Global Britain

Boris Johnson, October 23, 2020

In June 2016, the people of Britain decisively voted to withdraw from the European Union.  The final negotiations for the new relationship between Britain and the EU were completed in December 2020 and come into force on 1st January 2021.  Having played an active role in the European debate since the late 1980s, the WorldPR leadership team has been advising corporations and legal entities, chiefly outside the EU, on what Brexit means for them and how to leverage the new, Global Britain to their advantage.  The macro-economic analysis below explains the background to Brexit and sets out the key strategic considerations that will determine its long term success.

Although the pound sterling fell sharply against the dollar, euro and other world currencies immediately after the referendum, the dire consequences predicted by the British government and other Remain campaigners never materialised.  The weak pound created a favourable trade climate, there was no mass exodus of investment banks from the City, British manufacturing did not flee to the euro-zone, there was no “crisis budget” the day after the vote and unemployment did not instantly jump by 500,000. In fact, the British economy continued to perform well. It grew faster than the EU average, and by January 2019 unemployment had declined to a 44-year low and remained low until the global pandemic disrupted economies everywhere.

Not only is Britain still open for business, it is rapidly pushing forward.  In early December 2020, the Department of International Trade reported that Britain had already signed trade deals with 27 countries or trade blocs, including with such key partners as Canada, Iceland and Norway, Singapore and Switzerland.  These will come into effect on January 1, 2021, when EU deals no longer apply to the UK, at the same time as the new trade deal with the EU. Talks with a further 11 countries continue.  Additionally, Britain has signed a free trade agreement with Japan and mutual recognition agreements with Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

In the four years since the referendum, nearly a fifth of British companies have forged new trade relationships outside the EU, and an estimated £50 billion in trade has been diverted from the EU to emerging markets, mainly the BRICS countries.  But there is nothing new in this pattern.  Trade with the EU has been shrinking for years.  In 2019, the EU accounted for 43.5% of British exports and 51.8% of its imports.  This is well down from 1999 when it accounted for 53.8% of exports and 56.1% of imports.  Over the same period, the share of exports to non-EU markets rose by 12% and imports by 4.3%.  Moreover, in 2019 British trade with the EU resulted in a £79.2 billion trade deficit while its trade with non-EU countries generated a £48.7 billion surplus.  Here, too, is a well-established pattern: every year since 1999, Britain has had a negative balance of trade with the EU whereas most years – and every year since 2011 – it has had a trade surplus with its non-EU partners. 

There is an automatic assumption in some parts of the world that Brexit is a negative development. This is based on two misconceptions. The first is an exaggerated valuation of what access to the European single market means. In fact, although only 6% of British companies actually trade with the EU, access came at a very high price to the entire economy. This included, among other costs and restrictions, the second-highest membership fees in the bloc, the loss of 90 per cent of fishing grounds in British waters, the absorption of a mass of regulation with direct effect known as the acquis communautaire, joint liability for eurozone bailouts and the European Investment Bank, uncontrolled immigration and, above all else, the direct supremacy of the European Court of Justice over UK law.  The second misconception is based on a false narrative, fostered by Remain campaigners and the EU elite.  According to this version of events, Brexit was triggered by a single political event – the European migration crisis triggered by Mrs Merkel in 2015 is most often cited – which led to the growth of “populism”.  Populism is characterised as a narrow-minded, xenophobic and backward-looking nationalism, especially when projected on British critics of the EU.  The truth, however, is different. 

Brexit, at its heart, descends from a noble ideal, which is the assertion by the people of their fundamental constitutional right to be sovereign over their government according to centuries-old democratic traditions that crystallised during the English and Scottish Enlightenment. These are universal values and the federal European State stands in direct and unequivocal opposition to them.  Additionally, as the trade figures clearly show, the economic arguments in favour of British integration with the EU started to unravel a long time ago. The price of access to the EU market, in terms of direct costs, overbearing regulation and loss of democratic rights, became too high. This, then, is the economic and political landscape against which the gradual, thirty-year process of leaving the EU needs to be viewed.  As such, Brexit is a statement of economic reality reinforced by political necessity.  So overwhelming was popular support for Brexit that it won the referendum despite the opposition of every single important branch of the British Establishment. 

The deal agreed between Boris Johnson and the EU in late December 2020 unfetters the British economy from EU strictures and opens new opportunities for British businesses and the foreign companies that want to trade with them. Britain now has a number of clear advantages. 

Firstly, it enables the country to frame its own trade policy and to forge trade deals better suited to its economy without wasting valuable time reconciling conflicting vested interests in the EU.  Secondly, Britain can now begin to adjust the hundreds of thousands of EU regulations, many of them bad, that govern everything from temporary workers, working time, chemicals and end-of-life vehicles, to anti-scientific bans on genetic modification, restrictions on growth generating venture capital, anti-internet ‘accept cookie’ requirements and the (transparently anti-Dyson) restrictions on the power of vacuum cleaners.  A third and really important freedom concerns the ability to diverge from the EU on future regulation. This will apply especially to AI and robotics, and to a raft of digital issues. The British tech sector is already the biggest in the EU and after Brexit it is expected to grow very significantly. While the EU is likely to over-regulate these sectors to preserve existing structures, Britain now has the freedom to take a different path. 

Over time, being unshackled from the EU will allow British policymakers to adopt a more flexible and nuanced regulatory system that better framed to its needs.  An early example of this was the ability of the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to efficiently evaluate and authorise emergency use of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, a world first that would have been impossible had Britain continued to adhere to the approval process adopted by the EU. By contrast, the countries of the EU specifically elected to act as a single entity in seeking to provide a vaccine to the pandemic. Thus, in an overtly political move designed to appease Macron who was championing the Sanofi vaccine, the EU put in a smaller order to Pfizer and BioNTech.  The announcement by Sanofi that if faces severe delays to the rollout of its vaccine, by as long as half a year, has hurled a hand grenade into the EU’s plans to vaccinate the majority of European citizens by Summer 2021 and the political ramifications of this setback, notably in Germany, appear to be very serious.

For Britain’s departure from the EU to be truly successful, however, it must above all be prepared to undertake meaningful reforms. The most immediate and important priority of British policymakers concerns taxation. Britain faces an additional £400 billion in borrowing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making the nation’s debt burden more than 100% of GDP for the first time since the 1960s.  Boris Johnson’s government will need to act decisively, even radically if necessary, to stimulate growth. The successful renegotiation of British long-term debt on very favourable terms provides a window in which to prioritise growth over fiscal rectitude.  The government is unlikely, therefore, to make the mistake of first seeking to restore the public finances. There also needs to be decisive reforms to boost the level of real investment, both public and private, to tackle the poor performance of the public sector across a wide range of activities including the health system and improve Britain’s under-performing educational sector, including its bloated university system. It is encouraging that the government is hinting that a number of radical reforms that were hidden from public view during the EU negotiations, may already be in the pipeline.

In the lead up to and aftermath of the referendum, the CEOs of many of Britain’s biggest companies despaired loudly over the economic precipice they saw before them and vowed to move their operations out of the country.  Among them was the CEO of the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever.  Notwithstanding threats to relocate the company to the Netherlands, in November Unilever merged its two arms into a single legal entity – Unilever PLC – that now trades exclusively on the London Stock Exchange.  Since the predicted flight of business and finance from the UK has yet to happen, it is likely that most companies whose CEOs were once staunch Remainers will follow Unilever’s lead in recognising the world of opportunity opened to them by Brexit.

Leaving the EU and shedding the weight of many of its restrictions will help unleash a new tiger economy no longer trapped in the regulatory orbit of the European Commission.  Global Britain is already spreading its wings by forging closer economic and security links with traditional allies such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  A CANZUK trade and military alliance, symbolised by Britain’s opening of a new naval base in Bahrain and the stationing of one of its two Queen Elizabeth II class aircraft carriers east of Suez, offers up the possibility of a new and exciting horizon.  Having been at the side of Margaret Thatcher in September 1988 when she fired the starting gun for the Leave campaign at her historic speech at Bruges, and benefiting from more than thirty years experience in international political communications, the WorldPR leadership team has the knowledge and expertise to help companies, governments and organisations navigate the post-Brexit landscape and achieve their objectives in Global Britain.

Stanhopegate Group

Mohsen Tayebi, Executive Chairman, Stanhopegate Partners.

Stanhopegate Group was founded in 2003 by Mohsen Tayebi, one of Britain’s leading design-and-build specialists who has established a reputation over 25 years for developing and managing a significant portfolio of properties at the top end of London’s residential market.  

Mohsen first established Stanhope Gate Management, addressed exclusively to providing property development services for HNW clients. Together with Alireza Sagharchi, he co-founded Stanhope Gate Architecture, which has grown to become an internationally renowned practice specialising in new build, master planning and refurbishment of listed and historic buildings, hotel and resort projects, both in the UK and abroad.  

Mohsen is now fully focused on building a new company within the group, Stanhopegate Partners, which provides a comprehensive one-stop shop, managing all aspects of design, planning and construction within a dependable financial framework.  It offers deep experience in sourcing new build projects, project management, investment management, procurement, architecture and interior design.  The Stanhopegate Group has completed major commercial and residential projects in the UK, USA and in Europe and Mohsen Tayebi has collectively overseen a portfolio of properties valued in excess of £650 million.

WorldPR has been active with SG since its inception and has overseen the development of a comprehensive PR strategy including visual design, corporate branding, digital outreach and external communications.

Morgan Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe

Morgan Tsvangirai is sworn in by Robert Mugabe

For much of Zimbabwe’s history since Independence the best hope for the country’s political development rested with Morgan Tsvangirai, a key figure in the opposition to the autocratic and corrupt Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.

WorldPR was hired by the team led by Bertie Way and British pollster Lord Andrew Cooper to give strategic advice to Tsvangirai prior to the 2002 presidential election.   Central to our immediate strategy was that he and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which he had formed after quitting ZANU-PF, should boycott a contest that was obviously fixed because participation would lend legitimacy to the election. By contrast, the British Foreign Office argued forcefully that the MDC’s participation was critical to the development of a fledgling parliamentary opposition.  In the event, Tsvangirai contested the election which was characterised by voter intimidation, violence and widespread fraud and which led predictably to victory for Mugabe.

Tsvangirai’s supporters subsequently faced repeated arrests and beatings. In 2007 Tsvangirai was arrested on his way to a prayer rally, tortured and beaten unconscious, an incident that caused an international outcry. Later that year his bodyguard died after being severely injured during a government crackdown on opponents.  Two years later, in 2009, when heading towards his rural home in Buhera, Tsvangirai was injured and his first wife, Susan, killed in a head-on collision on a near empty-road whose causes remain uncertain.

Tsvangirai was finally to become Prime Minister 2009-2013. This followed parliamentary and presidential elections in which his party gained more votes than its opponent in the first round of polling – despite the election being again heavily rigged in favour of Mugabe.  Under fears for his life, Tsvangirai withdrew from the second round of the contest when the risk of widespread violence became impossible to ignore.

At a subsequent meeting, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to form a government of national unity in which executive decisions would be taken by a cabinet chaired by Tsvangirai.  In reality the reins of power and control of the armed forces remained with Mugabe, who ruthlessly excluded Tsvangirai from the decision-making process, while failing to reverse policies that had resulted in rampant inflation, economic chaos and extreme poverty.

On 14 February 2018, Tsvangirai, who had been in poor health for some years, died at the age of 65.

Save Venice, Inc.

Created as a response to the devastating damage caused by the November 1966 floods – resulting in the highest tide in Venice during the 20th century – Save Venice Inc. is the leading American non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving the city’s artistic heritage.  

Since 1971, Save Venice has funded the conservation of more than 550 projects in the city, comprising over 1,000 individual artworks.

In 2015, Save Venice established the Rosand Library & Study Center in Venice, a research base of Venetian art, history, and conservation. The organisation also provides grants for fellowships, exhibitions, and publications to advance scholarship and conservation.   The dedicated executive team at Save Venice select conservation projects on the basis of artistic merit, historical importance, and urgency of need by the Save Venice Board of Directors and its projects committee. This comprises noted experts in the fields of art, history, and conservation.

WorldPR advised Save Venice, which has offices in New York City and Venice and chapters in Boston and California, at the time of the publication of City of Falling Angels, a non-fiction work set in Venice by the celebrated American author, John Berendt (also author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil).  Save Venice was engaged in the ground-breaking restoration of the magnificent Jewish cemetery on the Lido di Venezia, the oldest in the world having been founded in 1386.

The Lockerbie Bombing

Megrahi after his return to Libya in 2009

On 21 December 1988 the 259 passengers and crew members on scheduled Pan Am Flight 103 flight from Frankfurt to Detroit, via London, were killed when their aircraft was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie in Scotland.

The authorities immediately pointed the finger of suspicion at the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.  Three years later, following the decision of a specially convened Scottish criminal court, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the head of Libyan Arab airlines security, was convicted of 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

From the start, the proceedings of the court, which had been convened at Camp Zeit in The Netherlands, invited scepticism.  Much of the prosecution evidence had been discredited during the course of the trial. The case largely hinged on the provenance of the altimeter that triggered the bomb. The key witness, Ulrich Lumpert, an employee at a Zurich company that made devices of a kind known to have been sold to Libya, identified a fragment from one such device which was said to have been found in the aircraft wreckage.  He later admitted to having stolen the device and passed it to a Lockerbie investigator and to have lied about the matter in court.  Separately, Megrahi’s co-defendant, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, was found not guilty after it was established that he was in Sweden at the time.

Robert Black, a senior lawyer responsible for devising the format of the Lockerbie hearing, described Megrahi’s conviction as the “biggest miscarriage of Scottish justice in 100 years.” Among the growing number calling for Megrahi’s release were several relatives of those killed in the disaster who believed that the authorities should pursue other lines of inquiry, as well as Nelson Mandela, the Church of Scotland, the law faculties of Scottish universities and the UN’s representative at the trial. In 2001, when WorldPR first became involved, Megrahi’s appeal against conviction was dismissed.

In 2007 Megrahi was once again granted leave to appeal, amid leaks emanating from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board that it was likely to hear the case again.  Megrahi decided to abandon the appeal because this could have jeopardised his prospect of being moved to Libya under a prisoner transfer scheme. Just two days later Megrahi, who was said to be suffering from terminal cancer, was released on compassionate grounds, having served just eight years in jail. 

There appears to be little doubt that the release, in which the Scottish government connived, was part of the so-called “Deal in the Desert” struck by Tony Blair with Colonel Gadhafi in 2004 in the knowledge that Megrahi was innocent.  After all, no British government would have released Megrahi if it – and its closest ally the United States – had truly believed him to have killed 270 innocent civilians, however ill he might have been. 

Doubts about the soundness of Megrahi’s conviction have grown still further since that time, but the true story of Pan Am Flight 103 remains shrouded in mystery and official disinformation.  The most probably scenario is that the terrorist outrage was committed by Syrian militants acting on a $10 million bounty offered by the Iranian government to avenge the accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet by the warship USS Vincennes months earlier, killing 290 people.  At the time, dramatic events were unfolding in the Middle East and the truth seems to have fallen victim to expedience.   In 1990, Syria committed 14,500 troops to the US-led coalition against Iraq and its participation in the alliance was considered crucial. There was parallel interest in diverting blame from Iran in order to protect secret and delicate negotiations by the Bush administration over western hostages.

Whatever the truth of the cover-up that ensued, it seems certain that Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, and the families of the victims of Flight 103, fell victim to a miscarriage of justice.  Commissioned by the international team of lawyers working for the Libyan government, WorldPR worked to draw the attention of the international media and opinion formers to the many weaknesses, inconsistencies and contradictions in the prosecution case against Megrahi.  It did so after its own research convinced it that Al Megrahi – who never wavered in his protestations of innocence – was indeed innocent.  It is proud to have done so: there is little doubt that public opinion was a major factor in his release.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, which sits at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, became the worlds first Muslim majority state when it claimed its independence from the Russian Empire in 1918. It was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920 but regained its Independence following the Soviet collapse.

Since then, Azerbaijan has become an extraordinary regional economic success story, with rapid increases in GDP, low levels of unemployment and falling levels of poverty. Formerly one of the world’s poorest nations, Azerbaijan is now ranked as a middle-ranking nation in per capita income.

Two-thirds of Azerbaijan is rich in oil, natural gas and other mineral resources including various types of metal, and it has used its mineral wealth wisely. In September 1994, in what was described as “the deal of the century”, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) signed a thirty-year contract and thirteen oil companies, among them BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, Lukoil and Equinor.

Between 1995 and 2012, the country’s GDP increased twenty-fold. In 2006 the launch of a new currency, the manat, helped to cement far-reaching economic reforms, including privatisation  and de-regulation. The creation of a Norwegian-style sovereign wealth fund has contributed to economic stability, while a series of  further reforms introduced by President Ilham Aliyev have made business start-ups simpler and quicker, thereby increasing the country’s attractive ness to foreign investors.

WorldPR has worked with Azeri government agencies including SOCAR to communicate its successes in multiple fields and help to raise the country’s profile to reflect its growing economic and political significance as an increasingly active member of  the Turkic Council, the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent states.

In November 2020 the long-running conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in intense fighting. The ensuing peace deal brokered by Russia has enabled Azerbaijan to reclaim around twenty per cent of the territory illegally seized by Armenia in 1990 – a significant victory for Azerbaijan.

Kazakhstan

Logo of Kazakhstan’s national tourist company

Kazakhstan is a vast country larger than Western Europe that shares a 7,644 km border with Russia and 1,782 km border with China.  With a multi-ethnic population of nearly nineteen million, Kazakhstan has enjoyed political stability and rapid economic growth following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and Independence a year later. 

Now the strongest economy in Central Asia, oil and gas-rich Kazakhstan links the fast-growing markets of China and South Asia with those of Russia and Western Europe by road, rail and the Caspian port of Atyrau.

According to the World Bank, Kazakhstan transitioned in less than two decades from lower-middle-income to upper-middle-income status. Since 2002, Kazakhstan’s GDP per capita has risen six-fold and poverty has fallen sharply, significantly improving the country’s ranking in the World Bank’s indicator of shared prosperity. Kazakhstan was also the first former Soviet Republic to repay all of its debt to the International Monetary Fund following Independence, seven years ahead of schedule. It ranked third, after China and Qatar, in the World Bank’s list of the twenty five most dynamic economies of the 21st century’s first decade. 

WorldPR has worked for multiple Kazakhstan government departments and agencies since 2004, and advised key private-sector actors in the country’s mineral resources sector.  It’s principal mission has been to communicate Kazakhstan’s successes to international audiences, raise the country’s profile and cement its position on the world stage.  It has advised the government in a wide range of policies and initiatives, including Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010, its successful application to join the WTO in 2015 and its membership of the United Nations Security Council in 2017. In recent years WorldPR has assisted international efforts by the Kazakhstan government to secure the prosecution and trial of Mukhtar Ablyazov, the criminal mastermind who absconded from Kazakhstan in 2009 with an estimated $7 billion.

Kazakhstan’s founding father, Nursultan Nazarbayev, stood down as president in 2019.  Astana, the nation’s capital city that he founded after Independence, was renamed Nursultan in his honour.

Michel Thomas

Like a number of WorldPR’s high-profile clients who have sought our guidance, Michael Thomas was a remarkable individual who nevertheless found that his personal qualities – in his case huge personal courage and great intelligence – were not sufficient to deal a wholly unexpected attack on his reputation.

Thomas, who was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1914 to a wealthy Jewish family, was a gifted linguist and war hero.  He served in the French Resistance and survived imprisonment in several different Nazi concentration camps.

In January 1943 he was arrested and interrogated by Klaus Barbie, the SS and Gestapo chief knows as the “Butcher of Lyons”, only being released after convincing his captor that he was an apolitical French artist.  (After the war, he gave evidence at Barbie’s trial.)   Arrested, tortured and later released by the Milice, the Vichy paramilitary militia, Thomas joined a commando group assisting the American OSS.  Thanks to his proficient linguistic skills, he was then recruited by the US Counterintelligence Corps.  Present with US troops at the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, he identified and arrested Emil Mahl (the “hangman of Dachau”).  In all, Thomas has been credited with arrest of more than 2,500 German war criminals.

After the war, Thomas emigrated to the United States, where he enjoyed a remarkable success in developing a language-teaching system known as the “Michel Thomas method,” enabling students to become conversationally proficient in a short space of time.  His pupils included diplomats, industrialists and movie stars and his courses are still widely available in bookshops today.  Then in 2001, the Los Angeles Times published a profile of Thomas entitled “Larger Than Life”, which cast doubt on many aspects of his life, including his war record.  Thomas was mortified and sued the paper for defamation, but under strict US freedom of reporting laws, he lost the case.

With the help of a dedicated team of researchers, we helped Thomas to piece together the key events of his life and publish his story in a book by the celebrated British war author, Christopher Robbins, called “Michel Thomas:  The Test of Courage”.  The book, which became an immediate bestseller, contained archival documents and testimonials of Thomas’s wartime comrades which were subsequently submitted to the US Army to provide irrefutable evidence of his wartime record and to restore his reputation.

In 2004 – a year before his death aged 90 – at a special ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington DC, Thomas was awarded the silver star “For gallantry in action against the enemy in France.” 

The Ablyazov Syndicate

Mukhtar Ablyazov being arrested in France

For more than ten years WorldPR has been involved in efforts to unmask Mukhtar Kabyluly Ablyazov, 57, a criminal fugitive wanted in multiple countries for the embezzlement and laundering of an estimated $7.6 billion from BTA bank of Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

Ablyazov, who is currently under arrest in Paris, has been sentenced in absentia by Kazakh courts to life imprisonment for murder and 20 years for embezzlement. He faces a multiplicity of other charges in different countries, among which a RICO investigation in the US, criminal embezzlement charges in Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine, and he has been sentenced by the English High Court to three concurrent sentences of twenty-two months imprisonment for contempt of court. 

Described by the British press as “the world’s richest fraudster”, Ablyazov was born in 1963 in a village in southern Kazakhstan and graduated with a degree in theoretical physics from the Alma-Ata State University. In the early 90s he built a food and distribution business and quickly become one of his country’s first post-Soviet entrepreneurs. He served as a government minister and ultimately became the head of Kazakhstan’s largest financial institution, BTA Bank, which he acquired after Yerzhan Tatishev, then head of the Bank, was killed in 2004 in what was described at the time as a “hunting accident”.  The man responsible for his death, Muratkhan Tokmadi, a known criminal with strong links to organised crime, received a short jail sentence for “negligent manslaughter”.  He later confessed to having shot Tatishev in the head on the orders of Ablyazov.

By 2008, BTA bank had grown to be the largest commercial financial institution in Kazakhstan.  It was the largest creditor of the Kazakh economy, and owned 30% of all corporate loans as well as subsidiaries in neighbouring Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine.  Ablyazov, who was the bank’s chairman, leveraged the bank’s book value to secure large loans from a consortium of international banks, including HSBC, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Royal Bank of Scotland, which invested $1.8 billion of private pension funds with the bank.

In reality, after taking control of the bank Ablyazov masterminded a sophisticated fake loans scheme that between 2005 and 2009 syphoned an estimated $7.6 billion through a network of more than 1,000 offshore companies controlled by him.  Many hundreds of millions are believed to have been laundered through UK legal entities. The massive shortfall in the bank’s books was only discovered in 2009 by auditors from PriceWaterhouse Coopers. As the net closed around him, Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan to London and applied for asylum on the grounds of “political persecution” by the Kazakhstan government. In London he lived a life of opulence and is believed to have owned three private planes and more than one thousand apartments, 106 cars and twenty luxury villas.  He nurtured relations with Kazakh opposition media and resuscitated the defunct Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) political party in a transparent attempt to create a political alibi.  BTA bank, meanwhile, faced insolvency and was twice bailed out by Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, which became its majority shareholder.  

In March 2009, BTA bank started civil proceedings against Ablyazov in the London High Court.  Those proceedings, which are the largest in British legal history, have uncovered three major criminal schemes by which Ablyazov and his co-conspirators defrauded pensioners, investors, companies and even British tax-payers of billions of dollars.  In more than a decade of litigation, BTA has secured High Court judgments against Ablyazov in excess of $4.9 billion, but only a fraction of the bank’s stolen funds have ever been recovered.  Ablyazov’s closest criminal associate, Viktor Khrapunov, a former Mayor of the city of Almaty who is subject to more than twenty criminal prosecutions, has been found guilty of defrauding the Kazakh state of $300 million. In August 2018, the London High Court ruled that Khrapunov’s son, Ilyas, who is married to Ablyazov’s eldest daughter Madina, had conspired with Mukhtar Ablyazov to swindle over $6 billion.  

Having committed “fraud on an epic scale”, in the words of one British judge, in 2012 Ablyazov once again fled jurisdiction, escaping London on a coach the day before he was due to be sentenced to imprisonment for contempt of court. He reappeared in France using a previously undisclosed passport from the Central African Republic.  In August 2013 Ablyazov was arrested by French police and held in prison on a Russian arrest warrant. Russia’s attempt to extradite him was, however, blocked in 2015 by France’s highest administrative court. For a while, Ablyazov disappeared into obscurity in the French provinces.

Then, in October 2020, the persistence of BTA bank and the Kazakh authorities paid off when the Paris state prosecutor ordered Ablyazov’s arrest. He has been charged with aggravated abuse of trust and money laundering and a French criminal investigation has formally been opened.

YouTube documentary film:  The Ablyazov Syndicate

The Manuka Club

Benjamin Goldsmith, founder of the Manuka Club

Admission to the Manuka Club – an environment protection organisation founded by Benjamin Goldsmith in 2004 – is not achieved so much by lobbying as by private invitation. Organisations deemed worthy of financial help are recommended by a small group of “gatekeepers” – all experienced campaigners.

The club, which has recently been subsumed into the JMG Foundation, is an influential global network set up with funds bequeathed by the late tycoon Sir James Goldsmith focused on awarding grants to environmental projects all over the world.  Unlike its parent body, Manuka gives relatively small sums (maximum £2,000) to local groups of volunteers in the UK.

Typically, campaigners go on weekend course to learn how to generate publicity, to reach opinion formers, to stage meetings and to recruit volunteers. It has given many groups the confidence as well as the skills to engage in David and Goliath style contests with major corporations – often with success.

Among causes which have benefitted from the club are the campaign to prevent the A350 bypass between Trowbridge and Warminster, the fight to prevent aircraft noise resulting from the construction of a new runway at Heathrow and the campaign to halt Bristol airport expansion.

The organisation was named after the Manuka tree in New Zealand which is the first sign of life to reappear after an environmental disaster such as a fire or flood.

WorldPR has been involved in the Manuka Club since its inception, providing guidance on strategy, fundraising and logistics.