Michael Ashcroft Takes His Revenge, by Justin Gorringe, Tax-News.com, London 28 January 2002
The UK's Guardian newspaper reports that a senior British diplomat has lost his job and a US drugs enforcement agency official faces trial next month, after they disclosed information about the controversial business activities of the billionaire Michael Ashcroft. The paper says that Charles Drace-Francis, a former high commissioner, has resigned from the Foreign Office after a leak inquiry, while Jonathan Randel, a US drugs agency analyst formerly working in Atlanta, faces a US trial after being charged with selling classified documents to the Times.
Ashcroft has claimed that he and Belize were the subjects of a vendetta by the UK's socialist government, and the Guardian sees these developments as revenge on the part of the former Tory treasurer.
He was accused of abusing his influence in the tiny central American state of Belize to get tax exemptions for his businesses by promoting an offshore financial regime which had become a haven for money launderers and drug smugglers, but shortly before Christmas, it appeared that UK Minister Clare Short had called off her International Development Department crusade against him. A person close to the Belize government said Britain had indicated it no longer wanted action against him. "The Ashcroft matter has been put on one side," he said. "The British government is no longer pressing that."
The Government had attempted to coerce the Belizean authorities into withdrawing tax exemptions given to Michael Ashcroft's main holding company, Carlisle Holdings, by threatening not to forgive any of the country's debt under its international debt relief programme. But the International Development Department said: "The decision on whether or not to maintain the existing tax exemptions for public investment companies is for the government of Belize, although we have encouraged them to ensure that at least no further public investment companies should be created."
According to the Financial Times, Ms Short was obliged to back down when Michael Beloff, a leading QC, warned that the Belize government might be vulnerable to legal action if it abolished the tax exemptions enjoyed by two 'public investment' companies in the country. They are Carlisle Holdings and Sonisa, a financial services group.
The Belizean Government had shown great reluctance to withdraw tax exemptions given to major investors in the country. A spokesman for Lord Ashcroft, criticised the withdrawal of debt relief: 'The government is punishing Belize - a country hit by two hurricanes - by refusing to allow any relief from debt. This dog in the manger attitude is just punishing the people of Belize because the government would not agree to Britain's demands,' he said.