|The Right Honourable
The Lord Ashcroft
|Born||Michael Anthony Ashcroft
4 March 1946
Chichester, West Sussex, England
|Residence||London, Maidenhead, Belize|
Belonger of the Turks & Caicos Islands
Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe
|Alma mater||Anglia Ruskin University|
|Occupation||Businessman, Philanthropist, Politician|
|Net worth||▲ £1.1 billion|
British Car Auctions
|Political party||Conservative Party|
|Board member of||Tyco International|
|Spouse(s)||Susan Anstey (m. 1986)|
Michael Anthony Ashcroft, Baron Ashcroft, KCMG, (born 4 March 1946), is an international businessman, philanthropist and politician. He holds dual British and Belizean nationality, and is a Belonger of the Turks & Caicos Islands. On 1 March 2010, after 10 years of holding his tax status as private, he revealed that he did not pay tax on his overseas earnings. Made a life peer in 2000, he is a Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. In the Sunday Times Rich List 2009 ranking of the wealthiest people in the UK he was placed 37th with an estimated fortune of £1.1 billion.
He was educated at Norwich School, Royal Grammar School, and Mid-Essex Technical College (now Anglia Ruskin University), where he obtained a Higher National Diploma.
After a period in Belize after completing his education, Ashcroft returned to hitch hike around Europe, and then for a short period of time became the manager of a rock and roll band. In 1967, Ashcroft joined Rothmans as a management trainee.
He left in 1969, joining Pritchard Group Services, after some months on the dole. Pritchard Group was a cleaning and business services company and Ashcroft worked his way up quickly to become an assistant in the company's head office accounting department, part of a large acquisitions team.
In 1972 at age 26, he started his own business, Michael A. Ashcroft Associates. His first acquisition was Uni-Kleen – a loss-making cleaning company with one thousand employees, which he purchased for just £1 in 1974. With a £15,000 bank loan he worked to turn the company around, selling it just three years later for £1.3 million.
On exiting Uni-Kleen in 1977, his next purchase was Hawley Goodall, another poorly-performing company, this time in camping equipment manufacture. Ashcroft used Hawley to make a series of acquisitions, transforming Hawley into a business services group, ranging from janitorial services for hospitals and offices, to car auction services, and later with a focus on the security services industry. By 1981, Hawley had made its first acquisitions in the United States, and its total revenues had grown to $27 million. In 1986, Hawley bought out Ashcroft's former employer, Pritchard Services, leaping to the second place in the U.S. services industry. At this time, Hawley had revenues of more than $1.3 billion.
1987 was a key year for Hawley. In the early part of the year, it bought Crime Control Inc. based in Indianapolis, for $50 million, placing the company fourth place spot in the U.S. security market. Later in the year it bought ADT Security Services, the largest electronic security company in the United States. This purchase transformed Hawley into the leading security services business in the United States, and resulted in the majority of its revenues coming from the North American market. As a result of the acquisition, Bermudan-registered Hawley changed its name to ADT Inc. and decided to refocus its business around security services. At the end of 1987, the company sold its North American-based facility services business to Denmark's ISS A/S.
Ashcroft disposed of large amounts of the Tyco stock which he had acquired as a result of the sale of ADT, explaining that he needed the capital to diversify into other things and that he never retained a substantial stake in any enterprise which he did not control. Ashcroft nevertheless continued as a non-executive director of Tyco, a role he still held in 2002 when Tyco CEO, Dennis Kozlowski, was arrested in New York in connection with personal tax offenses. Unease had already been expressed at Tyco at some of Kozlowski's corporate decisions and Ashcroft was amongst the directors who appointed lawyer David Boies to investigate irregularities in the company. In time, the exposure of management deficiencies led to Ashcroft demanding that the whole of the board of directors of Tyco should resign, to be replaced by new management.
Ashcroft has close business and other connections with the Commonwealth country of Belize, and served as the country's ambassador to the United Nations between 1998 and 2000. In his 2005 biography, he admitted that it is a country where his interests have been "exempt from certain taxes for 30 years." In 2009, the Prime Minister of Belize Dean Barrow told its parliament:
|“||Ashcroft is an extremely powerful man. His net worth may well be equal to Belize's entire GDP. He is nobody to cross.||”|
In 1981, Belize had gained independence from the UK. Seeing the opportunity to build an off-shore operations base and control the country's financial service, in 1984 Ashcroft formed Belize Holdings (BHI), which became the vehicle for a parallel acquisition spree during the 1980s, beyond the scope of Hawley.
By the late 1980s, BHI had become one of the largest holding companies in Belize, with direct interests in or holdings via main operating company Stargate Ltd, ranging from telecommunications, property, the Belize shipping register, and citrus fruits.
In 1987, BHI led the formation of Belize Bank Holdings (BBH), which took control of Belize Bank from the Royal Bank of Canada. Belize Bank has became the country's largest financial institution, controlling some 50 percent of the market. BBH developed local and international interests in facilities services, finance and telecommunications. Belize Bank itself formerly held a majority stake in Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), until it was nationalised by the Government of Belize. The rapid nationalisation came after years of litigation, wherein Ashcroft was accused of tax evasion as well as abuse of BTL's dominance, outlawing VoIP for example. Ashcroft also has interests in the parent company of Speed Net, Belize's only rival telecommunications company.
In 2005, under pressure from the Belize Government to bring transparency to its Belize based financial interests, BBH restructured, demerging its interests in England and Ireland into a separate company, Carlisle Group Ltd. BBH then renamed itself BCB Holdings.
Ashcroft also has significant interests in the following companies quoted on the Alternative Investment Market, held either through Stargate, BCB Holdings, or both: Mavinwood, London Town, Digital Marketing, Global Health, Nikki Beach Resort & Marina.
Having attempted a takeover Corporate Services Group in 1999, in June 2006 he increased his stake to 28.5%, prompting speculation that he might make an offer for the remaining shares in the company. In May 2008 the merger of Carlisle Group and Corporate Services Group to form Impellam Group was announced. Listed on the Alternative Investment Market, the combined group places in excess of 40,000 people into work each week.
In September 2007, Ashcroft agreed the sale of AIM listed cleaning services supplier OneSource. Based mainly in the USA, it was the old North American cleaning business of ISS that Ashcroft had sold to them when refocusing Hawley in 1987. Bought in 1997 for $1, he agreed the sale of the company at a value of £179m.
As of March 2006 he became the major shareholder in English professional football club Watford, owning up to 42% of the club's shares. In September 2006, he accepted a bid for British Car Auctions (BCA) worth £450m, netting him a personal gain of £200m.
In the UK, he was a major donor to and Treasurer of the Conservative Party from 1998 to 2001, under William Hague. His tenure was marked by a number of controversies: he was seen to pay little UK income tax due to his domicile in Belize; and he was at the centre of a debate about openness and accountability of political funding. Unsubstantiated speculation about his business affairs was concluded when he pursued a libel action against The Times. This was settled on 9 December 1999, when The Times issued a statement that "Litigation between the parties has been settled to mutual satisfaction, with each side bearing its own costs."
In 2004 he clashed with Conservative leader Michael Howard when he offered a £2m donation on the condition that it should go to his specified candidates rather than into general Conservative Central Office funds. Ashcroft stated in 2005: "I much prefer to be involved, to make sure that my investment is wisely placed."
During the "Cash for Peerages" controversy, on 31 March 2006 Ashcroft was named by the Conservative Party as having loaned it £3.6m.
On 12 October 2007 he was accused by Labour MPs of being allowed to heavily fund local Conservative organisations in marginal seats of his choosing. The Electoral Commission is investigating and changes to the rules are predicted.
Significant donations made to the Conservative Party by Bearwood Corporate Services, a company controlled by Ashcroft, have also come under scrutiny. The trading status of the company, and thus the validity of donations totalling £5.1m between 2003 and 2008, is unclear and became the subject of an investigation by the Electoral Commission begun in October 2008. Both Labour MPs and the Prime Minister have called for the process to be concluded in time for the next general election, due by mid-2010. Liberal Democrat Lord Oakeshott stated: "Democracy is in danger if Lord Ashcroft has been pouring millions into Conservative campaigns through an offshore pipeline from a Caribbean tax haven." However, in March 2010 sources from the Electoral Commission described the donations as being "legal and permissible".
On 1 March 2010 Ashcroft admitted that he was not domiciled in the UK for tax purposes. On 4 March 2010 the House of Commons Public Administration Select committee decided to hold a “special one-off inquiry” into Lord Ashcroft’s peerage and his tax affairs. The committee’s three Conservative MPs are said to have refused to take part in the inquiry.
Ashcroft allegedly gave the People's United Party in Belize $1m when it was in opposition. During its period in power, it introduced laws that are claimed by opponents and media commentators to be financially advantageous to Ashcroft.
Lord Ashcroft has become a significant figure in Australian politics having been identified as the single largest individual donor to any Australian political party during the Financial Year 2004/2005. The Australian Electoral Commission reported in February 2006 that Ashcroft (who gave his address as "House of Lords, Westminster, London") had donated $1,000,000 to the Liberal Party in September 2004 just before the 2004 Federal election. It was the biggest single disclosed private donation in Australian political history.
Lord Ashcroft is the Founder and Chairman of Crimestoppers, the only charity in the UK which seeks to solve crime.
Ashcroft has been Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University since November 2001. He donated £5 million in 1999 for the university's business school at Chelmsford, now called Ashcroft International Business School, and another £5m in 2009.
Ashcroft is a whale spotter, through which interest he has financially supported various environmental groups and campaigns. He financially supported the Environmental Investigation Agency, who persuaded him to back a television campaign in six Caribbean countries, aimed at coaxing them to withdraw their support for whaling. The countries had received $16 million (£8 million) a year in fisheries aid from Japan. The campaign coincided with the 2006 International Whaling Commission conference in St Kitts.
Ashcroft collects Victoria Crosses. His collection is by far the largest in the world and spans the three services—the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF). The collection also spans 128 years from acts of bravery at the start of the Crimean War in 1854 to an act of courage during the Falklands War in 1982. He wrote Victoria Cross Heroes, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross.
Following the theft of a number of Victoria Crosses awarded to New Zealand servicemen from the Army Museum at Waiouru in late 2007, Ashcroft pledged NZ$200,000 for their return. Those stolen included the very rare VC & Bar of Charles Upham. The medals were recovered three months later and at a presentation in Wellington on 15 April 2008 he pledged a further NZ$200,000 for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the thefts.
In July 2008, Ashcroft announced a donation of £5 million for a permanent gallery at the Imperial War Museum, where the 50 Victoria Crosses held by the museum will be put on display alongside his own collection of 152 VCs.
Lord Ashcroft courted controversy when Chairman of the Conservative Party Eric Pickles MP declared on BBC Radio 4 that Ashcroft would be willing to appear on the station's flagship Today programme to clarify his unclear tax status. However, when invited, Lord Ashcroft quickly declined, according to John Humphrys. Ashcroft delayed comment on whether he currently pays tax on his global income in the United Kingdom, despite being a prominent and influential member of the legislature and major donor to the Conservative Party but eventually announced his non-domiciled status.
In 1999, Ashcroft was first nominated by Conservative Party leader and friend William Hague for the Lords. During their investigation, the House of Lords Appointments Commission was fed certain information via the media, which originated from Jonathan Randel, an intelligence research specialist for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
Randel leaked Ashcroft's name as being in the DEA's files, although it later emerged that Ashcroft was one of 5 million people they routinely had files on. Randel claimed that the DEA was ignoring Ashcroft in its investigation of money laundering, allegations which The Times newspaper later printed on its front page. However, later investigation by various British media sources from information released under the US Freedom of Information Act showed that at no point did the DEA personally investigate Ashcroft.
After his second successful nomination to the Lords and his assent to the house, Ashcroft sued The Times in the High Court. The two parties eventually reached an out of court agreement which resulted in Rupert Murdoch agreeing to the The Times printing a full front page retraction of its allegations. Ashcroft later recounted his own side of the story in his book, Dirty Politics, Dirty Times.
A U.S. attorney later investigated Randel for his leak and indicted him on 18 counts. Randel pled guilty to one of these - a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641, and on 9 January 2003, Randel was sentenced to a year in a federal prison, followed by three years probation.
In 2003, Ashcroft was criticised by the controversial High Court judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith. Smith condemned Ashcroft's tactics in relation to the takeover of cleaning company RCO by the Danish firm ISS. Smith said,
|“||Euphemistically this practice — which I understand is a not unheard of practice in the City — is described as "greenmail". The proper word to my mind is blackmail. It is the kind of thing which brings the City into disrepute ... Where matters are dealt with in speculation and profits are made, which are then gathered offshore, when there is no merit and no exposure to the kind of risks associated with companies, that to my mind is not legitimate.||”|
—Justice Peter Smith
Smith added that Ashcroft "was not content with a small £250,000 profit earned in a matter of weeks. He now seeks to extract millions." Ashcroft responded by telling journalists that "being accused of blackmail by a man who states that speculation has no part to play in the City is rather like finding that you are sharing a railway carriage with a drunk. It's best not to take too much notice."
On 5 March, 2010, Lord Ashcroft has been accused of avoiding VAT on opinion polls he commissioned for the Conservatives in 2005. The polls were carried out by YouGov and Populus, and are believed to have cost in the region of £250,000.
The Guardian said that sources said that the bills were paid by a company owned by Lord Ashcroft in Belize, meaning that he did not pay VAT. The newspaper estimated that the total VAT bill could have totaled more than £40,000.
On 31 March 2000, Ashcroft was appointed as a life peer, and the title Baron Ashcroft, of Chichester in the County of West Sussex was gazetted on 20 October 2000. His appointment to the House of Lords was controversial at the time, particularly because of his business and political interests in Belize; the body responsible for scrutiny of political honours had refused his becoming a member of the Lords one year earlier. He was nominated by Conservative party leader William Hague on the condition that he became a UK resident although at the beginning of 2010 he announced his "non-domiciled" tax status. Ashcroft had announced that he intended to take the title "Baron Ashcroft of Belize", a suggestion that infuriated his political opponents. He later claimed this had been a joke, and his title was created as simply "Baron Ashcroft".
In the 2000 Queen's Birthday Honours, on the advice of the Belizean government, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) "for public service to the community and country" of Belize.