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Intriguing £3 million gift/bonus for Prince Andrew

Times Online
The Sunday Times
May 25, 2008

Prince Andrew, the smoothest operator of the steppes

As they dined together last Monday at the Savoy hotel in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, Prince Andrew and the president of Kazakhstan would have had much to talk about.

Andrew and Nursultan Nazarbayev were in Egypt to attend the World Economic Forum, but the meal they shared, following a Kazakh-themed evening, was for VIPs only, making it easier for them to speak freely.

Business talk was likely to have featured strongly in their conversation. The two men are old acquaintances with a warm relationship, thanks in part to the many lucrative deals that have been cemented between British and Kazakh companies as a result of their joint efforts.

Andrew’s dealings with the oil and gas-rich former Soviet republic have multiplied in recent years.

Since 2003 he has paid three official visits to the country in his capacity as Britain’s special representative for international trade and investment, a role which last year saw him run up expenses of £436,000, which were paid by the taxpayer. With his royal status and affable manner, he is an asset to corporations wishing to open doors and smooth the way for multimillion-pound contracts.

“He works hard at it and he gets on very well with the [Kazakh] people and Nazarbayev,” said Fergus Robertson, a British consultant who has witnessed Andrew brokering deals in the central Asian state.

However, the prince has now taken to visiting Kazakhstan for his own reasons, too. He is there this weekend on a “private” visit, according to his spokesman.

His dealings with wealthy Kazakhs are not restricted to his jaunts to their home country either. It has emerged that last year he had several private meetings with one tycoon, Kenes Rakishev, whose financial interests include companies spanning most of Kazakhstan’s abundant natural resources.

The meetings between Andrew and Rakishev, which were held in London, sometimes went on for hours. Their exact nature is unclear. What is apparent, however, is that after their talks, Rakishev and his father-in-law Imangali Tasmagambetov became interested in purchasing Sunninghill Park, Andrew’s home in Ascot, Berkshire, which had then been on the market for five years without a buyer.

According to two sources close to the deal, the guide price was no more than £12m. Rakishev, however, agreed to pay £15m via one of his family’s offshore trusts, even though there were no other bids.

The deal has raised eyebrows. One source close to the sale said: “An offer of £12m would have been great at any point.” Artur Krivov, who was at the time managing director of the UK branch of Rakishev’s Sat&Co conglomerate, said: “I personally was really surprised because there were much better [houses] at that price because I was helping look for a place for them . . .

“My impression was [the house sale] could be from some other dealings that they had where they owed something. It might have been a way to repay the debt or whatever, I don’t know. It’s definitely not for what it [the house] is.

“I do know that the Duke of York and Mr Rakishev met a number of times and I know that usually Mr Rakishev does not meet with anyone more than once if he does not need anything.”

The redbrick property, which was designed for Andrew and his bride Sarah Ferguson by Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith, the architect, is widely considered to be unaesthetic in appearance, drawing comparisons with an out-of-town Tesco superstore.

When it was put up for sale in 2002 following the couple’s divorce six years earlier, it was handled by Savills, the upmarket estate agent.

Interested parties, who had to be vetted by Buckingham Palace, were given a guide price range, the upper end of which was £12m, according to sources close to the deal, although the figure was not formally published.

A separate potential buyer had expressed interest in Sunninghill Park at a price similar to the upper guide price some months prior to Rakishev’s involvement. A sale was not secured, however.

Rakishev and his family were introduced to the deal directly through Andrew himself, bypassing Savills which has refused to comment on the sale.

Krivov said that Rakishev had initially been looking for property in areas of central London, including Mayfair and Knightsbridge, as well as more countrified locations such as Wentworth in Surrey, prior to buying Andrew’s house.

He said: “To suddenly start thinking about a house which had no relation whatsoever to what he was looking for then . . . that would lead me to think that it [his business with Andrew] wasn’t just for the house.”

A source close to Andrew said: “There was no bidding war but it was a spiky, upward housing market. There was no formal asking price, £15m is simply a price that they decided to pay.”

A spokesman for Andrew, who receives an annual allowance from the Queen of £249,000, insisted that there had been no other “side” deals of a commercial nature connected to the sale.

Rakishev, who may move into the property, can certainly afford the extra money. The jewel in the crown of his current projects is the construction of a £2.5 billion petrochemical plant in the country’s oil-rich western region.

He is also extremely well connected politically. His wife Asel’s father is Tasmagambetov, 51, a former Kazakh prime minister who is now the mayor of Astana, the capital, and is a confidant of Nazarbayev and Timor Kulibayev, the president’s billionaire son-in-law.

Andrew’s official role in Kazakhstan may well have brought him into contact with Rakishev and Tasmagambetov. The royal was “very supportive” of a recent £2.5m deal agreed between Foster Wheeler, the construction contractor, and Kazakhstan Petrochemical Industries (KPI), a Sat&Co subsidiary which is building the petrochemical plant.

Robertson, who worked with the company to secure the deal, said: “The duke would have said, ‘It’s a good company and we hope all the work will be done in the UK’.”

Robertson emphasised that Andrew was assiduous in his special representative role. After being given a list of what the British government’s main areas of interest were, he would approach companies and ask how he could help, he said.

His unpaid work aside, financial deals have featured strongly in Andrew’s life in recent years.

Since putting Sunninghill Park up for sale, the prince has been able to buy a 75-year lease on Royal Lodge, the Queen Mother’s former home on the Windsor Great Park estate for £1m, despite it being given an estimated market value of 20 times that amount.

He was also allowed by the Crown Estate to forgo paying the 19th-century property’s annual £250,000 rent in exchange for carrying out a refurbishment.

Rakishev was unavailable for comment this weekend.

Land of Borat and billionaires

Kazakhstan is known in Britain as the home of Borat Sagdiyev, alter-ego of the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, but in reality it is an economic powerhouse of Central Asia and a magnet for investors.

The country covers an area the size of western Europe but has less than a tenth the population. Its steppe was used by the USSR for nuclear tests.

Kazakh wealth comes from reserves of oil, gas and minerals. Britain is the third-largest foreign investor, with British Gas, Shell and BP among members of a Caspian Sea consortium exploring the Kashagan field, thought to contain 1.5 times the reserves of the North Sea.

The country’s mineral wealth has brought fortunes to its elite, who include five billionaires. The richest, Vladimir Kim, has a fortune of £2.9 billion based on the mining company Kazakhmys.

Lord Renwick, former ambassador to Washington, sits on the Kazakhmys board. He used his diplomatic experience to advise President Nursultan Nazarbayev on how to deal with Borat’s caricaturing of the country. Sir Richard Evans, former chairman of BAE Systems, chairs Samruk, a state holding company.

The British architect Lord Foster is a Nazarbayev favourite and has designed several monumental buildings for the new capital city, Astana, which replaced Almaty in 1998.

Nazarbayev, 67, ran the republic in the Soviet era and clung on to power when the country became independent.

The regime has a poor human rights record, criticised last year by the US State Department for “severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government”.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3999059.ece

Headline by John Donovan of royaldutchshellplc.com

 

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