Monday, 5 December 2011

Questions on Qatar

By Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon

ALEX Salmond is at the centre of a “favouritism” row after the brother of a Cabinet colleague joined him at high-profile meetings in the Middle East while acting as an adviser to two foreign energy firms.

Consultant Allan MacAskill, whose brother Kenny is the Justice Secretary, was present as Salmond tried to the persuade the region’s political and industry leaders of the benefits of investing in Scotland.

Labour is now demanding that Salmond provides “full disclosure” on why MacAskill was one of a handful of business representatives in attendance.

Salmond recently visited Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai as part of a five-day trip to promote Scotland in one of the world’s most lucrative areas.
In a statement released during the overseas mission, Salmond said Scotland offered “many attractive business opportunities” for capital investment, adding: “Now is the time to invest, which is why I am visiting both Qatar and the UAE this week.”
Scotland has dozens of capital projects in need of funds and could benefit if the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), which is estimated to have up to $875billion of assets, looked favourably on the Scottish Government.
Salmond has long complained about Westminister’s squeeze on capital funding and is looking for alternatives to raise cash for vital projects, particularly in the areas of renewables and infrastructure.
However, the First Minister’s business trip is being questioned over MacAskill’s presence at key meetings.
A picture of a “low carbon” round table discussion in Qatar, put on the internet by the Scottish Government, showed the Justice Secretary’s brother sitting across from the First Minister.

Allan MacAskill (left) with Alex Salmond in Qatar

A Government press release then stated that MacAskill, as well as Scottish and Southern Energy CEO Ian Marchant and Inverleith Capital’s Ben Thomson, would be attending the ADIA meeting with Salmond.
According to the release, MacAskill attended the ADIA meeting on behalf of clients EDP and Repsol, which are Portugese and Spanish energy firms respectively.
The two companies are part of a joint venture to develop up to 2.4 gigawatts of renewable projects.
Repsol is part of the team behind the Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm in the Outer Moray Firth, while EDP Renewables has offshore interests in the same waters.
MacAskill, an engineer by profession, has a long association with Beatrice.
He was the founder of SeaEnergy Renewables, a firm which did much of the running on a project that will cover approximately 131.5km.
SeaEnergy Renewables was acquired earlier this year by Repsol.
According to his Linkedin profile, MacAskill now advises Repsol and EDPR since setting up his own consultancy in March.
The Middle East meetings are not the only examples of MacAskill’s links to the Nationalist Government.
Salmond personally opened SeaEnergy Renewables’ office in 2009.
The firm was also part of a Scottish Development International trade mission to China.
One outcome of the trip, according to Scottish Enterprise, was the signing of a co-operation agreement between SeaEnergy Renewables and Chinese ship builder Nantong COSCO Ship Steel Structure Company.
The Scottish Government issued a statement announcing the deal in July 2010.
Salmond attended the signing ceremony in Shanghai alongside MacAskill.

Allan MacAskill (left) with Alex Salmond in Shanghai

And in June this year, when Repsol bought SeaEnergy Renewables Ltd for £40m, the Scottish Government issued yet another statement, in which the First Minister praised SeaEnergy as “reaping the rewards of decisive and early leadership”.
The markets, who had expected a higher sale price, were less kind however.
Shares in parent company SeaEnergy plc fell 44% the same day, their biggest slump in seven years.
MSP Paul Martin, Labour’s business manager at Holyrood, has asked the First Minister 11 questions about MacAskill’s role on the Middle East trip.
He wants to know who invited the Justice Secretary’s brother to the meetings, whether his consultancy has received any public money, and whether the First Minister will publish a full list of meetings with MacAskill.
In his letter, Martin wrote:

“It is unclear whether Mr MacAskill would have been able to secure such access [to the meetings] without the decision for him to accompany you. 
There are many, many such consultants in Scotland who would have given anything to accompany the First Minister when meeting potential investors...
“Given the close family relationship between Allan and Kenny MacAskill, I believe full disclosure is required in explaining exactly why Allan MacAskill was at these meetings, in order to clear up any perception of favouritism.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “All business participants on this visit were part of ‘Team Scotland’ – they were included because they are all specialists in their field and able to offer expert knowledge and advice in support of the visit’s aim of promoting exports and attracting inward investment to Scotland.
“They attended industry round table meetings and similar events, but were not part of the ministerial delegation and were not part of formal Government to Government meetings.
“All business participants met their own flight, hotel and other expenses.”

Allan MacAskill said: “I’ve got no comment to make.”

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