Tessa Jowell financial allegations

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The Tessa Jowell financial allegations are a series of allegations surrounding Tessa Jowell, the then United Kingdom Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. They arose when her husband David Mills came under investigation by Italian authorities who suspected him of corruptly receiving £340,000 from Silvio Berlusconi. Some newspapers have termed the accusations the 'Jowellgate' scandal.[1]

The case has been cited as a further example of 'sleaze' which is commonly used to refer to inherent corruption when large sums of money come together with the world of politics and politicians.

"Jowellgate"[edit]

Tessa Jowell married international corporate lawyer David Mills in 1979. In the early 1990s, Mills acted for Silvio Berlusconi, then a high-profile businessman and former Prime Minister of Italy.[2] During his work for Berlusconi, Mills received $600,000 (£340,000);[3] the precise source of the money and the reason for its payment is under dispute, with Mills claiming that the money was part of a larger amount paid indirectly to him by another Italian client, Diego Attanasio, although Attanasio has denied this claim when found in London on 2 March (between custodial sentences for bribery and corruption).[4]

The Italian state prosecutors believed that instead Mills was being paid for giving false or misleading evidence in court for Berlusconi in the early 1990s (an accusation denied by Mills). Mills wrote a letter to his accountants in February 2004 which appears to be describing a payment; he claims he was inventing a scenario to get tax advice, using the euphemism "Mr B".

Mills was investigated in Italy for money laundering and alleged tax fraud and on 10 March 2006 Italian prosecuting magistrates decided that they had sufficient evidence to ask a judge to indict Berlusconi and Mills.[5] On 17 February 2009, Mills was found guilty of accepting a bribe and sentenced to prison. It was not fully clarified who actually gave him the money until May when the court gave the reasoning behind its decision and implicated Berlusconi. However, by 2009 Berlusconi enjoyed immunity because of new legislation. His defence counsel said that the sentence went "against the logic and dynamic of the evidence presented."

Appeal[edit]

The judgement was appealed by David Mills. On 27 October 2009, the Italian Appeal Court upheld his conviction and his sentence of 4½ years prison. He confirmed that he would initiate a second and final appeal to the Cassation Court[6]

On 25 February 2010, the Italian Cassation Court (the second and last court of appeal under Italian law) ruled a sentence of not guilty because the statute of limitations expired.[7][8] The supreme court judges ruled that he received the money in 1999, and not 2000 as prosecutors had previously argued. He was ordered to pay €250,000 compensation to the office of the Italian prime minister for "damaging its reputation".[9] Ms Jowell said "although we are separated I have never doubted his innocence."[10]

Jowell's involvement comes under scrutiny[edit]

Jowell was herself implicated when it was revealed that she had, in September 2000, co-signed a mortgage application on the house in North London which she and Mills jointly owned. In a statement on 2 March she said that Mills had wanted to make an investment and they took out a loan using their London home as security, and she had therefore signed the relevant papers. Mills had a number of investments and she knew there would be no difficulty in repaying the loan. She added that she knew nothing more about the nature of the investment. The loan was repaid shortly after it was taken out in September 2000. Jowell said that she was not aware of this redemption until the newspaper speculation surrounding this affair in early 2006.

The significance of the mortgage is that it has been alleged that taking it out, and then subsequently repaying it, was a means for Mills to convert the money he had received, which had previously been placed on Mills' behalf into a hedge fund, into a more accessible form of cash. Jowell subsequently stated in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary that she first became aware of her husband's receipt of a large sum of money as a gift in August 2004. The money was paid in September 2000, and the Ministerial Code requires that money received as a gift be declared. By the time that Jowell became aware of the money, Mills had already agreed with the Inland Revenue that it should be classified as earnings on which tax, which may have included a penalty, was paid. (The Inland Revenue will never confirm in public the tax affairs of private people.) In reviewing these events, Jowell argues that she was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Cabinet Secretary.[11] In fact, the Cabinet Secretary made it clear that it was not for him to sit in judgement on ministers: the Prime Minister should adjudicate on propriety.

Ministerial code[edit]

With accusations that Jowell was implicated in questionable financial dealings, in early March 2006 the Prime Minister invited the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to investigate the circumstances, in particular whether there was a conflict of interest between her personal life and ministerial duties (the Ministerial Code requires a minister to avoid such clashes and to report all such potential interests to the Permanent Secretary of the department, in the case of the DCMS, Dame Sue Street). After receiving Sir Gus' report, the Prime Minister announced that he did not consider that Jowell had broken the Ministerial Code.

The Conservatives and many other MPs have raised questions about whether the senior civil servants, who are otherwise responsible for implementing ministerial policy and for advising ministers - and who therefore work closely with them on a day-to-day basis, are the appropriate people to be performing monitoring or investigative functions. Explicitly avoiding any impugning of the integrity of the civil servants, critics[who?] have argued that some form of outside body should be responsible for such functions.

Blair's personal friendship and political alliance with Silvio Berlusconi,[12] a right-wing politician, have also been highlighted as a cause for unease and as the context in which Mills' actions (and Jowell's apparently unquestioning acceptance of them) were not challenged earlier from within government.[13]

Parliamentary rules[edit]

On 6 March 2006, following a meeting with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to discuss her entry in the Register of MPs' Interests, Sir Philip Mawer the standards watchdog, told Jowell that she did not need to give any more details about her husband's financial dealings. Questions had been raised about her returns for the register, which had not declared the receipt of the money.

Separation[edit]

After the financial allegations concerning Mills began to affect Jowell's political career, it was announced that Jowell and Mills were to separate after their marriage was "put under strain";[14] the timing prompted some commentators to suggest that it was a cynical case of Jowell laying down her marriage to save her political career. However, Jowell's claim that she had not known about the circumstances of the financial payment has been cited by her political allies in her defence.

Still claiming to be separated, it is known that Jowell and Mills spend most weekends together and Christmas holidays.[15]

Other allegations[edit]

The concern over Jowell and Mills' financial dealings with the money from Berlusconi has led journalists to investigate their other activities.

Dubai[edit]

It was revealed that Mills had written to the Dubai authorities seeking permission to practice law, and had cited the personal support of the Prime Minister. Jowell is said to have been angered when she discovered the contents of this letter.[16] The application was rejected by the Dubai authorities because Mills had sought to conceal the fact that Italian prosecutors were investigating his business affairs.

Old Monk pub chain[edit]

Some newspapers claimed Mills made a £67,000 profit in Struie Holdings, an offshore share venture in the Virgin Islands, which involved a pub chain controlled by the Old Monk Company. At the time of the deal the government was considering changes to licensing policy (with Jowell closely involved), which raised concerns that her husband may have profited by knowing what changes were proposed. However, when challenged by a Conservative MP, Jowell said that she "had never heard of this company or the transactions until this weekend" (4/5 March) and added "I understand the shares were never owned by my husband".

On 8 March it was reported that court documents show that while Mills was never the owner of Struie Holdings, he did receive the profits from its investments, including the one made in Old Monk. The documents also include a claim by the company's owner, Renault F1's Flavio Briatore, that Mills had assured him that all the investments were "his personal assets".[17] Despite the renewed controversy presented by the Old Monk shares, on 8 March a government spokesman announced that Jowell would not be facing a further investigation, adding "the contents of the letter do not constitute a need for an inquiry".[18]

Iran[edit]

On 12 March 2006 the Sunday Mirror revealed that as a consequence of her husband's involvement in an ultimately unsuccessful deal for Iranian airline Mahan Air to buy a fleet of BAe 146 from British Aerospace, Jowell has been excluded from Cabinet discussions and papers on Iran since 2003.[19]

Procedural changes[edit]

Sir Alistair Graham, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (2003-7), said the controversy over Jowell highlighted the problem that public trust was being undermined by the way alleged misconduct by ministers was policed. He stated that he was "puzzled" by the Prime Minister's reluctance to change the rules;[20] the Committee proposed that independent figures, rather than senior civil servants, should investigate claims that the ministerial code has been broken.[21]

On 16 March 2006 Blair announced that a new independent figure would advise ministers on potential clashes between their public duties and private affairs and investigate potential breaches of the ministerial code of conduct. The Prime Minister would continue to have the final say on taking action.[22]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jowellgate timeline". London: The Telegraph. 10 March 2006. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  2. ^ Barnett, Antony (16 February 2003). "Labour link to Berlusconi cash probe.". London: The Observer. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "Focus: The minister and the £350,000 gift", Times, 26 February 2006
  4. ^ "Alleged source of cash found in London", Guardian, 2 March 2006
  5. ^ "Italy bid for PM corruption trial". BBC. 10 March 2006. 
  6. ^ Financial Times http://www.ft.com/cms/s/9ecf5d56-c362-11de-8eca-00144feab49a.html
  7. ^ "David Mills bribery conviction quashed by appeals court". BBC. 2010-02-25. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  8. ^ "Mills decision a boost for Berlusconi - The Irish Times - Sat, Feb 27, 2010". The Irish Times. 2010-02-27. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  9. ^ Pisa, Nick (2010-02-26). "Tessa Jowell's estranged husband David Mills 'very relieved' after Italian court quashes bribery conviction". Daily Mail (London). 
  10. ^ Richard Owen (2009-02-17). "David Mills sentenced to jail for accepting Berlusconi bribe". Times Online (London: The Times). Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  11. ^ The Independent, 18 Aug 2008
  12. ^ "Blair and Berlusconi's Iraq talks". BBC. August 17, 2004. 
  13. ^ "Martin Jacques: New Labour must recognise that Berlusconi is the devil", Guardian, 16 March 2006
  14. ^ "David Mills statement", Times, 4 March 2006
  15. ^ Neil Sears (February 19, 2009). "Jowell 'Still spends most weekends with disgraced husband'". Daily Mail (London). The couple sold their marital home in North London and declared that Mills would live in rural Warwickshire, while Miss Jowell would live in Highgate, North London ten miles from her South London constituency. However, after that Mills helped his supposedly estranged wife move into her new flat, and stayed the night.There have been numerous sightings of the pair together socially since. Last night a friend revealed Jowell still loves her husband 'very much', spending most weekends with him and even hosting dinners for Cabinet ministers and senior Labour figures ... 'Sometimes they stay with friends together. They don't go to her flat in London because it's too small, but they spent Christmas together at his new place in Warwickshire.' 
  16. ^ "Jowell dumps husband over his boasts of access to Blair", The Scotsman, 5 March 2006
  17. ^ "Testimony links pub chain profit to Mills", Guardian, 8 March 2006
  18. ^ "No new Jowell probe", Reuters, 8 March 2006
  19. ^ "Tessa banned from cabinet Iran talks because of husband", Sunday Mirror, 12 March 2006
  20. ^ "U.K. Panel Attacks Blair's Power to Judge Ministerial Conduct", Bloomberg, 8 March 2006
  21. ^ "Blair criticised on sleaze probes", BBC, 9 March 2006
  22. ^ "Rules for ministers face shake up", BBC, 16 March 2006