The government has insisted it is committed to making sure there is no “dirty money” in the UK as the Tories faced questions over business tycoon and Tory donor Javad Marandi.
Mr Marandi was described as a “person of importance” in a National Crime Agency’s investigation into the so-called “Azerbaijani Laundromat” – and lost a 19-month legal battle with the BBC to remain anonymous.
The business tycoon, who owns famous design brand The Conran Shop and the private members’ club Soho Farmhouse, said he is “deeply disappointed” by the judge’s ruling to lift reporting restrictions.
Politics live: Home secretary’s migration stance ‘right’, minister says
Mr Marandi strongly denies wrongdoing and is not subject to criminal sanction.
According to the BBC, the NCA found some of Mr Marandi’s overseas interests had played a role in an enormous money-laundering scheme involving one of Azerbaijan’s richest oligarchs.
SNP MP Alison Thewliss said the naming of Mr Marandi was a “victory of transparency and freedom of the press”.
Raising an urgent question about the investigation in the Commons, she said: “While it’s incumbent on me to state that Mr Marandi denies any wrongdoing… the National Crime Agency has found that companies linked to Mr Marandi are a crucial part of the Azerbaijan network known as the Azerbaijani Laundromat.
“The UK must not be a home for the world’s dirty money but has become so under the Tories.”
Ms Thewliss called Mr Marandi, who has an OBE for business and philanthropy, a “significant donor to the Tory party”.
Records from the electoral commission show he gave £663,800 to the Conservatives between 2014 and 2020, with the biggest sums coming during the Boris Johnson premiership.
Responding, policing minister Chris Philp insisted the government is “committed to ensuring the United Kingdom does not have dirty money”, pointing to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill which is passing through parliament.
He also insisted the government was committed to combating so-called “slapps” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) – “where extremely rich individuals use, essentially vexatious or malfeasant lawsuits to shut down proper scrutiny and proper free speech”.
“Clearly in this case the judge decided transparency and the public interest was served by disclosure, and I welcome that,” he said.
Calls for independent inquiry
Earlier, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper called for an independent inquiry “to get to the bottom” of Mr Marandi’s donations, saying the Tories “have simply given up on standards, and they have no shame about where their money comes from”.
Labour MPs also hit out at the government in the Commons, with the MP for Halifax, Holly Lynch, accusing the Tories of a “lack of rigour when accepting donations”.
Tycoon ‘vehemently denies any wrongdoing’
Mr Marandi was initially granted an anonymity order at the outset of the case going to court In October 2021, but that has now been lifted by a judge.
In a statement, Mr Marandi’s spokesperson said he “vehemently denies any wrongdoing”.
The spokesperson said: “At no point has Mr Marandi been investigated or questioned by the authorities. And no case has ever been brought against him or his businesses in relation to these or any other matters, anywhere in the world.
“He was not the subject of this civil claim, nor a party nor a witness, meaning no evidence could be submitted on his behalf or representations made. It is therefore unjust to be named, without having had the fundamental right to rebut these false findings.
“As such, Mr Marandi is deeply disappointed at the court’s decision to lift reporting restrictions, knowing the reputational damage that is likely to follow.”