How Does Lord Dennis Stevenson Get Away With It? # ONE

Off to Africa

Lord Stevenson never lets accusations of criminality, serial fraud and gross mismanagement of his banking practices get him down. He’s been here before.  Stevenson’s skill in extracting huge sums of taxpayers’ money and giving unfathomable debt back in return has been given a new lease of life.   He is off to Africa to do to Sierra Leone what he did to the UK’s banks.  A look at Stevenson’s recent ‘adventure capitalist’ operation called Manocap is outlined below.  My more detailed overview of Lord Stevenson is offered here.

The London meeting

The organisers of a 2010 largely propagandistic event in London brought together Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, Lord Stevenson, the Sierra Leone PM, Ernest Bai Koroma, the (Washington-based) Emerging Markets Private Equity Association and This is Africa Magazine to hype the chaos of the country as an investment opportunity.  The ‘magazine’ is made up by government friendly journalists who are busy with their own hype funded by the UK mining industry and published by the Financial Times Group—i.e. Lord Stevenson’s friends.  Koroma’s ‘vision’ for Sierra Leone was reported by the Information Attaché and head of propaganda as having tantalized investors with more talk of what was in the ground along with the 70,000 people who died in the civil war:

Africa is home to 10% of the world’s reserves of oil, 40% of gold, 80-90% of the chromium and platinum group metals, as well as some of the largest deposits of uranium, iron ore and copper. But the investment potential of Africa goes far beyond its resource endowment.

Back in 2008, as soon as the last UN sanction against it was removed by the UN Security Council Sierra Leone’s government started the process of selling off the country.  One of Koroma’s bullet points in a report of his prepared speech heaped praise upon himself:

Prudent fiscal management that has reduced the cost of Government borrowing and by extension the cost of and access to domestic capital.

So you can see just how far away from our own financial system Sierra Leone’s was.  Lord Stevenson’s version of ‘prudent fiscal management’ has had some effect on things in the US and UK.

The US government are of a different opinion on the country’s achievements.  Sierra Leone’s currency began to be devalued in 2009, thanks to the ‘economic slow-down.’  Sierra Leone’s post-conflict reconstruction is viewed as fragile; doubts exist over how the population can cope with rising price of imports and at what point rising fuel and food prices will trigger unrest.  The US position is that:

Sierra Leone ranks near or at the bottom of every global measure of poverty. Trafficking in persons thrives in such an environment.

The report’s disturbing picture is also a depiction of what Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson would call a ‘flexible workforce’:

Although there are no accurate statistics quantifying the extent of the problem, all indications suggest that women and children are trafficked from the provinces to towns and mining areas for prostitution, and children are trafficked from rural areas into the city and mining areas for labor, including domestic work, petty trading, portage, begging, and petty crime. Trafficking may also occur in the fishing and agricultural industries…

Bear that reference to the fishing industry in mind. The report, written by Haywood Rankin also outlined the levels of child sexual abuse and added:

Sierra Leone ranks very low on the Human Development Index, including last in terms of maternal/child health and also has the world’s highest rate of infant mortality. Children and youth, defined as 15-35 years in age, constitute approximately two-thirds of the country’s population of over 6 million.

Indeed the report offered a different view from that of Sierra Leone’s PM, Ernest Bai Koroma:

There is an overwhelming lack of capacity in the Government of Sierra Leone […] The government is effectively bankrupt […] Corruption is entrenched…

But that is good news for the bankers, investors and finance people; and there is no law against prostitution in Sierra Leone: it is widespread. So there should be no problems with our Wall Street high-rollers living in the style which they were accostomed to.

Sticking to the more upbeat PR script at the London meeting, Prime Minister Koroma was also reported to have said that there was:

A new Mines and Minerals Act designed to provide more transparency and bring Sierra Leone in line with international best practices in the sector.

Who is he kidding. The leaked US cables said that the new mining law is technically a step forward, but that the increased levy on precious stones might “stimulate greater diamond smuggling.” Their portrayal of the mining industry included that half of it (covering half of the country) was run by someone with a conviction for “possession of heroin with intent to supply.”  Other cables indicate that the new law will not be accompanied by any new enforcement of the law:

Without checks and balances or the expectation of impartiality and reason, the system is bound to be fraught with the same foibles and frailties as the people who embody it: fatigue, irrationality, and greed set against an opaque backdrop of internal tension and cohesion created by family dramas, history, personal slights, ethnicity, regionalism, etc.

Koroma seemed slightly seduced by how things are done in the UK, and also added that his government had recently approved a Public Private Partnership Policy on energy, roads, port development and communications infrastructure (if that doesn’t ruin the place try the PFI).  He gave the game away by avoiding the use of the word ‘Oil’ however—’Hydro Carbon’ is the preferred term.  The US diplomatic cables stated that mining is expanding in Sierra Leone.  In 2010, they named the London Mining company (everyone’s favourite in Africa) as ready to ship 1.5 million tons or iron ore from Sierra Leone’s largest mine—that’s the same company that underwrites the ‘magazine’, The Sierra Update produced by, Sorie Sudan Sesay, the press attaché attached to Sierra Leone’s High Commission in London.  Mr Sesay has this to say:

…apart from being the capital of the country’s former colonial master, London still continues to play the big brother role, charting the country through political, economic and other hurdles while helping to woo investors and other multination concerns to set up house in Sierra Leone.

A bit like owning it. The Sierra Update’s report of the event set out Lord Stevenson’s remarkable call for everyone to abandon philanthropy (the word means love for humans) in favour of making money:

Initially, private equity investors in Sierra Leone were focused on social and ethical benefits. However, we are increasingly seeing more traditional interests, with high returns and IRR requirements in mind. Last year, at the Trade and Investment Forum, Lord Stevenson, formerly of Halifax Bank of Scotland, and current member of the Advisory Board of Manocap said it best: “These are not philanthropic investments but a hard-headed pursuit of opportunities. We are in Sierra Leone because we see great returns there.”

This ‘fuck the people’ approach no doubt got a round of applause.  That “formerly of Halifax Bank of Scotland” remark did not trouble anyone here—why would an audience of fraudsters on the make dwell on what people actually do as a result of making money out of the poor? A £1bn HBOS corporate fraud was known to HBOS directors (including Stevenson) in 2007 but they did nothing (in public). And that is the talent Stevenson brings—the ability to ignore fraud on a vast scale and benefit from it and make it all seem pin stripe normality. There is nothing new in people like Stevenson taking this line of pursuit—it has governed his decision-making/swindling since he started: it’s just that normally there is some kind of facade here.  But it’s not that the chutzpah was gone.

Manocapitalism

For reasons no honest person would understand, after coming out with that, in 2011 Lord Stevenson was lecturing African business executives on business ethics at an event organised by the Times (again) with speeches by William Hague and Goldman Sach’s representatives.  The idea was to talk about plunder with a more 21st century zeitgeist (you know jazz it up a bit): “natural resource management, infrastructure investments, finance and markets, consumer and telecoms as well as governance” (note the order) were the subject of the lecture.  Lord Stevenson was present to represent his new venture ‘ManoCap,’ now the biggest private equity investor in Sierra Leone and its fund will be the equivalent to 2% or more of the country’s GDP. Its backers include huge investment funds such as Texas Pacific Group, Permira, and Landsdowne Partners who run billions that they can invest and remove anywhere (I’ll say a little bit on them below).

The rhetoric offered by Stevenson in this pursuit of the wealth of others dictated the structure and aim of ManoCap.  It is not so much bypassing any troublesome ethical considerations as robbing them.   It even contains former ‘aid workers’ who tell us they have tired of occasionally facilitating ‘aid’ from within a “luxurious expat bubble” while sipping cold beer—they now prefer open exploitation for their own personal benefit. There is nothing sophisticated here: what they seek to engage in is international gambling underwritten by the public purse without running the risk that irrational capitalism carries with it:  that’s what ManoCap represents a return to the ravages of the past.

ManoCap manages two funds, the Sierra Leone Investment Fund and the ManoCap Soros Fund — yes that Soros and it also operates in Liberia and Ghana. ManoCap will exploit Sierra Leone using the British high commission and indeed the venture is refered to as the ‘Wild Geese,’ a reference to mercenaries along the Simon Mann model. It can be viewed as another Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) foreign aid scam, with the UK government putting $5 million of taxpayer’s money into ManoCap and then Lord Stevenson while pretending to be helping the poor.

ManoCap stresses it will not be investing in mining—after the slaughter even the all-powerful bankers have to keep up a pretence here—how humiliating and tedious that must be.  Some people might not believe what are obvious lies.  As soon as Manocap got going it ran into accusations of illegality and piracy when ManoCap ‘bought’ 40% of the Lebanese owned Sierra Fishing Company with the funds ‘coming through’ the UK government’s Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC).

ManoCap’s Tom Cairns doesn’t care or know much about boats and pirates and said: “he “didn’t spend time looking at what the vessel was doing”.  Hey—same excuse as the bankers!  Just because you are investing in things does not mean you have to consider the consequence—that’s for charities:

According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, pirate fishing cost West African countries an estimated $1 billion. And for artisanal fishermen in Sierra Leone, it means they come back with empty nets unable to feed their families. The government loses some 17 million pounds.

The Soros Foundation has also given Manocap $5 million to manage an agricultural investment portfolio in Sierra Leone: so we can expect the same dispossession there.  The ventures are fairly predictable—in a remarkably short space of time: fuel-crops’ (sugar cane or palm oil) framed as ecological are now competing with agricultural resources designed for food. The Soros Foundation describe ManoCap as “a Sierra Leonean private equity fund”, but it is nothing of the sort, it is as indigenous as Cecil Rhodes.  It clearly targets smallholder farmers as the raw resources for ‘development.’  Patrick Johnbull, of the Sierra Leonean NGO, Green Scenery, and also with its Justice and Peace Commission, commented that the way the land deals are  negotiated—where local people are cajoled into leasing their land through much deception—is “going to lead to the same war we just came from.”  ManoCap don’t care—there’s money to be made thousands of miles away and if there’s a war then there is more money to be made.

Manocap is playing the tax-farming subsidy swindle on a big scale. It applied to the World Bank for a Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) guarantee of $1.37 million for a period of up to 10 years against the risks of transfer restriction, expropriation, and war and civil disturbance.  So if they loose (other people’s money) they get more of it back.  Yet while they are doing this ManoCap tells everyone it is safe to invest in Sierra Leone.  This fishing scam included the manufacture of crushed ice for the commercial fishing market to tie in with their piracy venture—and it is clearly on a large scale, yet the grant (yes they also get grants) has a clause whereby there should be “no significant adverse environmental, social, or worker safety issues directly resulting.” ManoCap don’t care about that either.

While ManoCap makes vague statements that it will not go into mining (and start another war) the people behind it, such as Naill O’Cathasaigh seem to reveal delectation when describing its rich pickings other than fish:

Sierra Leone has large fishing resources and very substantial mineral assets such as bauxite and gold. It’s the wettest country in Africa and, in terms of geographic proximity, is close to markets in Europe, Latin America and the US.

Everyone knows the mining will start again. David Cameron’s pointless and vapid statements that corporate take overs ‘need to change the way the free market works’ does not pertain to how the ‘Third World’ is taken over, usually by the sons of Prime Ministers.  Hiding behind vague ideas about ‘development’, the ‘aid’ fig leaf has withered and fallen off.  No one can be bothered to pick it up any more.  Simple naked exploitative capitalism is back, but the pretence has retained one element.  Although it is hard to disentangle banks from companies (the boards intermingle directly and indirectly) oddly ‘Mining’ is off the agenda: what banks the companies use is neither here nor there (neither is the money: it’s in Switzerland).  The overall government sponsored image of Sierra Leone being ‘open for business’ tries to fudge the mining issues because of the chaos, misery, corruption and bloodshed that mining as a capitalist business venture caused.  The idea is to put some sort of imaginary barrier between past realities and present opportunities.  But exploitation is exploitation.  If the models held and this was the truth the Sahara Dessert would be a millionaire’s playground by now.

Back in the 1970s Stevenson ran the Intermediate Technology Group (ITG).  That started as a charity and then became part of the UK’s Crown Agents, a throwback to old colonial days. This is where this aid-becomes-business-subsidy routine came from.  Start a charity for people and end up their boss with all the money.  Stevenson’s whole life has been devoted to these types of lucrative scams, largely as a smart talking PR bullshitter.  It is no surprise to find him at the elbow of two old pals, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair.[1]   Tony is now working for God, Peter for Mammon and, as ever, Dennis is a privateer, all are back with the lobbyists making a quasi-honest killing.[2]

(Spin) Doctor Stevenson I presume? 

Education, Finance, Economics anything to do with money and Stevenson is fingering the pie.  Usually there is some smokescreen of well-doing accompanied by doing-well out of some swindle which masks an octupus like use use of a range of Stevenson’s consultancies, fronts or companies. The recruitment for the Sierra Leone venture is done by one of Stevenson’s recruitment companies,  Manpower—a bit like Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’.   Stevenson acquired this after the Blue Arrow affair which brought down the executive of the Nat West Bank (the report on this was censored). This is his vehicle to milk the Welfare State (once he had advised Tony and Peter to use it so he could avail himself of money we all think goes to the poor).  Manpower also gains funding from CDC, through a Business Development Initiative they run, (“a technical assistance facility”) that was founded by support from Department for International Development (DFID) (lo and behold Lisa Curtis is DFID’s Private Sector Adviser in Sierra Leone and a Manocap Advisory board member).  Curtis also handles the insurance side of this via a private company DeRisk. Curtis also gleans over £30,000 in DFID funds for a ‘Scoping Study of Existing and Planned Growth and Employment Programmes’ via Lisa Curtis Associates, her private company. Manpower run recruitment for Sierra Leone with Sir David Bell of the Financial Times.

As I said, on its arrival ManoCap became the biggest private equity investor in Sierra Leone and its backers include multi-million dollar elite groups such: the Texas Pacific Group, Permira, and Landsdowne Partners (members of which joined ManoCap as advisors).

Richard Boyce of Texas Pacific Group (TPG) (is also with Union Carbide, Burger King and Pepsi) and TPG’s  Jonathan Garfinkel is Lehman Brothers’ Financial Analyst on Global Power.  This is also the world of Goldman Sachs: the American oligarchs, such as David Bonderman of Texas Pacific Group, which was said by the New York Times to have been busy warping political over sight so that: “the public should grant a monopoly to a speculative firm without access to the business plans.”  Texas Pacific, was founded by David Bonderman, is a $13 bn investment fund based in Fort Worth that buys ‘distressed’ companies, and indeed countries.  Although vast it is set up as a private company, exempt from SEC or any other regulatory scrutiny.

Manocap say it will not invest in mining probably because other wealthy partners already do.  Big business started the conflict—and that’s the other reason why ManoCap keep up the lie.

We must be clear about who is involved. Barbaric, drug-crazed and dragooned by the warlords as they may be, armed and desperate young men could not have brought Unamsil to its knees all on their own. The UN has been ensnared by something different, something newer and more insidious: by a struggle between two rival groups supported by businessmen intent on gaining control of mineral wealth. By refusing to declare an embargo on diamonds from Sierra Leone, or indeed the economic exclusion zone that many experts have been calling for, the Security Council and UN Secretary General (2) have left the field wide open for a mafia-like conflict in which their soldiers have become pawns in the game.

The proceeds from the sale of ‘conflict diamonds’ was mainly used to buy weapons and it involves European elites. The son of the former president of France, Jean Christophe Mitterrand, was under criminal investigation for his role in the sale of arms to Angola.  Charles Taylor of Liberia and Jonas Savimbi of UNITA set up trans-continental smuggling and commercial networks that linked them to the global market (and we will never know the extent of this). The duration of the war in Sierra Leone owed much to the revival of multinational interest in Sierra Leonean diamond reserves. The new military rulers quickly developed their own mining activities. Threatened with military reverses in 1995, the government then chartered Executive Outcomes, a South African security-cum-mining company to help in the war. A democratic government came to power in 1996 with the war unabated. Executive Outcomes was eventually replaced by a British mercenary company, Sandline International. Sandline provided security for Branch Energy, a subsidiary of DiamondWorks, a company granted a concession by the new democratic government to exploit the extensive kimberlite reserves in eastern Sierra Leone.

Guns, Money and Cell Phones—tantalum ore and Coltan

Tantalum ore—or Coltan—is in the ground too, this is used to manufacture tantalum capacitors, used in electronic products.  The demand for cell phones and computer chips helped fuel the bloody civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Guns, Money and Cell Phones by Kristi Essick in The Industry Standard Magazine had this to say:

These imports […] end up in Asia, Europe and the United States. Sabena Airlines, Belgium’s national carrier, regularly flies minerals out of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. American Airlines, in partnership with Sabena, also transports goods originating in the region throughout the United States. (Sabena says it transports coltan only from legitimate traders.) Tantalum is extracted from the ore by processing companies such as H.C. Starck, which produces 50 percent of the world’s tantalum powder, and Cabot (CBT), the second-largest mineral processing company. These firms—which buy from international trading companies and also directly from large mines and local trading concerns—in turn sell refined tantalum powder to capacitor manufacturers—the largest of which are AVX (AVX), Epcos, Hitachi (HIT), Kemet, NEC (NIPNY) and Vishay. Their products go to the cream of the high-tech industry. Alcatel (ALA), Compaq, Dell, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard (HWP), IBM, Lucent, Motorola (MOT), Nokia and Solectron (SLR) are all major buyers of tantalum capacitors. Chip firms such as AMD and Intel are also increasingly buying tantalum powder in its raw form to use in manufacturing semiconductors.

The publicity of the link between bloodshed and coltan is causing alarm among high-tech manufacturers. The PR fraudsters have the similar ‘controversy’ when global demand for diamonds helped finance civil wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and Liberia. The ceremonial clamp down on the diamond trade, imposing tougher import and export regulations will have to be avoided. Asbestos occurs in all the greenstone belts of Sierra Leone too.

So will those who have abandoned all ‘philantropic’ concerns and got together with private global exploiters let philanthropic concerns get in the way of lucrative minerals they talk so much about?  Andrew Dechet, the managing director of Texas Pacific Group (TPG) Europe is also with ManoCap: TPG currently owns 27% of Mobilcom, Germany’s second largest mobile phone service provider. Dechet is on the board of Mobilcom and they want to expand.  Before joining TPG Dechet worked in the Corporate Finance department of Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York (Rolling Stone magazine once likened Goldman to “a vampire squid wrapped round the face of humanity” while Greg Smith, who headed Goldman’s equity derivatives business in Europe, said it was common to hear talk of ripping off their “muppet” clients, adding: “The environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it”).  Dechet is also a director of the hugh satellite company Eutelsat Communications (with other Goldman Sachs directors).

From Mine to Mobile Phone: The Conflict Minerals Supply Chain‘ by John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev stated that increasing pressure on electronics companies to ensure that their products do not contain illicit minerals from the killing fields in eastern Congo is beginning to have a significant impact.  The electronics industry has spent about $2 million per month lobbying US Senate offices to relax the legislation.


Notes

[1Stevenson ran one of the companies that gave us New Labour called the Strategic Research Unit (SRU) that helped form New Labour (Mandelson was at Stevenson’s home when Labour won in 1997. He was also the person that Tony Blair put in charge of first pretending to reform the House of Lords and then pretending to oversee the selling of Knighthoods in reward for donations to Tony’s private office, the party or pet projects.  If you were Tony Blair and planned to fund yourself in an old-fashioned way, would you put a self-confessed “political lobbyist” in charge of something like that—yes you would.  There are a whole set of mysteries attached to Stevenson way before he helped turn the Labour party into the Banker’s orgy party:

(a) Why did Edward Heath put him into the middle of the Poulson and Pottinger affair?

(b) Why was he taken on board—more or less given—Pearson?

(c) What happened with the Blue Arrow affair: was Stevenson’s role covered up by Charles Grant in the Economist (who later joined him on the British Council).  What happened to the Nat West Bank in this respect?

(d) When did Stevenson make contact with MI6?

(e) What did the Diebold Institute do?

(f) What was his influence on all the think tanks he has been involved with: Demos, the Social Market Foundation, ERA and so on?

(g) What happened to ITG how does it relate to Crown Agents?

(h) Who is overseeing whatever Stevenson and his friends are doing in Africa?

[2] Stevenson was one of the keen (but furtive) advocates of ‘de-regulation’ in the UK as a board member of The Diebold Institute, who’s web site states that the Ford Foundation: “with the direct and personal intervention and encouragement of its President McGeorge Bundy, provided substantial initial outside financing of the Institute’s work on privatization during the early seventies.” Diebold contains an international business elite: Paul Allaire of the Xerox Corporation, Sir Michael Angus of Unilever; Peter Bonfield of BT, Sir John Browne of BP Amoco, Sir David Cooksey of the Bank of England, Carla A. Hills the former U.S. Trade Representative, Maxine Singer from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Sir Richard Sykes of Glaxo SmithKline and John Whitehead US Deputy Secretary of State. The Institute aims to influence public policy initiatives to benefit entrepreneurial businesses.  Diebold claims to have introduced the term “privatization” to Great Britain shortly after the election of Margaret Thatcher. Its conference work reveals it as instrumental in influencing the ‘emergence’ of entrepreneurship policy in the UK modeled on the US.

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