Conservative backer calls for probe into fellow donors trading on the pound

Hedge fund bosses accused of profiting from chancellor's tax cuts that sent the pound into a nosedive

Tory donor Mohamed Amersi said reports of the mini-budget being leaked to City bosses should be investigated. EPA
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A leading Conservative donor is travelling to next week's party conference in Birmingham with a demand that some of his fellow supporters come under scrutiny for their role in the slump in sterling in recent weeks.

Mohamed Amersi, who has given £700,000 ($761,340) to the Conservatives since 2018, backed calls for an investigation into hedge-fund managers trading around Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget.

He cited reports suggesting prominent figures in the City, including millionaire fellow Tory contributor Crispin Odey, appear to have thrived on the fallout from the fiscal package announced on September 23 by betting that the pound would fall.

'Serious stuff'

Mr Odey's European hedge fund is said to be up about 145 per cent after the company bet against the pound and government bonds in the gilts market.

While he admitted the market turmoil has been “helpful”, he lampooned a suggestion that he had inspired his former colleague Kwasi Kwarteng's initiative to cut top UK taxes to avert a downturn.

“There’s a mad idea that one’s behind every twist and turn,” Mr Odey told the Financial Times. “All I can do is catch the wind now and again.”

Mr Amersi said the events of recent days could spell the end of Prime Minister Liz Truss’s term in No 10 Downing Street.

“A number of hedge funds here made money by how [George] Soros did 20 years ago, which is selling the pound short because they were fully expecting that the pound will lose value in money, so they would short the currency and then buy it back,” Mr Amersi told The National at his town house in London’s Mayfair district.

“One of the people that is rumoured to have done that is Crispin Odey.”

The sudden frenzy of trading in the UK currency on Friday triggered a backlash against the government's handling of the mini-budget.

The volume of trading was such that Mr Amersi is backing voices in the Labour opposition for an inquiry into how the market reaction was triggered right as the mini-budget was announced.

“Labour has asked for an investigation as to whether there is any possibility that the mini-budget details will have been leaked,” he said.

“This is serious stuff. Very, very serious stuff because if there is evidence of that happening, I think that [Ms Truss] will not last very long.”

Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng have been heavily criticised for the mini-budget of tax cuts. Reuters

Mr Odey scooped up about £220 million in a day when sterling plummeted following the June 2016 European Union referendum in which Britain voted for Brexit. But he lost the money within weeks as markets rallied.

The hedge fund titan is one of the Tories’ biggest donors, having handed the party at least £1.7 million in recent years.

A staunch supporter of Brexit, Mr Odey gave more than £800,000 to Leave campaigns, including £32,000 to the UK Independence Party when it was led by Nigel Farage.

After the UK was plunged into an economic crisis on the back of Mr Kwarteng’s mini-budget, Mr Odey described his bets against gilts as “the gifts that keep on giving”.

'Lebanon must look to Britain for change'

Mr Amersi, an entrepreneur and philanthropist and founder of The Amersi Foundation, also touched on political woes blighting Lebanon.

He said a “mindset shift” of Lebanon's inhabitants is essential if the country is to enjoy a brighter future. He also called for changes to the constitution to reflect the Westminster model.

The Lebanese parliament on Thursday failed to elect a new president, with the majority of MPs submitting blank ballots and some even walking out.

The failure emphasised deep political divisions that threaten the prolonged political paralysis and a leadership void amid the prolonged economic meltdown.

Lebanon has struggled to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

The six-year term of incumbent President Michel Aoun ends at the end of October. The former military general and ally of Hezbollah won an election October 2016 following a similar political stalemate that lasted two years.

The country’s fragile sectarian power-sharing system stipulates that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim. A 50/50 ratio of Muslims and Christians must be maintained among the parliament’s 128 MPs.

“The demographics today are very, very different and so I personally believe there is a loud voice requiring for a review of what applies today,” he said.

“When I meet the Lebanese, I say, why is it that in this country, you call yourself either a Maronite or a Shia or a Christian or a Sunni or a Druze? Why can you think of yourselves as Lebanese first?”

Mr Amersi, who has been instrumental in efforts to set up the Conservative Friends of the Middle East and North Africa (Comena) as a rival or replacement of the long-established Conservative Middle East Council, sees the UK's constitutional arrangements as instructive for those Lebanese seeking new models of government.

“I think a constitutional review is needed and under this, that you might want to structure it in the way the UK works. Certain powers reside in Westminster and likewise, certain powers will reside in Beirut,” he said.

“They would deal with security, raising taxes, economic policies, those will be centred around Beirut.

“But then the devolved regions like we have here, Scotland, [Northern] Ireland, Wales, they get money allocated to them and then they are responsible with their parliaments for deciding how that is spent and what their priorities are.”

Updated: October 03, 2022, 10:59 AM
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