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Friday 14 November 2014

Boris’ Quiet £1bn Chinese Takeaway

[Update at end of post]

The scene that played out on Channel 4 News yesterday evening may have looked like a typical slice of mischief by Michael Crick, ambushing London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as he emerged, unsuspecting, into the sunlight only to face a line of questioning that even suppressed the usual “crikey”, “yikes” and “oo-er” responses, but the reality was grimly serious.
And it was serious for two reasons: the obvious one, that Bozza appeared to have given Chinese firm ABP preferential treatment in its bid to redevelop an area of publicly-owned land in London’s Docklands, and what Crick did not mention, which was the lack of media scrutiny both of the original announcement regarding the development, and also his revelation of questionable practices.

Boris Johnson is under fire over his handling of a £1bn deal for a Chinese firm to redevelop a huge site on London's historic Royal Albert Dockobserved the Channel 4 News website. They were not kidding: accusations of favourable treatment towards ABP, that company’s advisor donating a six-figure sum to the Tory Party, ABP’s less than stellar human rights record in China, and much more.

London and Partners, the agency set up by Bozza to bring in outside investment – using taxpayers’ funds – had shared an office in Beijing with ABP. Its head left to work for ABP while the tender process was still going on. ABP has taken over the lease for that office, and is paying most of the rent. And those that read the FT had already seen suggestions that all at ABP was not as it seemed.

As the Guardian’s Dave Hill observed more than a year ago, the project “has aroused some concern”, and he noted that “the FT's coverage of a tour by mayoral deputy Richard Blakeway of the Xu business empire in Beijing contained barbed observations about leaky entrance halls and penthouse suites with ‘fake books’ on display”. ABP has only one completed project to its name thus far.

So far, so disquieting, but the worst aspect, as so often, is the supine nature of the press towards Bozza’s business dealings. When the project was announced at the end of May last year, the Mayor’s own paper, the Telegraph, toldBoris Johnson unveils plan  for £1bn Chinese business district”. City AM concurred: “Boris seals a £1bn deal to revamp Royal Docks”.

Churn the press release, ask no questions, hurrah for Bozza! Even now that Crick has executed his ambush, it has been left to the Guardian to follow up alone, withLondon mayor denies allegations of over-cosy relations between officials and company chosen to run development project”. No word from the Tel or City AM. Not a peep from the Standard. And that’s not good enough.

Bozza has got away with it once more. Free press, yes. Fearless? Pull the other one.

[UPDATE 1410 hours: the Standard has spoken! "Boris Johnson has ordered a review of a £1 billion deal he signed last year with a Chinese firm planning to build a huge financial district in Docklands" tells the report. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here.

One, the Standard is only breaking cover once it can cast Bozza as a man of action - "has ordered a review" - and two, the Mayor has already denied the allegations put to him by Michael Crick. So if the review does not come to the required conclusion, that will put Bozza in what Spike Milligan once described as "a very difficult position".

Whatever happens, there will be equally cursory press coverage, Bozza will get away with it, and I suspect that ABP will do too]

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