David Rowland, the owner of Blackfish Capital UK, has been named the treasurer of the Conservative party. Through their ownership of Banque Havilland Luxembourg David and his son Jonathan are almost household names in Iceland. But there are other intriguing Tory connections to the Icelandic banks, notably Kaupthing.
David and Jonathan Rowland, or rather their investment company Blackfish Capital, took over the Kaupthing operation in Luxembourg last year and turned it into Banque Havilland. Havilland draws its name from the family’s Guernsey address, the splendid Havilland Hall. Father and son firmly deny any connections to the owners of Kaupthing but they held onto Magnus Gudmundsson until he was taken into custody due to the Kaupthing investigation in Iceland. The Rowlands have stressed that house searches at the former Kaupthing premises in Luxembourg earlier this year were unrelated to Banque Havilland. It is of interest that Martyn Konig, a well merited banker who had worked for Blackfish, resigned as a chairman of Havilland almost as soon as it opened.
Earlier, the Rowlands weren’t bothered neither over the Kaupthing investigation in Iceland nor in the UK – and yet, it’s been clear for a long time that the Kaupthing Luxembourg operation was central in all the deals and connection that are being investigated, be it the al Thani case or loans to UK business men such as Kevin Stanford and Robert Tchenguiz. It’s interesting to notice that al Thani is of the Qatari ruling family. Recently, a court case in London showed that a Qatari company bowed to pressure from Prince Charles. Christian Candy who won that case was also one of Kaupthing’s clients and a partner in joint ventures with the bank.
A source close to the Havilland informed me earlier this year that the Rowlands were interested in private banking and had been looking for a bank to buy for some time. When the Libyian Investment Authority’s offer for restructuring Kaupthing was turned down by the bank’s creditors and JC Flower’s rumoured interest didn’t materialise the Rowlands stepped in to buy the bank. The good assets were put into Havilland and Pillar Securitisation took over the bad assets, administrated by Havilland.
Unexpectedly, the Rowlands and Blackfish are also a well-known name in Latvia. When the renowned newspaper Diena was sold last year it seemed at first that Latvian businessmen with previous ties to the paper were buying it. Then it turned out they didn’t really have that kind of money and in the end the real owners came forth: Blackfish and the Rowlands. Why they suddenly wanted to own a newspaper in Latvia seemed hard to explain – and hasn’t really been explained except the Rowlands say they won’t interfere with the editorial line. That didn’t satisfy the Diena journalist: most of them left the paper and have now founded a new paper.
David Rowland moved from Guernsey to England in 2009 to be able to donate money to the conservatives. He has donated £3m, is now the party’s major donor – and that qualifies him to be the next party treasurer when Michael Spencer steps down in autumn. Now that the Conservatives are in government Spencer isn’t quite the kind of name they want to be linked to. Spencer has long had a reputation for being rather unsquemish when it comes to ways to make money. Last December, Spencer’s company Icap made $25m settlement with the US Securities & Exchange Commission, following a four years investigation, to escape charges for using fake trades to encourage customers to trade.
But Spencer’s company Icap was also a broker in the UK and did business with the Icelandic banks. Butlers, Icap’s financial consultancy, advised its customers, i.a. many of the UK councils, to keep their funds with the Icelandic banks even though the rating agencies, unbelievably late, downgraded the banks. Consequently, the councils that used the advice of Butlers lost badly and lost more than those who had other or no advisors. A possible conflict of interest has been alleged but strongly denied by Icap and Spencer. But the owner of a company that used fake trades would certainly have found a common ground with the Icelandic banks that are now being investigated i.a. for market manipulation.
Interestingly, the incoming and the present treasurer of the Conservative party aren’t the only conservative high-fliers with Icelandic connections. Tony Yerolemou is one of the Tories important donors and has been over the years. The Cypriot food producer was one of the owners of Katsouris Food, sold to Bakkavor in 2001. He got very close with the Bakkavor owners Lydur and Agust Gudmundsson who eventually became Kaupthing’s biggest shareholders. – And mentioning the Rowlands: as administrator Pillar is claiming back a Kaupthing Luxembourg loan to Lydur who might lose his £12.8m house on Cadogan Place if he can’t refinance his loan.
The Rowlands might also have to pick over their fellow conservative Yerolemou who not only sat on the Kaupthing board but had huge loans with the bank through Luxembourg. When the bank collapsed Yerolemou was one of the bank’s biggest debtors, his loans through Luxembourg amounting to €365 (whereof £203m were unused). The report of the Althingi Investigative Commission concludes that because of the loans and because his companies were firmly in red Yerolemou hadn’t been fit and proper to be on the bank’s board. Together with Skuli Thorvaldsson Yerolemou was involved in companies organised by Kaupthing and partly financed by Deutsche Bank to influence Kaupthing’s CDS spread. Yerolemou has been the chairman for Conservatives for Cyprus – and interestingly, the Conservative party had pledged before the election to give Cyprus priority when the party would be in power. Yerolemou has donated money to the campaigns of various MPs, i.a. Theresa Villiers now minister of State for transport and who also very much has the interest of Cyprus at heart.
Apart from ongoing investigations in Iceland the Serious Fraud Office is conducting an investigation into Kaupthing. With the conservatives in power and the particular ties that some conservatives have had with Kaupthing it will be of great interest to see what happens with the SFO investigation. It’s also interesting to see if authorities in Luxembourg make a move to look more closely at the Kaupthing operation in Luxembourg.
Who would have guessed there were so many Icelandic ties to the Conservative party? There are many stories to follow here.Follow me on Twitter for running updates.