This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Met Police spends millions of pounds on secret aircraft
The Metropolitan Police has secret spy planes capable of eavesdropping on mobile phone calls from the sky.
By Jason Lewis, Investigations Editor, and Andy Blackmore
The existence of the fleet of planes - each costing at least £3 million to purchase and hundreds of thousands more to operate - has never been publicly disclosed.
The police have being using the planes since at least 1997.
The disclosure of the spending, which is not detailed in official accounts, comes as the police face 20 per cent cuts in their budget, creating fears that hundreds of support staff will lose their jobs and the number of officers reduced.
Despite the cuts the Met's secret fixed wing aircraft fleet is still flying regular sorties over London from a base at Farnborough airfield, in Hampshire.
The planes have apparently been fitted with secret surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations.
They are understood to be similar to surveillance planes available to MI5 which have been used in anti-terrorism operations and were used to help West Midlands Police track suspects connected to a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier.
One of the planes is a Cessna F04, which can carry up to 14 passengers or be fitted with specially integrated patrol mission packs. We have been asked not to disclose full details of the aircraft on security grounds.
The twin engine craft are operated separately from the Met's Air Support Unit which has three helicopters and flies hundreds of hours a month in support of police operations around the capital at a cost of £3 million a year.
Last week a Metropolitan Police spokesman refused to discuss its use of the fixed wing aircraft but insisted it has gone through a "full" procurement process.
However members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which scrutinises the force's spending said they had never been told of the existence of the aircraft.
According to Civil Aviation Authority records, the aircraft is registered to a firm called Nor Leasing.
There is no trace of the firm on any other official record and its business address registered with the CAA is actually a branch of Mail Boxes Etc, which offers a virtual office services and mail forwarding, in Surbiton, south-west London.
Another Cessna was also previously registered to Nor Leasing at the same address and at another service address in Kensington, west London.
In 1997 one of the original individuals listed as "trading as" Nor Leasing was John Carnt who at the time was a senior Metropolitan Police detective.
Superintendent Carnt was the then head of the Serious and Economic Crime Group, which was set up to combat major fraud, money laundering and art and antiques thefts.
The pattern of hidden spending is believed to have been established by Tony Williams, a former assistant finance director at Scotland Yard, who established a secret web of companies for use in specialist undercover operations.
But Mr Williams also used the same techniques to steal millions of pounds from the force to set himself up as a bogus Scottish "laird". Williams was accused of stealing more than £4 million from Scotland Yard. He was jailed for seven years in 1995.
Metropolitan Police Authority member James Cleverly last night said he was totally unaware that the Met had any fixed wing aircraft.
Mr Cleverly, who also sits on the authority's counter terrorism and protective services committee, which examines the force's covert work, said: "This is not something that I have been made aware of or have had the opportunity to scrutinise.
"In the light of the tight financial situation we are facing and the cuts being imposed on the police service it is imperative that we examine any assets that could be construed as a 'luxury'.
"I would expect full disclosure of details of this to the MPA to enable us to examine whether it represents good value for money for the police service."
President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s decision to engage Mr Blair as an official adviser was motivated by his lifelong ambition of winning the award previously bestowed on The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, well-placed sources said.
The Kazakh regime, which has been heavily criticised for its human rights record, has also retained the services of Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications chief and Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s former chief of staff, in pursuit of the President’s dream.
The move will raise further questions about the activities of Mr Blair who since stepping down as Prime Minister has travelled the world mixing diplomatic missions and charitable works with secretive multi-million pound business deals.
Mr Blair claims he is not profiting from his links with Kazakhstan and until now his role, and the work of his former key Downing Street advisers, had been a mystery.
Both Mr Campbell and Mr Powell visited Astana, the nation’s newly built business and administrative capital, last March, weeks before the 71 year-old President was re-elected with 95 per cent of the vote amid accusations of “blatant ballot-box stuffing” from international observers.
The former Prime Minister has also reportedly established an office in the country.
But highly placed sources connected to Mr Nazarbayev said that the president hoped that his association with Mr Blair would enable him to secure a nomination for the Peace Prize next year to mark his 20 years in power.
The former Soviet state’s British Ambassador said “The former British Prime Minister acts as an adviser to the Government of Kazakhstan.”
He is relying on Mr Blair and his key advisers to help him show how he is reforming his country and also to emphasise the key strategic and intelligence role his country played in the during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He hopes they will help him highlight his role encouraging the United Nations general assembly to adopt August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests and his initiative to hold two international forums of world and traditional religions in Astana to foster mutual co-operation between faiths.
But others accuse him of human rights abuses. The country sits at number 105 in Transparency International’s league table of corruption and at 162 on the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
Criticising the president in person is illegal under the Kazakh criminal code and international monitors say the police routinely torture suspects.
One human rights campaigner was jailed for four years after a traffic accident that was not apparently his fault.
Another critic was discovered dead with a gun by his side. An official inquiry said he had killed himself. He apparently shot himself twice in the chest before putting a third bullet into his head.
Last month Mr Nazarbeyez signed a new religion law which bans prayer rooms in state buildings and requires all missionaries to register with authorities every year.
The new law is aimed at stamping out Islamist militancy but it has been widely criticised.
Ambassador Kairat Abusseitov said: “The former Prime Minister brings years of experience and we have benefited significantly from his strategic vision and deep understanding of the global economy as well as effective government and international policy making.
“The project is supporting the reforms the Government is making aimed at furthering democracy, strengthening the rule of law and improving the economic environment in Kazakhstan.”
President Nazarbeyev would be a controversial choice to win the Nobel Prize which is awarded annually to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
His country is ranked a lowly 105th, alongside Algeria, in the Transparency International corruption index and court cases in America have detailed millions of pounds of bribes he received through a series of oil deals with US firms.
The US State Department warns visitors to the country: “Kazakhstani security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.”
Another close associate of Mr Blair’s from his time in Downing Street, the former chairman of UK defence firm BAE Systems, Sir Richard Evans, is also thought to have played a role in establishing the relationship.
Sir Richard is now chairman of the Kazakh state holding company, Samruk which owns most of the major companies in the country, including the national rail and postal service, the state oil and gas company, the state uranium company, airline Air Astana, and numerous financial groups.
The President’s opponents have claimed in the High Court in London that he uses the fund advance his personal interests and political and economic power.
The group, which has around £50 billion worth of assets, was set up by presidential decree, and is headed by Mr Nazarbayev’s son-in-law Timur Kulibayev, who purchased Prince Andrew’s former marital home.
Last year it hired Lord Mandelson, architect of Mr Blair’s election victories, to give two speeches at its events.
At one of the conferences in Astana, in October last year, Lord Mandelson reportedly lavished praise on the Kazahk investment fund, saying: 'I want to stress a special role [it] played as a saviour of the world economy.
"There are at least two British banks which owe their economic vitality to sovereign funds, including those from Kazakhstan."
Mr Blair’s connections with the Emirate state of Abu Dhabi are also understood to have influenced Mr Nazarbeyez’s decision to seek his help.
Mr Blair is understood to be close to the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, He has praised the country for the millions of pounds of help it has given to Palestinian community projects.
Sheikh Mohammed’s state investment fund, Mubadala, which has interests including oil exploration contracts in Libya and Kazakhstan, is said to have Mr Blair on its payroll.
At the same time President Nazarbayev has been building close links with the oil rich Gulf state. He is believed to have moved much of his personal wealth to banks in the country and the two nations are now linked by a regular direct flight.
The President has a close personal relationship with member of the Royal Family and there are also very close commercial ties between the two Muslim countries.
Sources in Astana say the President has given the Abu Dhabi royal family a 99-year lease on a huge hunting reserve in the south of Kazakhstan and the Arab leaders have reciprocated giving him a luxury home on an island off the Gulf coast.
President Nazarbeyev has also been a guest of honour at the Abu Dhabi grand prix.
He has already courted a number of international figures in an effort to improve his image. He has been notoriously linked to Prince Andrew, Britain’s former Special Representative on International Trade, who visited the nation six times in seven years.
The Prince is a close friend of Goga Ashkenazi, a glamourous member of Nazarbeyev’s inner circle who has a child with the president’s son-in-law Timur.
He is also said to have gone goose-hunting with the President and his former marital home at Sunninghill, Berks, was sold to another member of the regime’s elite for £15 million - £3 million more than it was worth - and then left to fall apart.
Mr Powell was due back in Astana in July and Mr Campbell last month, but both cancelled their five star hotel rooms at the last minute and it is unclear if either have returned to the country.
Former diplomat Mr Powell, who helped broker the Northern Ireland peace agreement, had, until recently, been working for Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, but has now given up his full time role to set up a charity, Inter Mediate, offering international “conflict resolution”.
The charity, which says it is seeking project funding from the Department of International Development, lists Kazakhstan as one of its areas of operation, but Mr Powell said his work for President Nazarbeyev is not part of his charitable activities.
Asked about his work for President Nazarbayev, Jonathan Powell said: “I’ve got nothing to say about that. I suggest you talk to Tony Blair’s office about that.
He said his involvement was “nothing to do with Inter Mediate” which he said “had no luck yet” in attempting to secure DFID funding.
A spokesman for Tony Blair said he was not involved with President Nazarbayev’s campaign for the Nobel Prize.
He said: “Tony Blair has helped put together a team of international advisors and consultants to set up an advisory group for the Kazakhs, with a team of people working on the ground.
“The work they are doing is excellent, sensible and supports the reforms they are making. The Kazakhs also engage with a number of other former European leaders.
“Tony Blair last visited Kazakhstan in May of this year to attend a conference. He is not personally making a profit directly or indirectly on this.”
He denied reports Mr Blair was being paid £13 million for his part in the project and that the deal had any connection to the Kazahk’s investment fund or its increased connections with Abu Dhabi.
A Sunday Telegraph investigation has established there are much closer links between Mr Werritty and Lord Astor of Hever, the Under Secretary of State for Defence than had been realised.
Lord Astor was actually a trustee of the charity, Atlantic Bridge, which employed Mr Werritty and paid for him to travel the world alongside Dr Fox.
The peer, it can be revealed, is also closely connected to several of the individuals who funded the charity and with some of those who continued secretly to pay for Mr Werritty’s activities after it was wound up.
The investigation raises questions over whether Lord Astor knew how Mr Werritty was apparently presenting himself as Dr Fox’s adviser, knew who he was meeting, and knew that Mr Werritty was spending money from Pargav, the company funded by secret donors, on lavish travel and tailoring.
Last night, critics said Lord Astor had to disclose exactly what he knew about Mr Werritty. John Mann, a Labour MP, said: “It seems a second government minister, Lord Astor, has questions to answer about his involvement with Adam Werritty and what he knew about Mr Werritty’s activities.
“There is a basic lack of transparency here and the official investigation needs to be broadened to get to the bottom of what was really going on.”
Lord Astor, 65, risked being found in breach of charity law by allowing Atlantic Bridge to operate as a political organisation and failing to keep proper records of how the charity was run.
The peer, whose second wife, Lady Elizabeth, 61, recently modelled for an advertising campaign selling deodorant, is a member of a historic political dynasty and a hereditary peer who served as a Life Guards officer in Malaysia and Northern Ireland.
He was brought up at Hever Castle in Kent, which the family sold after he succeeded his father to become the third Baron Astor of Hever.
He had been a trustee of Atlantic Bridge since it was founded in 2003, but stepped down two months before the conclusion of an investigation by the Charity Commission.
As a charity, the organisation was able to avoid paying tax on its activities, and Lord Astor, as a trustee, had been legally responsible for ensuring it complied with charity rules that allowed this. But Atlantic Bridge closed after it was warned its political activities would breach charity law.
The Charity Commission said the organisation, which promoted the special relationship between Britain and America, “may lead members of the public to call into question its independence from party politics”.
It would have been ordered to close but it was dissolved shortly before the criticisms were published.
It also criticised the trustees for failing to keep proper records about how the charity was run.
Mr Werritty had been Atlantic Bridge’s only employee and it paid him more than £90,000 in wages and expenses. The chief executive of its American sister organisation, Atlantic Bridge Inc, Amanda Bowman, has claimed it “did nothing” and was a “shell game” – a confidence trick.
Lord Astor, who is the defence department’s spokesman in the House of Lords, was a trustee of the organisation for at least six years and was legally responsible for all its activities, alongside its chairman, Dr Fox, and two others, Prof Patrick Minford, an economist, and Andrew Dunlop, a lobbyist.
Lord Astor and Dr Fox resigned as trustees after the general election in May 2010.
Mr Werritty then set up Pargav, a company whose donors were promised that their identities would be kept secret.
The disclosure of his use of its money to pay for first class travel, expensive entertainment and a visit to a lap-dancing bar angered the donors.
Dr Fox was forced to quit his Cabinet post ten days ago after admitting errors of judgment in mixing his professional and personal loyalties over his involvement with Mr Werritty, and was later ruled to have breached the ministerial code of conduct by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary.
Sir Gus’s investigation only said Mr Werritty and Lord Astor had “occasional social contact with Mr Werritty; contact as a result of their previous involvement with the Atlantic Bridge; and contact in passing when visiting Bahrain in December 2010”.
In fact Lord Astor, a regular visitor to the Gulf State, attended a security conference alongside Dr Fox during which he also met Mr Werritty.
Earlier this year, Lord Astor returned to the Gulf state, and caused controversy after comments were attributed to him that said Britain was backing the actions of the government of Bahrain when they used force to put down democracy protests leaving scores dead.
Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the eldest son of King Hamad, met Lord Astor last February following days of violence in the Gulf state. Lord Astor has close ties with Bahrain, a key military ally of Britain, and last year disclosed that he had attended the Gulf state’s Formula 1 Grand Prix as a guest of its royal family.
The controversy stemmed from a statement released by Bell Pottinger, the public relations firm headed by Lord Bell, who was an adviser to the former prime minister, Baroness Thatcher, who was also patron of Atlantic Bridge.
The statement, issued on behalf of Bahrain’s government, suggested Lord Astor had praised the national dialogue launched by the king.
It read: “The UK backs all initiatives taken by the kingdom’s leadership to safeguard the country from extremism and internal division, promote national unity and protect the legitimate ruling system advocated by the Bahraini people.”
Within hours British officials said this was an inaccurate representation of the conversation and sought a clarification from Bahrain.
Last night, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Lord Astor emphasised the UK’s firm support for the Bahraini government’s peaceful management of the protests at this time and our readiness to help his Royal Highness the Crown Prince to start a national dialogue, including by encouraging all groups to participate.” At the time, Lord Bell denied his agency was at fault. He said: “We don’t create the messages. We don’t create the policies. We communicate them.”
Lord Bell also represents the hedge fund boss Michael Hintze, who has given more than £1 million in donations to the Conservative Party and was the main backer of Atlantic Bridge, giving around £104,000.
It can also be disclosed that Lord Astor is a friend of another of those who funded Mr Werritty’s activities since the closure of Atlantic Bridge.
Stephen Crouch, a businessman who runs the Iraq Research Group (IRG), paid Mr Werritty £20,000 to act as a consultant.
Mr Werritty is understood to have provided introductions for IRG, which is involved in setting up contracts between the Iraqi government and British businesses. He is believed to have introduced clients with expertise in the energy business. IRG has no involvement with defence contracts.
Mr Werritty and Mr Crouch, a former Tory party constituency chairman, are members of The Carlton Club, a Conservative social club. They are said to have met each other socially around two years ago, but only began a business relationship this year.
Last week, Mr Crouch was understood to be out of the country and was not available for comment.
Last night, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Lord Astor was involved with Atlantic Bridge and met Adam Werritty though his work with that organisation.
“When Lord Astor became a Government minister he removed himself from Atlantic Bridge as it wasn’t appropriate for him to continue.”
A spokesman for The Charity Commission said that after a review by Atlantic Bridge and a meeting with the commission, the trustees of the charity said they intended to wind-up the organisation.
Donors said they had given money to Mr Werritty, the ex-defence secretary’s best man, to promote their political agenda but were furious to discover the cash was used to fund his lavish lifestyle.
Dr Fox faces questions over whether he knew of the existence of the so-called secret “slush fund” and how it was being operated by Mr Werritty.
Secondly, the donors told The Sunday Telegraph that they had been promised that they would remain anonymous, but have now had their names made public in the growing scandal.
In a third development an MP last night urged the police to step in to investigate whether Mr Werritty had committed “fraud”.
But friends of the former minister insisted that he had nothing to fear and was confident that the inquiry being conducted by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, would not deliver a harsh verdict when its findings are made known this week.
However, Sir Gus will be under pressure this weekend to deal with the alleged promise by Mr Werritty to guarantee donors anonymity when they funded “Pargav” the company set up to further Dr Fox’s interest in foreign policy, in a possible breach of strict rules on declaring political donations.
One of the donors told The Sunday Telegraph they had been misled over how their money would be spent and had called in lawyers. Another company, whose employee set up Pargav on Mr Werritty’s behalf, had instituted a formal investigation by a leading City law firm.
It was the fury of the donors, many of whom are backers of the Conservative Party, which led directly to Dr Fox’s decision to resign on Friday, saying he had blurred his personal and professional lives.
The former defence secretary’s hopes of a Cabinet comeback at some point in the future now largely depend on Sir Gus’s findings.
One friend told The Sunday Telegraph: “Liam did not profit by a penny piece from all of this and I am sure the inquiry will make that clear.
“In a couple of months we will be looking back at all this and wondering what it was all about. It’s a load of absolute nonsense.”
In an impromptu reshuffle, David Cameron replaced Dr Fox with Philip Hammond, who had been the transport secretary, and promoted Justine Greening into the Cabinet to take Mr Hammond’s post. It was so rushed that Mr Cameron promoted ministers from a railway platform surrounded by morris dancers.
The new questions for Dr Fox and Mr Werritty came as:
Whitehall sources said Dr Fox had admitted a clear breach of the ministerial code by using Mr Werritty as his unpaid adviser without the Prime Minister’s permission.
Labour MP John Mann wrote to police saying they must investigate whether Mr Werritty committed “potential fraud” by misrepresenting his relationship with Dr Fox.
A £3.9 billion emergency bail-out for the Ministry of Defence, secured by Mr Fox before he quit, came to light, underlining the parlous state of the department’s finances.
The chief executive of the American arm of Dr Fox’s Atlantic Bridge think tank told The Sunday Telegraph that Mr Werritty was running a “shell game” and apparently doing no real work.
Mr Mann has written to police demanding they investigate whether Mr Werritty committed a crime by calling himself Dr Fox’s adviser.
Mr Mann said: “I referred the matter to the police to investigate whether there is a potential fraud.
“Mr Werritty gave out business cards saying he was an adviser to Dr Fox.
“If that is not the case and he was getting money — for whatever purpose — by misrepresenting his relationship with the defence secretary, that cannot be right.” Mr Mann also said he would call for police and the Electoral Commission to look at whether Dr Fox could face potential criminal proceedings.
Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: “The real question is how is it the Ministry of Defence and officials in Liam Fox’s private office were not alerting the Permanent Secretary that something pretty unacceptable was happening.”
Meanwhile the American chief executive of Atlantic Bridge has told The Sunday Telegraph that the organisation’s British arm, whose sole employee was Mr Werritty, “did nothing” and was “a shell game” — a reference to a US-style street confidence trick.
Amanda Bowman, whose US group raised more than $500,000 for Dr Fox’s cause, said what Mr Werritty did for the organisation was “something of a mystery”.
“I have never met Liam Fox without Adam Werritty there,” she said.
“He was the British operation, there was only Adam. But the British arm didn’t really do anything. Its money came from one donor, Michael Hintze. Adam was running it and I think he made some big mistakes.”
Atlantic Bridge was succeeded by Pargav. It was designed to pursue the defence secretary’s personal political agenda and guaranteed its financial backers “total anonymity”.
Donors were told it was promoting free trade and Britain’s special relationship with the United States. It was put together to ensure that nothing linked it to the Cabinet minister or his close friend and former flatmate.
During a 12-month period almost £150,000 was paid into Pargav’s bank account, based at a branch of HSBC in the Buckinghamshire town of Gerrards Cross, 30 miles from the central London home of Mr Werritty, 33, who used it to pay for his lifestyle as he travelled the globe in style.
The money was spent on first-class travel and five-star hotels, as well as tailored clothes, expensive shows, and entertainment, including a trip to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, a topless bar in New York.
The firm had no shareholders and no registered employees. Neither Mr Werritty nor Dr Fox appeared on any legal paperwork.
Donors included John Moulton, the venture capitalist, and the South African businessman Michael Lewis, who between them handed over £133,000. Its one director, Oliver Hylton, had no involvement in its day-to-day activities and set up the company at the request of Mr Werritty, sources said.
He works as an aide to Tory party donor Michael Hintze, the Australian multi-millionaire boss of hedge fund CQS, advising him on charitable giving.
Mr Hintze, alarmed by suggestions that he was backing Mr Werritty and underwriting his activities, ordered his employee to explain how the company had been set up and was operated, then discovered the extraordinary expenditure, sources said.
Mr Hintze was told the company had been set up as a favour done by Mr Hylton to his friend Mr Werritty and had nothing to do with CQS. Mr Hylton then made public how the money had been spent.
At the same time other donors who had given money to Mr Werritty began to question how he had used their cash, delivering a fatal blow to Dr Fox.
Mr Hylton faces a formal investigation over his role by City law firm Allen and Overy, which Mr Hintze has called in to ensure that his hedge fund or its employees have not broken any Financial Services Authority rules.
Sources close to the donors said Mr Hylton had acted “like a buffoon” by failing to ask why Mr Werritty did not want any official association with the firm.
It also guaranteed that the name of its backers, many of whom were Tory donors with a long association with Dr Fox, would never be revealed. Strict rules on political donations say they need to be fully declared.
A spokesman for Good Governance Group, which gave £15,000 to Pargav and £60,000 in total to organisations linked to Dr Fox, said it was investigating how money paid into Pargav was spent.
Mr Werritty was unavailable for comment last night.