The BBC's flagship Panorama programme has alleged that British peer, Lord Ashcroft, concealed his involvement in a Turks and Caicos Islands construction company that went into receivership with debts of around US$30 million.
Johnston international Limited was one of the largest construction companies in the Caribbean before it closed down in 2010. Panorama alleges that Lord Ashcroft misled the stock market and the media about his links to Johnston International. Panorama said they spoke to 14 former employees, who all say they were told that Lord Ashcroft was their boss. The programme also obtained dozens of faxes covering a seven year period, that were sent to Ashcroft by the Johnston Chief Executive after the 1999 sale.
According to the programme, the faxes are said to have updated Ashcroft on company business and asked for his instructions on building projects. Ashcroft then wrote his instructions on some of the faxes and sent them back, Panorama reported.
As gathered from the BBC, Ashcroft said he has had no "economic beneficial or legal interest" in the firm since he sold it in 1999. But the programme has reportedly obtained evidence that shows Ashcroft continued to secretly control the company long after that date.
According to Ashcroft's lawyers, he did not have any kind of interest in the ownership of the Johnston group of companies.
However, Panorama had not asked Ashcroft about the ownership of Johnston. The programme had asked whether he controlled the company -- and that, the BBC said, is a question he has repeatedly avoided answering.
Johnston had been doing business in the Turks and Caicos Islands since the early 1980s and, with associated operations in the Cayman Islands, Belize, Trinidad and Barbados, was a pre-eminent local and regional contractor.
After 28 years of doing business in the Turks and Caicos, the company was placed into receivership in July 2010 and into liquidation the following month.
At a meeting of Johnston creditors in September 2010, the liquidators revealed that the company's financial woes may not have occurred had it not been for the non-payment of millions of dollars owed to it by the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (UDeCOTT).
Further, the list of unpaid debts owed by Turks and Caicos businesses and individuals to Johnston reads like a who's who of the Progressive National Party (PNP) hierarchy, the governing party in the TCI immediately prior to the partial suspension of the constitution and the imposition of direct rule by Britain, following a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of widespread government corruption.
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