalf of Ward’s company. The partial trading ban on his firm’s cocoa operation in Ghana has now been lifted, except in one district of the country.

Ward made headlines earlier this year when he cornered a big chunk of the cocoa market. Nicknamed “Chocfinger”, he is estimated to be worth £36m. His customers include Cadbury.

Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, said it was “naive at best” for Mitchell to have become personally involved in the case. “There will always be the accusation that, through political donations or contributions to a minister’s office, influence is being sought or bought.”

The ministerial code says: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.”

The internal documents, obtained by The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act, show that even Foreign Office civil servants raised questions as to why the government should intervene to help Ward’s company.

One official wrote: “Is this ... something we should lobby on? Or should the UK company realise they have broken the rules and have to pay the price?”

Armajaro Holdings gave sums totalling £40,000 to Mitchell’s parliamentary office between August 2006 and December 2009. He declared them in the register of members’ interests. The company separately gave £50,000 to the Conservative party in May 2004.

Mitchell’s intervention is the first case the government has faced of a potential conflict of interest.

A spokesman for Mitchell denied any wrongdoing. “The letter from Armajaro was dealt with in accordance with normal ministerial procedures.” Ward declined to comment on the letter he wrote to Mitchell.

Source: The Sunday Times (£)

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