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Wednesday 10 March 2010

Smelling The Coffee In Belize – 6

The realisation has slowly dawned on Michael Ashcroft’s supporters and beneficiaries that trying to howl down the constant flow of adverse media coverage by sniping “non story”, “weak”, and so on, will not make that part of the media go away. So, some days after Ashcroft was forced into admitting his tax status and embarrassing the Tories, the cheerleaders have started to fight back.

And in their crosshairs is Labour “non dom” Lord Paul, with suggestions being made about his stewardship of at least one company pension scheme. The company concerned, Caparo, closed its final salary scheme back in 2002, and the ruckus this caused was covered in some detail by the Guardian back then, so it’s hardly new news: that the story is being used to stand up allegations of bias against news organisations like the BBC is strange, given that the Beeb also covered the story in some detail at the time (all these links are readily available on the BBC website).

Plus there is the possibility that those of suitably enquiring mind, having observed this less than subtle attempt to deflect the spotlight, may decide to look more closely at Michael Ashcroft and the place which he has previously made his home, that being Belize. And in that part of the world, there is much of interest.

Ashcroft is a major shareholder in British Caribbean Bank Holdings (BCB), an organisation that clearly knows a thing or two about asset stewardship: the BCB share price has fallen over the past four years from around 360 pence to about 90 – that’s a drop of 75%. BCB owns Belize’s largest bank, and has interests in the Turks and Caicos Islands. As the report linked says, “Shares of BCB are now incredibly undervalued or there are major negative surprises afoot” [my emphasis].

Nor should anyone be fooled into believing that Belize is some kind of tropical paradise: Ashcroft may have made money there, but for ordinary folk, the picture is one of widespread poverty, with the rise of drug and gang crime making it unsafe to venture out after dark. This report also covers the increasingly acrimonious relations between Ashcroft and the current Belize Government.

Yes, there is more digging to be done over the “non doms” backing UK political parties. The problem for the Tories and their cheerleaders is that it may re-focus on Michael Ashcroft, whatever their preference.

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