‘Dirty Money?’ The Tory Millionaire Bankrolling Better Together


Statement: This article now includes a right of reply from Ian Taylor and Vitol, which was not included in the original publication of the 7th of April, 2013. This reply is now incorporated into this article which is republished once more in full on our website.

Today ‘Better Together’ disclosed £1.1 million of donations to its campaign. Almost half of that sum came from one man: Ian Taylor, a long-term Conservative Party donor and Chief Executive of oil-traders Vitol plc.

Today’s Sunday Herald described Taylor as “a Scots oil trader with a major stake in the Harris Tweed industry”. They also gave Taylor’s views – who is reportedly worth £155 million – print space to justify his funding decision.

This raises several concerns. Taylor, according to The Sunday Herald, is not registered to vote in Scotland. This breaks Electoral Commission guidelines for general elections, which Yes Scotland has promised to follow. Secondly, Ian Taylor has given £550,000 to the Conservative Party since 2006. This is a further case of Tory donors – and their political interests – bankrolling the ‘no’ campaign.

These general complaints, however, are minor in comparison to more serious incidents – unmentioned in the media today – linked to Ian Taylor’s business background.

While Chief Executive of Vitol plc, his company has been involved in shady-deals in Serbia, Iraq, Libya and Iran. Furthermore, Vitol avoided tax to the tune of millions of pounds through an offshore trading scheme. Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, described Vitol’s relationship with Westminster as “curious”, and said there were questions to answer.

As Chief Executive of Vitol since 1995, Ian Taylor has serious questions to answer in all of these cases. Better Together have serious questions to answer as to what they knew about Ian Taylor before they accepted half-a-million pounds from him. Alistair Darling – who recently met with Taylor prior to the funding deal – must also confirm what his position is on the following cases.

1) Vitol Admitted Paying $1 million to a Serbian Paramilitary Leader

In 1996 Vitol paid $1 million to the Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan to settle a score over a secret oil deal to supply Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia with fuel. Ian Taylor’s director, Bob Finch, used Arkan as a ‘fixer’ after the oil deal in the former Yugoslavia collapsed. Arkan was assassinated in 2000.

Arkan was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague for crimes against humanity. According to The Obverver which names Ian Taylor in its investigation into Arkan – “his brutality was well documented” when the meeting with Vitol’s representative took place. Arkan’s paramilitaries – ‘the tigers’ – were notorious for massacring 250 patients and staff in a hospital and for genocide, rape and random executions and a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

But even prior to that he was on Interpol’s most wanted list and had numerous warrants and convictions from European countries for his involvement in bank robberies, prison escapes, attempted murder, robberies.

Ian Taylor was Chief Executive of Vitol when Bob Finch, as Vitol Director, went to Belgrade.

Arkan was then indicted with 24 crimes against humanity.

What did Ian Taylor know about his company’s dealing in Serbia and their payment to Arkan? What is the position of Better Together in relation to this? Vitol state that their actions were not illegal.

2) Vitol plc: Guilty of ‘Paying Kickbacks’ to Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Regime For Oil Contracts

While Ian Taylor was Chief Executive, Vitol paid $13 million in kickbacks to Iraqi officials under Saddam Hussein to win oil supply contracts. The company pled guilty in a U.S. court to grand larceny in November 2007

[People v. Vitol SA, 07-5867, New York Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan)] and paid $17.5 million in restitution as a result. This undercut the UN oil-for-food program – 1996-2003 – that sought to trade Iraqi energy resources for humanitarian supplies.

Was Ian Taylor aware of his company’s actions at the time? To what extent did his company profit from these deals in Iraq and to what extent did he profit personally from the company’s success? Is Better Together content to accept Mr Taylor as a major funder in these circumstances? Vitol has aknowledged that some payments were made outside the scope of the U.N. oil-for-food program to the National Iraqi Oil Company and have chosen to describe these payments as “surcharges” rather than “bribes or kickbacks”.

§ 155.40 Grand larceny in the second degree.
A person is guilty of grand larceny in the second degree when he steals property and when:
1. The value of the property exceeds fifty thousand dollars; or
2. The property, regardless of its nature and value, is obtained by extortion committed by instilling in the victim a fear that the actor or another  person  will  (a)  cause  physical injury to some person in the future, or (b) cause damage  to  property, or (c) use or abuse his position as a public servant by engaging in conduct within or related to his official  duties, or by failing or refusing to perform an official duty, in such manner as to affect some person adversely. Grand larceny in the second degree is a class C felony.

At the time of the guilty plea the State Prosecutor  Morgenthau said in a statement – One outcome of this investigation,… is to insure that illegal funds that were paid to Saddam Hussein’s  government are redirected to benefit the Iraqi people” 

3) Ian Taylor’s Company Avoided Tax ‘for more than a decade’

Vitol plc employed the controversial tax avoidance scheme known as ‘Employee Benefit Trusts’. (EBTs) Such schemes allowed employees to avoid paying income tax and companies to avoid national insurance contributions. Vitol used the scheme ‘for more than a decade’.

Tax evasion and avoidance costs the UK Exchequer tens of billions of pounds a year. EBTs were banned in 2011. Vitol then entered negotiations with HMRC over claims that it still owed millions of pounds in unpaid taxes.

What did Ian Taylor know about the company’s tax avoidance scheme? Even if it met legal requirements, does he consider tax avoidance to be morally just? Is Better Together aware of these claims against the company of its major donor? Vitol state their tax arrangements are legal.

4) Ian Taylor has been accused of improper political donations to the Conservative Party.

According to today’s Sunday Herald, Ian Taylor has donated £550,000 to the Conservative Party since 2006. He was one of the 70 millionaires who paid the £50,000 privilege to join David Cameron’s Leaders Group. Leaders Group membership led, in many cases, to a private dinner with the Prime Minister, which Taylor attended in Downing Street on November 2nd 2011. This was part of the “cash for access scandal”.

Taylor’s political donations have also been criticised by Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander. In 2011 questions were raised concerning Taylor’s relationship with Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister. Taylor and Duncan had worked together at Shell. Duncan lobbied for an ‘oil cell’ within the Foreign Office to control fuel supplies within Libya. For this the government received substantial support through Vitol plc. Civil service official were concerned that the behaviour was “encroaching too far on commercial purposes”. According to The Daily Mail, Ian Taylor “profited from the war in Libya” and his company received a $1 billion contract to supply oil to the Libyan rebels. This was described at the time as a “huge conflict of interest”.

Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary said, “Given Alan Duncan’s reported links with Vitol this curious briefing from within government actually raises more questions than it answers,”

The Financial Times on the 5th September 2011 stated very clearly that Vitol made a lot of money from Libya.

But taking those risks has catapulted Vitol, a publicity-shy company largely unknown outside the oil industry, to a leading position in post-Gaddafi Libya. “We expect to play a role in the future [of Libya’s oil industry],” Ian Taylor, Vitol chief executive, says.

The wartime trade was as ambitious as it was dangerous. For Vitol, which it is owned by its employees, the risk was heightened because it supplied most of the fuel without upfront payment. The rebel’s plan to swap crude for refined products collapsed in early May after an attack on its oil fields interrupted the flow of oil. With little access to cash, the rebels at one point owed the trading house more than $500m.“It was a gamble, but it was a reasonable gamble,” says Mr Taylor.

Did Ian Taylor gain influence within government for his £550,000? Why was Douglas Alexander concerned about Vitol’s relationship with the UK Government? Is Mr Alexander happy for Better Together to be receiving financial support from the same source? Collyer Bristow, acting on behalf of Vitol, state that there is nothing improper about Mr Taylor’s donations and that any reports connecting their client’s donations to Libya are “spurious” and that they had no involvement in the setting up of the oil cell, nor was there any exploitation of their ‘relationship with Alan Duncan to secure an improper deal’.

5) Iran and sanctions on oil trading

In September 2012, Reuters news agency reported that Vitol had skirted sanctions on trading Iranian oil. According to Reuters, the company purchased 2 million barrels of fuel oil. This undercut Western efforts to isolate the Iranian regime, and brought further attention to Mr Taylor’s close relationship with the UK government.

Vitol claim it was fully compliant with applicable laws and regulations governing trade with Iran and did not break any sanctions on trading oil.

However it is clear from Vitol’s press release issued on the same day as the Reuters article that they did not state that they did not comply with a ban imposed by the European Union on trading oil with Iran because the firm based in Switzerland decided not to match EU and U.S. sanctions against Iran. (link to the vitol press release)

This was described as the ‘Swiss Loophole’in the same Reuters article ‘A spokeswoman for Switzerland’s federal department responsible for sanctions, SECO, said Vitol’s Swiss branch had confirmed it was not involved in the purchase of Iranian fuel oil in July. She said EU and Swiss law did not apply to Vitol’s trading branch in Bahrain.

Swiss NGO The Berne Declaration said the onus was on Swiss authorities to tighten regulation. “These companies just don’t learn. Because of that, Swiss policy makers need to learn very quickly,” said spokesman Oliver Classen.

Is Vitol an ethical company and should Better Together accept support and funding from this source? Vitol claim that they have not broken any sanctions.

Better Together have serious questions to answer 

  • This information raises serious questions – both for Ian Taylor and the ‘Better Together’ campaign.
  • There cannot be a fair referendum if money is solicited from outwith Scotland or from rich Tory donors who do not vote in Scotland.
  • There cannot be an open referendum if funding comes from unethical sources. Our politics is once again tarnished by ‘dirty money’ and vested corporate interests.
  • This information also raises serious questions for the Scottish and UK media, who have not raised any of these question in relation to today’s donation announcement.
  • There cannot be a fair or open referendum if the Scottish people are left in the dark. We need to have the facts. We need to know the truth.

I hope this makes the case for funding alternative media in Scotland even clearer on our path to building a more equal, prosperous and peaceful Scotland.

Michael Gray
National Collective



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About Michael Gray

Michael studies politics at the University of Glasgow. He admires creativity, optimism and education. He desires peace, social justice and good parties.

  • http://twitter.com/itslegaltender McSpadgeon

    interesting article that deserves maximum publicity, this could be a major problem for No campaign.

  • http://twitter.com/zcbeaton Connor Beaton

    This is an excellent piece. Bravo on putting in the effort to gather this information and publish it – and in such a timely fashion, as well. We need more exposés like this to demonstrate the character of those who fund the Better Together campaign.

  • http://twitter.com/halfajack D

    Good article, and I agree with the sentiment. However, the SNP managed to brush off any concerns about the Brian Souter connection. When I complained to my own MSP at the time he was promising to match SNP donations up to £500k I was told ‘anyone is free to donate…he has no say on policy.’ Whilst Taylor sounds rather more scandalous as an individual, in principle, what’s the difference?

    • http://twitter.com/zcbeaton Connor Beaton

      Brian Souter’s reputation is down to his personal beliefs and the way in which he has sought to promote them – not because his firm has funded war criminals and evaded international sanctions. There is a world of difference.

      • http://twitter.com/halfajack D

        I’m playing devil’s advocate to an extent and I still fail to see the difference in principle. Souter ploughed thousands into a campaign to halt equality in this country, a campaign which made me, as a gay teenager at the time, feel incredibly isolated. I don’t understand why this very public act of bigotry makes him a suitable donor but we can still retain the right to criticise opponents for who they accept donations from. We can win without hypocrisy, I hope.

    • http://twitter.com/shirkerism scary☮jomes☮rothorne

      I agree with you – there’s very little difference. Like I said, we should judge political campaigns by the company they keep, and Souter’s homophobia is a stain on the SNP. That said, if we look at this from a purely political level, Better Together’s association with this man is rather more disturbing. Whether we like it or not, some forms of homophobia are at the very least *tolerated* in British society – surely being associated with somebody like Arkan is a step beyond that, at least in this eyes of the public? There is, I hope, pretty much universal opposition to genocide among the British people. So one important question to ask is – assuming Better Together know about Taylor’s past, how desperate must they be for funding to associate themselves with him? We could also say that while yes, Souter’s beliefs are appalling, it’s not his opposition to equality that has made him his millions. Taylor, on the other hand, has made his millions precisely *because* of the rather horrifying things he seems to be involved with. That’s the money that Better Together are accepting – hence ‘dirty money.’ All of that considered, I still don’t think it’s possible to defend the SNP taking money from Soutar in principle. But on a purely political level there *is* a difference.

    • http://twitter.com/Zarkwan Colin Dunn

      Souter has funded the Yes Scotland campaign? How much did he donate?

      • http://twitter.com/A_D_McLean Duncan McLean

        A) You are wrong, he hasn’t.

        B) He resides in Scotland and always has done (so far as I’m aware) and is fully entitled to contribute any amount to either campaign. Even Better Together don’t dispute that. His money was found acceptable when supporters of Better Together were opposing Scottish Executive policy.

        It was John Mann MP – a Labour MP from England – who first raised doubts about the acceptability of major funding from Ian Taylor in terms of its influence on UK politics. Hypocritically, he has gone silent now that Taylor’s money is funding a cause he supports.

        Everyone says the referendum should be ‘made in Scotland’ – that means largely funded from within those entitled to vote and only nominal sums from members of the Scottish diaspora.

        On the other hand, Better Together has made clear that it regards Scotland’s future as up for sale to UK corporate interests. So much for Labour values! So much for a referendum that is fair!

    • Margaret Dymomd

      Difference is that Souter can vote as he stays in Scotland not like Taylor. Margaret

  • David Aitchison

    Excellent article, shows how corrupt to the core the UK state is, and will remain if people like this continue to be given such influence in politics. Eagerly awaiting a response from @UK_Together

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.myers.50767 David Myers

      Sadly, they never seem to be very forthcoming when it comes to providing answers.

  • http://twitter.com/shirkerism scary☮jomes☮rothorne

    As we’ve seen time and time again, Better Together’s campaign is pitched to and run by the most privileged sections of society. Considering that we live under an economic system that actively promotes and rewards morally reprehensible, even psychopathic, behaviour, it’s no wonder that the No campaign are becoming so cosy with amoral individuals like this. Maybe there is a positive, even radical, case *for* the Union – but we won’t hear it from this lot. That’s because the political and economic institutions of the UK are dominated by a wealthy and corrupt elite who won’t give up power without a fight. We should judge political campaigns by the company they keep – and this is damning. Great work.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708560894 Alastair Meek

      The only argument other than sticking it to the English for leaving the union is that Scotland won’t be run by Westminster. This begs the question – Is Holyrood actually going to be any less corrupt? It’s not even a question of distance – that’s an irrelevant concept in a lot of ways in the modern world, and Scotland-level decisions are already made by the devolved parliament (or should be), and for the most part, Union level decisions are made by the EU anyway.

      • http://twitter.com/Zarkwan Colin Dunn

        No, it’s not the only other argument. There are many others. One of the most important is that in the UK political power is the preserve of the rich and well-connected. This creates massive inertia meaning that real democratic change cannot and will not take place within the UK.

        Independence offers the potential for a _massive_ shake-up and restructuring of the political landscape which will be of benefit to Scotland’s people, and ultimately to the other constituent parts of the UK as well. For a start, I see the SNP fragmenting after indy, and new parties formed which break away from the big three.

      • http://twitter.com/A_D_McLean Duncan McLean

        By your own logic Westminster is an expensive irrelevance to Scotland and can be done away with with no great harm, or even potential good as we get to have a direct input to where decisions are really made.

      • jdmank

        seriously? thats your argument for the union?
        , the new lot will PROBABLY be as corrupt as the ones we have now,
        I really fell sorry for you,

  • http://twitter.com/mhairi_mcalpine Mhairi McAlpine

    Excellent and well research article.

    It also begs the question of what is in it for Vitol to keep Scotland under UK domination, given that Scotland is an oil producing nation.

  • http://twitter.com/maxomatosis matt g

    Credit to National Collective for the research that has gone into this article – all elements certainly worth mentioning in the interests of fair and balanced debate. However, there is no mention of what Ian Taylor has spoken about in the article. Yes, the company he is CEO of has done a lot of bad, bad stuff in the past, and therefore he is culpable for it by default, however his line of writing has nothing to do with him, his company, his background – only the industry that he has been at the top of for many, many years.

    The article itself isn’t even a reasoning behind donating to Better Together – I can only presume that as a perennial Tory donor he was only too happy to throw some money in the direction of a campaign they are heavily involved in. This in itself is likely to be his main reasoning. The article did, however, give rise to some important points regarding the key economics behind the oil and gas industry in the North Sea, and the volatility that the market can experience through events completely unrelated to the area. Of particular note is the fact that, whilst North Sea revenues accounts for just 1.6% of the UK’s tax income, that figure would be 17% in an independent Scotland.

    To rely so heavily on this as a form of income through which we can develop a decent manufacturing industry, sustain a healthy public sector, and provide free prescriptions, bus passes and all the rest is very risky, as the amount of money available from this source is both unreliable, and perhaps most importantly, uncontrollable.

    It is regrettable that the Yes camp choose to gloss over this and claim the usual line of “oh there’s plenty of oil, nothing to worry about” when, whilst this might be the case, the revenue we generate from this plentiful supply year on year simply cannot be predicted accurately and act as a large, reliable source of income for the Scottish government.

    Apologies if this appears to derail the conversation, but it’s important that we look at facts and the reasoning behind what people are actually saying before dismissing them as the evil Bond villains they may be.

    • http://twitter.com/zcbeaton Connor Beaton

      In what way have Yes Scotland glossed over the oil argument and claimed that there is “nothing to worry about”? Everything I have seen suggests that the campaign is very aware of the long-term dangers of relying on North Sea oil, but sees the resource as a hugely beneficial asset in the early days of independence, as the reinvestment of its tax revenue could provide a huge boost to Scotland’s economy. Today, North Sea oil revenue is going straight to Westminster and being squandered. When that money is rerouted and sent directly to Holyrood, the potential for investing in new, sustainable industries such as the green energy industry is vast. Both the SNP and the Scottish Greens support using North Sea oil revenues in a responsible way to facilitate the growth of relatively new, long-term industries. It seems disingenuous to paint this valuable resource of Scotland’s as some sort of liability.

      • http://twitter.com/maxomatosis matt g

        You said it yourself, Yes Scotland have made the revenue gained from North Sea oil one of their main argument points over an independent Scotland’s financial stability. This surely suggests some sort of confidence in it being available, reliable and assured?

        The oil and it’s availability as a resource is not a liability in itself, of course it’s there and could well be used, but it’s the reliance upon it to either support Scotland towards making itself self-sufficient or support it through tougher times that is under question. The fluctuations in productions costs and selling prices means that, unless you have enough of it to physically control the market (North Sea oil = 1% of global resources, so that can’t happen), you’re at the hands of the rest of the world. To rely so heavily on the value of a commodity which you have no control over doesn’t make sense, especially when running a country.

        Also, “When the money is rerouted”? Don’t jump the gun, the extent to which that does or doesn’t happen is still a matter to be agreed should Scotland indeed go independent.

        • http://twitter.com/zcbeaton Connor Beaton

          No, it is not. When Scotland becomes independent, the oil to which we are referring will be in Scottish water. That is indisputable. The UK would have no possible claim to tax revenue paid by corporations operating in Scottish water.

          Aside from this, I don’t see how you claim that Yes Scotland is suggesting oil is “available, reliable and assured” when I said it would be an *early day bonus*. It will be useful as the Scottish state establishes itself. It is not going to run out for fifty-five years or more, based on the estimates of many firms operating in the North Sea. That is enough time to invest in other, sustainable industries, even with low estimates of the oil price – and this, notably, is something that Westminster is not doing, but which Holyrood would be forced to do out of sheer self-interest. As for the value of that oil…

          Remember how the Scottish Government said there would be an oil boom in the early years of independence? That was not some sort of made-up fact based on Scottish Government figures – it was an analysis of existing industry figures, and the conclusion of that analysis was backed up by Oil & Gas UK, the UK’s leading industry body for oil and gas. I hardly think there’s overt cause for concern.

          If nothing else, the UK seems happy to permanently base their economy on things as volatile as banks and house prices – I think we can get away from using a volatile resources as our kickstart fund.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.allan.7587 Scott Allan

    “Better Together” – corrupt to the core. Shame, shame on Scotland if it does not do everything in its democratic power to break free from this declining Roman empire of the UK!

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.myers.50767 David Myers

    So they started by breaking the law a couple of times (Data Protection Act) and now they’re being funded by corruption. It just gets better (together), doesn’t it? I’ll be sharing the hell out of this article tomorrow morning. Scotland deserves far better than this.

  • KampungHighlander

    What most concerns me is what has been promised to Ian Taylor in return for his donation? He has a history of paying money to politicians, but only when he gets something in return.

  • batman2

    but will the papers publish any of this? never,only interested in trying to derail the Yes campaign.journalists in this country are not worthy of the name.

    • http://twitter.com/lauraannham Laura

      We are the media!

  • Rod Mac

    Some on here trying to equate Brian Soutar to this vile creature Taylor are wide of the mark.
    For a start Brian Soutar has a vote in this country ,lives in this country and pays his taxes in this country.
    Mr Taylor does none of those things in Scotland.
    Mr Soutar holding an alternative view on homosexuality might offend some.
    Personally I disagreed with his view ,but I defend his right to hold such views.
    Mr Taylor on the other hand has his hands covered in filth from such people as Akran a war criminal Saddam’s regime et al.
    Again Mr Soutar to the best of my knowledge has no taint of tax avoidance on his CV, Mr Taylor on the other hand has been found guilty of such antics.
    Even with this track record he is a “chum” of our PM ,the leader of BT Campaign Darling.
    UK and Unionism equates to corruption and dishonesty ,let us give them no hope of any split amongst us by allowing any nonsense about Brian Soutar to equate to Taylor.
    As a postscript it has been my experience when Soutar’s name is brought into any Independence debate /thread /blog etc it is usually by a unionist trying to muddy the waters.You know the type “I will never vote SNP again, because …….. or I was going to Vote Yes ,however….the all time favourite “If you got rid of that horrible man Salmond” ………………..RIGHT PET !!!!

    • http://twitter.com/PWMartin_Leith Paul Martin

      Yup, it was considered legitimate to question Souter, his beliefs and the source of his money – and the media played a role in doing that. Fair enough, no issue. I only expect the same level of scrutiny to now fall on Mr Taylor. So far there is no sign of the media putting Mr Taylor under the lens in the same way as they did with Souter. Their reasons for not doing so are apparent to all of us.

  • http://twitter.com/euanspc Euan C. Purchase

    This is proper investigative journalism, well done! No campaign have some serious questions to answer. Shame the MSM aren’t asking them…

  • richardgibbons

    Alistair darling’s mouth was always going to be stuffed with Tory gold in Bitter Together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hugh.docherty.33 Hugh Docherty

    Just heard that this website is being closed down due to legal threats over article investigating controversial Better Together Donor. Wonder if they’ll sue The Herald too!!!

  • http://twitter.com/A_D_McLean Duncan McLean

    Welcome back.

    Even without any of the questions about Ian Taylor’s business links, it is unacceptable that Better Together take the view that they can import as much corporate money as they want into this campaign from outside Scotland.

    They play up the fact that Mr Taylor comes from ‘a Scottish family’, yet refuse to answer questions about whether he has ever resided in Scotland or, even more important, had the right to vote here.

    This is not about some Corby granny giving £25 to save the union, or some ‘Colorado Highlander’ sending a few green-backs to free his ancestral home.

    Almost half of Better Together’s initial collections came from this one source – without it their campaign would be as dead in the water in resource terms as it is intellectually.

    They make much about the amount that has been promised for later in the campaign – if they are not challenged over this donation, who is next to try to buy Westminster’s continued access to their Scottish cash cow? And what will be the real driver to their involvement in the referendum?

    If anybody had any doubts about ‘flipper’ Darling’s lack of judgement, this case puts these doubts to bed.

    Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donaldgrantm Donald Grant

    When you tear out a mans tongue you are not proving him a liar, you are telling the world that you fear what he might say.

  • Martin

    I posted on Better Together asking what had happened to the story that they had headlined about Ian Taylor’s legal challenge with your website and other media organisations as they had removed it from their Facebook. The original post by Better Together added at the end of their comments that they would ‘tell’ us more the next day because it was in the hands of Mr Taylor’s legal advisors. When I asked about the ‘update’ I was blocked from their site. It is still missing from their site.