Question: What’s the difference between an “oligarch” and bog-standard “billionaire”?
Answer: Well, nationality for a start. Russians get called “oligarchs”. Rich and powerful non-Russians like Murdoch are just “billionaires”.
My print Chambers Dictionary defines an oligarch as someone who holds power in an oligarchy, which is a mite too self-referential to be truly instructive. Wikipedia defines oligarchy as rule by the few:
a form of government where political power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family, military powers or occult spiritual hegemony.
Sorry, I still can’t work out the distinction.
A senior Tory, George Osborne – the Shadow Chancellor, no less, is currently in trouble for allegedly trying to get a donation from a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. Note, he’s not in trouble for hitting on a very rich chap for £50,000. The trouble is just because the potential donor doesn’t have the right to vote in England.
Anyway, Osborne is “sorry”, he “made a mistake”.
That’s OK, George, we’ve all been there. Holidays with the mega-rich. Invitations to parties on billionaires’ yacht in Corfu. The sea, the sand, the sun, the free and easy holiday atmosphere. Maybe too much champagne. What happens in Corfu, stays in Corfu…. Easy mistakes to make.
No wait, my mistake. WE haven’t all been there. I must have been temporarily channelling Peter Mandelson. He was there at the same time. And he’s also been a bit annoyed by the churlish attention that commentators with no romance in their souls have been paying to his own flirtation with the same oligarch.
This row is putting Parliament in a rather embarrassing position, as the major parties increasingly look – how shall I put this, a little slack, when it comes to their sources of income.
The move comes as the Conservative party faces allegations that it took tens of thousands of pounds from an associate of a Ukrainian oligarch and accepted a £1m loan from a dormant company owned and run by Lady Victoria de Rothschild, a member of the banking family.
The Guardian revealed on Saturday that Robert Shetler-Jones, a British associate of Dmitry Firtash, has been funding the office of Pauline Neville-Jones, the shadow security minister. Shetler-Jones also funds Conservative Central Office through Scythian Ltd, which he chairs and part-owns. It has been described as a “non-trading company” and its accounts are overdue.
The firm’s position had already caused concern to the commission because non-trading companies cannot give donations to political parties, although the Conservatives produced a letter from its auditors saying it was still trading.
The Observer revealed yesterday that a £1m loan was given to the Conservative party by Ironmade Ltd, which is owned and controlled by Lady Victoria de Rothschild. According to the newspaper, Ironmade was set up to avoid her identity being revealed.
How impressed am I by all these people with riches so far beyond the dreams of avarice that they can hand over lottery-win-level sums of money to political parties? Anonymously. Indeed, so anonymously that they even work out complicated barely-legal ways to hide their identities. And they want nothing in return…..
Blimey, Osborne wasn’t even trying, if his (alleged) request was for a relatively humble £50,000.
Like his Tory counterparts, Mandelson is aghast at the very suggestion that there is anything remotely shady about hanging round with the Russian mega-rich, either when he was EU trade commissioner, or now that he was (unaccountably) brought back by Brown when the economy started to tank. (Despite having had to resign over business dealings twice before)
He flatly refused to elaborate on the his meetings with his oligarch chum.
Lord Mandelson today rejected fresh calls for him to reveal the full extent of his relationship with Oleg Deripaska, insisting that no conflict of interest arose during his meetings with the controversial Russian billionaire. (from the Guardian)
For instance, he certainly wouldn’t comment on the absurd suggestion that Deripaska may have benefited from the lowering of EU tariffs on aluminium, when his yacht-buddy Mandelson was EU Trade Commissioner.
But Mandelson, who is leading a four-day UK trade delegation to Russia, refused to confirm the number and nature of his meetings with Deripaska, or the length of time he spent aboard the oligarch’s yacht off Corfu in August.
Look, can somebody please introduce me to these Russian oligarchs who are happy to throw around invitations to their yacht parties? I had naively assumed that you don’t get to be a billionaire without demanding something quite lucrative in exchange for huge sums of money. But I was clearly wrong. So I’d like to be one of the first to join in the parting-a-fool-from-his-money fest.