William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, is facing questions over his role in a controversial oil deal in Libya involving a company run by a Conservative donor.
By Holly Watt and Rowena Mason
6:40AM GMT 11 Nov 2011
Mr Hague had a private meeting with a representative of Heritage Oil in March and has exchanged letters with an aide over the past few months, it has emerged.
In October, the company was awarded a $19.5 million [£12.23 million] oil deal in Libya which it believes will provide it with a foothold in the region.
Tony Buckingham, the chief executive of Heritage Oil and a former mercenary, has given the Conservative party almost £60,000. He was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when the Telegraph disclosed that Mr Hague had personally intervened in a £175 million tax dispute between Heritage Oil, its partner Tullow Oil and the Ugandan government.
Industry sources have disclosed that as the war in Libya was raging, Mr Hague met Christian Sweeting, a representative of Heritage Oil, at the Carlton Club in London. At the time, the company was seeking inroads into Libya after the breakdown of the Gaddafi regime.
After the meeting, letters were exchanged in which Mr Sweeting provided the Foreign Office with intelligence on the situation on the ground in Libya.
Last month, Heritage Oil announced the $20 million deal to take over Sahara Oil, a Libyan oil services company based in Benghazi. Mr Hague did not list the Carlton Club meeting in his register of meetings with external organisations. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said Mr Hague and Mr Sweeting had met “briefly” at an event, which is why the encounter was not disclosed in the official records.
Mr Sweeting was a Conservative candidate in 2001, when Mr Hague was leader of the Conservative party.
“The Foreign Secretary’s exchange with Mr Sweeting was entirely proper,” said the spokesman. The Foreign Office last night insisted that Mr Hague had not discussed the business deal in correspondence with Mr Sweeting. Mr Buckingham began making his fortune, which has been estimated at £500 million, by running private security companies in Africa, including Sandline and Executive Outcomes. He developed Heritage Oil from a small operation into a company that rejected a $1.9 billion takeover bid earlier this year. Heritage Oil is known for working in unstable countries and currently has operations in Iraq, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When discussing the purchase of 51 per cent of Sahara Oil, Mr Atherton said: “When everybody else fled in February, we moved in and saw an opportunity. We cemented relationships and entered into discussions with the National Transitional Council.”
The disclosure comes amid mounting scrutiny of the Western rush to secure deals from the new Libyan government.
Alan Duncan, the international development minister, took part in meetings to coordinate the oil company Vitol’s work in Libya. Vitol exported oil from Libya while the conflict was ongoing.
Mr Duncan formerly acted as a consultant for Vitol and Ian Taylor, the company’s chairman, donated money to the Conservative party.
The Government has promoted the interests of British business in post-war Libya, but questions have repeatedly been raised about how far ministers should go in lobbying for commercial interests.