Ben Elliot: the Conservative chair behind ‘supercharging’ ultra-wealthy donations

Old Etonian has raised more than £70m for the Tory party

Ben Elliot
(Image credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Conservative Party co-chair Ben Elliot is facing scrutiny over allegations that he jointly owned a secret offshore film-financing company that “indirectly benefitted” from more than £120,000 of tax credits.

The revelation comes as the party is facing growing calls to hand back cash from several top Tory donors who have been named in the Pandora Papers, as well as reigniting criticism of Elliot’s “supercharged” courting of what The Guardian called “ultra-wealthy” political donors.

‘Supreme networker’

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Elliot, 46, has been co-chairman of the Conservative Party since July 2019 and the party has raised more than £70m under his tenure. This includes the “record sum” of £37m in the last quarter of 2019 ahead of the general election, “more than three times Labour’s £10m”, said The Guardian.

As the nephew of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, “Elliot is a supreme networker”, said the BBC, undoubtedly one of the main reasons “Johnson made him the Tory party’s money man.” And like the prime minister, Elliot attended elite private school Eton, before going on to the University of Bristol and then co-founding luxury concierge service Quintessentially.

Elliot was given his “first introduction into the world of political fundraising” through friend and fellow Etonian Zac Goldsmith, who gave him a job as treasurer for his campaign to become London mayor in 2016, the broadcaster added.

But Elliot’s rise to one of the top jobs in the Tory party has “left some in Tory circles feeling uncomfortable,” according to The Guardian.

While it is far from unusual to “install a well-connected businessman” in the role in the hope that they will “persuade their moneyed contacts to back the party”, there are fears his approach has fostered a “‘cash for access’ culture”, the paper added.

That in turn has lead to allegations that wealthy people seeking influence “can donate money and expect access to Johnson and senior cabinet ministers in return”.

Tax questions

The latest allegations to emerge from the Pandora Papers suggest that a film financing company jointly owned by Elliot and Ben Goldsmith, the brother of Tory peer and minister Zac, benefitted from tax credits. The company, E&G Productions, is based in the British Virgin Islands and was created to fund the making of Fire in Babylon, a documentary about the West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 80s.

However, analysis of financial disclosures by The Guardian suggest the company “held a controlling stake in a British subsidiary that made the film”.

The UK subsidiary then received “a £600,000 loan” from the British Virgin Islands (BVI) based company in 2008, plus an additional “£121,000 from a government scheme designed to incentivise film production in the UK between 2009 and 2011,” said the paper.

The film made a £70,000 loss, and without the tax rebate from the government scheme, the UK business would “not have been able to fully repay its offshore investors – the largest of which was Elliot and Goldsmith’s BVI company, E&G Productions,” said The Guardian.

A former HMRC tax inspector, who reviewed the structure for the paper, said that the use of an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands by two UK residents was unlikely to be “anything other than tax-motivated”.

Cash for access

Mohamed Amersi, a leading Tory donor who himself has come under scrutiny after revelations in the Pandora Papers linked him to a major corruption scandal, has suggested the party hold a “special investigation” into the potential conflicts of interest surrounding Elliot.

Amersi, who has donated over £750,000 to the Conservative Party since 2018, is said to have concerns over the “blurred lines between Elliot’s personal, political and business interests,” reported Sky News.

It comes after Elliot was dragged into a “cash for access” row after Amersi claimed Elliot arranged for him to meet Prince Charles, after paying years of significant subscription payments to his concierge company, Quintessentially.

It lead to accusations that Elliot was “soliciting charity donations in return for access to Prince Charles,” the broadcaster added.

Amersi suggested the Conservatives should look into any “lapses in governance” and remove Elliot if he is unwilling to make changes to governance structures.

“If there are any lapses in governance they can be easily structured and addressed,” Amersi told the broadcaster. “Then the party and the board has to see whether he is somebody who’s willing and able to work within those structures.”

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