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Michael Anthony Ashcroft, Baron Ashcroft, KCMG, (born 4 March 1946) is an international businessman, philanthropist and politician. He was made a life peer in 2000, and is a Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. He holds British and Belizeanmarker nationality and is a Belonger of the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Biography

Michael Ashcroft spent some of his early years in Belize and Malawimarker in connection with his father having been a colonial civil servant with placements abroad. He was educated at Norwich School, Royal Grammar Schoolmarker, High Wycombemarker and Mid-Essex Technical College (now Anglia Ruskin Universitymarker), Chelmsfordmarker.

He has been Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University since November 2001, and has donated £5 million for the university's business school at Chelmsford, now called Ashcroft International Business School.

He is the Founder and Chairman of Crimestoppers, the only charity in the UK which seeks to solve crime.

In the Sunday Times Rich List 2009 ranking of the wealthiest people in the UK he was placed 37th with an estimated fortune of £1,100 million.

Business career

He began work as a management trainee at Rothmans in 1967. He left Rothmans in 1969 and spent several months on the dole, before joining Pritchard Group Services, a cleaning and business services company, as an assistant in the company's head office accounting department. In 1972, he left Pritchard to start his own business, trading as Michael A. Ashcroft Associates. In 1974, he made his first acquisition, buying a loss-making company with 1,000 employees called Uni-Kleen, for just £1. He took out a £15,000 bank loan in order to turn the company around, selling Uni-Kleen just three years later for £1.3 million." Ashcroft: The Tories' troublesome tycoon". BBC News. March 31, 2000. Retrieved on 2008-04-12.

He bought Hawley Goodall, a poorly-performing camping equipment manufacturer, in 1977. Hawley took over a variety of companies in the United Kingdom and then the United States, culminating in the purchase, in 1987, of ADT, the largest electronic security company in the United States. In 1988, Hawley was rebranded ADT, which was a household name in the US. In 1997, ADT was sold to US conglomerate Tyco International for $6.7 billion.

Ashcroft disposed of large amounts of the Tyco stock which he had acquired as a result of the sale of ADT, explaining that he needed the capital to diversify into other things, and that he never retained a substantial stake in any enterprise which he did not control. Ashcroft nevertheless continued as a non-executive director of Tyco, a role he still held in 2002 when Tyco CEO, Dennis Kozlowski, was arrested in New York in connection with personal tax offenses. Unease had already been expressed around the boardroom table at some of Kozlowski's corporate decisions, and Ashcroft was amongst the directors who appointed leading lawyer, David Boies, to investigate irregularities in the company. In time, the exposure of management deficiencies led to Ashcroft demanding that the whole of the board of directors of Tyco should resign, to be replaced by new management.

In 2003, Ashcroft was criticised by the controversial High Court judge, Justice Peter Smith. Smith condemned Ashcroft's tactics in relation to the takeover of cleaning company RCO by the Danish firm ISS. Smith said,

Smith added that Ashcroft "was not content with a small £250,000 profit earned in a matter of weeks. He now seeks to extract millions." Ashcroft responded by telling journalists that "being accused of blackmail by a man who states that speculation has no part to play in the City is rather like finding that you are sharing a railway carriage with a drunk. It's best not to take too much notice."

Michael Ashcroft has close business and other connections with the Commonwealth country of Belize, and was formerly Belize's Permanent Representative to the United Nations up to April 2000.

Ashcroft is now chairman of BB Holdings Limited (listed on the Alternative Investment Market) which has interests in facilities services, finance and telecommunications. It is the parent company of The Belize Bank which formerly held a majority stake in Belize Telemedia Limited until recently being nationalised by the Government of Belize. The rapid nationalisation came after years of litigations, wherein Ashcroft was accused of tax evasion as well as abuse of BTL's dominance, outlawing Voice Over IP for example. Lord Ashcroft also has interests in the parent company of SpeedNet, Belize's only rival telecomms company.

He also has significant interests in the following companies quoted on the Alternative Investment Market: Mavinwood, Carlisle, OneSource, Corporate Services Group, Watford, London Town, Digital Marketing, Global Health. Ashcroft attempted a takeover of Corporate Services Group in 1999. In June 2006, he increased his stake in Corporate Services Group to 28.5%, prompting speculation that he might make an offer for the remaining shares in the company. As of March 2006 he became the major shareholder in Englishmarker professional football club Watford, owning up to 42% of the club's shares.

In September 2006, he accepted a bid for British Car Auctions (BCA) worth £450m, netting him a personal gain of £200m.

British politics

In the UK, he was a major donor to and Treasurer of the Conservative Party from 1998 to 2001, under William Hague. His tenure was marked by a number of controversies: he was seen to pay little UK income tax due to his domicile in Belize; and he was at the centre of a debate about openness and accountability of political funding.

Unsubstantiated speculation about his business affairs was concluded when he pursued a libel action against The Times. This was settled on 9 December 1999, when The Times issued a statement that "[...] Litigation between the parties has been settled to mutual satisfaction, with each side bearing its own costs."

In 2004 he clashed with Conservative leader Michael Howard when he offered a £2m donation on the condition that it should go to his specified candidates, rather than into general Conservative Central Office funds.

In December 2005, he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.

On 12 October 2007 he was accused by Labour MPs for being allowed to heavily fund the local Conservative organisations in marginal seats of his choosing. The Electoral Commission is investigating and changes to the rules are predicted.

During the "Cash for Peerages" controversy, on 31 March 2006 he was named by the Conservative Party as having loaned it £3.6m.

Australian politics

Lord Ashcroft has become a significant figure in Australian politics having been identified as the single largest individual donor to any Australian political party during the Financial Year 2004/2005. The Australian Electoral Commission reported in February 2006 that Ashcroft (who gave his address as "House of Lords, Westminster, London") had donated $1,000,000 to the Liberal Party in September 2004 just before the 2004 Federal election. It was the biggest single disclosed private donation in Australian political history.

New Zealand politics

Over the last weekend of August 2008, Lord Ashcroft flew into Auckland, New Zealand in his private Lear Jet. While there he was confirmed to have met with senior figures from the New Zealand National Party; the main opposition party in the New Zealand general elections.

U.S. DEA leak fiasco

In the U.S., an intelligence research specialist for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Jonathan Randel, leaked Ashcroft's name as being in the DEA's files, although it later emerged that Ashcroft was one of 5 million people they routinely had files on. Randel claims to have believed the DEA was ignoring Ashcroft in its investigation of money laundering, so Ashcroft sued. A U.S. attorney investigated Randel for his leak. On 9 January 2003, Randel was sentenced to a year in a federal prison, followed by three years probation.

Honours

On 31 March 2000, Ashcroft was appointed as a life peer, and the title Baron Ashcroft, of Chichester in the County of West Sussex was gazetted on 20 October 2000. His appointment to the House of Lords was controversial at the time, particularly because of his business and political interests in Belize. He was nominated by Conservative party leader William Hague on the condition that he became a UK resident. Ashcroft then announced that he intended to take the title "Baron Ashcroft of Belize", a suggestion that infuriated his political opponents. He later claimed this had been a joke, and his title was created as simply Baron Ashcroft.

In the 2000 Queen's Birthday Honours, on the advice of the Belizean government, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) "for public service to the community and country" of Belize.

Victoria Crosses

Ashcroft collects Victoria Crosses; his collection is by far the largest in the world and spans the three services - Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF). The collection also spans 128 years from acts of bravery at the start of the Crimean War in 1854 to an act of courage during the Falklands War in 1982. He wrote Victoria Cross Heroes, published in November 2006 (updated paperback version released in May 2007), to mark the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross.

Following the theft of a number of Victoria Crosses awarded to New Zealand servicemen from the Army Museum at Waiourumarker in late 2007, Lord Ashcroft pledged NZ$200,000 for their return. Those stolen included the very rare VC & Bar of Charles Upham. The medals were recovered three months later and at a presentation in Wellington on 15 April 2008 he pledged a further NZ$200,000 for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the thefts.

In July 2008, Lord Ashcroft announced a donation of £5 million for a permanent gallery at the Imperial War Museummarker, where the 50 Victoria Crosses held by the museum will be put on display alongside his own collection of 152 VCs.

Aisling Symes case

On 12 October 2009, Lord Ashcroft pledged NZ$50,000 for the safe return of two-year old toddler Aisling Symes. Aisling went missing a week earlier in West Aucklandmarker, New Zealandmarker.

References

  1. Nick Hasell. " The unexpected face of fight to save the whales". Times Online. April 23, 2007. Retrieved on 2008-04-12.
  2. Sunday Times Rich List 2009 online edition
  3. Lord Ashcroft KCMG Annual Return (PDF) at Annual Returns Locator Service
  4. Ashcroft inquiry called off – BBC News
  5. Never forget the winners of the Victoria Cross


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