The government has admitted that the international development minister, Alan Duncan, took part in meetings between officials operating a Whitehall cell to control the Libyan oil market and Vitol – a company for which Duncan has previously acted as a consultant.
The “Libyan oil cell” involved a group of officials working in the Foreign Office since May waging a quiet campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime by controlling the flow of oil in the country.
It is said to have played a discreet but crucial role in the campaign in Libya by helping to enforce the sanctions regime to prevent Gaddafi importing and exporting oil while allowing oil to reach the rebels in the east. That oil came via one company, Vitol.
Duncan, a former oil trader and multi-millionaire, has had a 30-year friendship with the managing director of Vitol, Ian Taylor, at one point operating as a consultant to the company and as a non-executive director to a subsidiary firm. Taylor has also been a Tory donor, declared on Duncan’s parliamentary register of interests.