Pandora Papers: Tory donor Mohamed Amersi involved in telecoms corruption scandal

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A prominent Tory donor who contributed to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign was involved in one of Europe’s biggest corruption scandals, a BBC investigation has discovered.

Mohamed Amersi has given nearly £525,000 to the party since 2018.

Leaked documents reveal how he worked on a series of controversial deals for a Swedish telecoms company that was later fined $965m (£700m) in a US prosecution.

Mr Amersi denies any wrongdoing.

The 61-year-old is a corporate lawyer who worked as a consultant for Telia between 2007 and 2013.

Working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Guardian, BBC Panorama has obtained documents that show how Mr Amersi was involved in a controversial $220m payment to a secretive offshore company in 2010.

The firm was controlled by Gulnara Karimova – the daughter of the then president of Uzbekistan – and the payment was described by the US authorities as a “$220m bribe”.

Mr Amersi’s lawyers said the offshore company had been “vetted and approved by Telia” and that its involvement “did not raise any red flags” to him.

Questions about the sources of Mr Amersi’s wealth come as the Conservative Party’s annual conference is under way in Manchester.

His donations have included more than £100,000 towards the 2019 general election campaign and £10,000 to the prime minister’s leadership bid.

Mr Amersi’s Russian-born partner, Nadezhda Rodicheva, has also donated money to the Conservatives – more than £250,000 in 2017 and 2018.

Political law expert Gavin Millar QC believes the Conservatives should return the money.

“I think they should give it back… if serious questions are being asked about the donor,” he said.

But Mr Millar added “the bottom line is they don’t have to, and there’s nothing in the law or the regulation of our system that compels them to do that”.

The main political parties including Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all faced calls to hand donations back over the years.

At the moment individual donors only need to be on the UK electoral register.

Once a party has checked that, they can accept as much money as they like.

Mr Millar said: “You would have thought… that there should be some sort of obligation placed on them in law, to enquire a little bit into where that large sum of money comes from.

In recent months, Mr Amersi has been drawn into a “cash for access” row centred around claims that high-spending Tory donors were able to gain regular meetings with the prime minister and chancellor.

Gulnara Karimova in 2014IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,A company owned by Gulnara Karimova was linked to the deal

Mr Amersi’s name is featured in a leak of almost 12 million documents and files known as the Pandora Papers.

They detail the workings of offshore financial firms in locations including the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Singapore.

On Sunday, the BBC revealed how documents showed the King of Jordan amassed a secret property empire, and the Azerbaijani president and his associates have been involved in property deals in the UK worth more than £400m.

The leaked documents also showed how the former UK prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, bought a London property for £6.45 million in an offshore deal that saved them £312,000 in stamp duty.

The documents show Mr Amersi purchased two properties in the UK – a Mayfair townhouse and country home in Gloucestershire using secretive offshore companies.

Further investigations by the BBC and its media partners have indicated Mr Amersi was involved in negotiations that resulted in $220m being paid to a Gibraltar-based company.

The firm was secretly owned through an offshore company by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the then president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.

Telia had given her shares in one of its companies in 2007 and three years later agreed to buy most of the stock back for $220m – a move US authorities described in a criminal prosecution as a “bribe payment… in order to continue its telecoms business in Uzbekistan”.

Telia was seeking new mobile operating licences for its business in the country at the time, and prosecutors say Ms Karimova – a one-time pop star and UN ambassador – had “influence” with the Uzbek regulator.

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