A billionaire whose company was awarded a major export finance deal by the UK government after donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservatives attended private, off-the-record events with senior Tory figures, openDemocracy has learned.
As revealed by openDemocracy last month, UK Export Finance earlier this year gave a £1.5 million loan to Unatrac, owned by Egyptian businessman Mohamed Mansour. The deal was announced less than a week after the firm made a £125,000 donation to the Conservative Party.
Unatrac has given the party more than half a million pounds over the past five years.
During an interview with the BBC earlier this week, Mansour was asked whether donating to the Conservative Party had any privileges, such as getting a dinner with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Mansour responded: “They have an event and I go. But that’s it. I never get politics into my business.”
Mansour declined to tell openDemocracy whether he was part of the Leader’s Group, an elite dining club of top donors who give at least £50,000 a year. Leader’s Group donors can attend regular private dinners, lunches and drinks receptions with the prime minister and other senior Tory figures.
Last year, openDemocracy reported how the Leader’s Group members had given more than £130 million to the Conservative Party. Commitments to publish lists of attendees have not been kept. Details of previous Leader’s Group meetings appear to have been removed from the party’s website.
Mansour told the BBC that “the Conservative Party had no role whatsoever” in UK Export Finance’s decision to give Unatrac a loan to “enable the sale of machinery” in Uganda.
But the businessman’s admission that he attended private events with senior Tory figures raises questions once more about the access that donors have to leading British politicians.
“So long as there are no limits on political donations there will be a suspicion that favours can be bought with large amounts of hard cash,” Steve Goodrich, senior research officer at Transparency International has said.
Liberal Democrat MP and leadership candidate Layla Moran has called for an official inquiry into the Unatrac loan.
Political donations have been in the spotlight in recent weeks. Conservative housing secretary Robert Jenrick has faced calls to resign after it emerged that he intervened in a planning decision for property developer Richard Desmond, who subsequently donated £12,000 to the Tories earlier this year.
The Unatrac deal was announced by international trade minister Liz Truss on 20 January, just days after Unatrac donated £125,000 to the Conservatives.
UK Export Finance – which exists to help British firms export – refused to confirm when the decision to award finance to Unatrac was made but said that the decision was made before the firm’s recent political donations.
Speaking to the BBC, Mansour said that Unatrac had started negotiating with the UK Export Finance in the first half of 2019 and the deal was concluded that same year. The donation of £125,000 came after once the deal was done. “This deal was concluded prior to me making the donation and the Conservative Party had no role whatsoever,” he said.
According to the Electoral Commission database, the Conservatives have accepted numerous donations from Unatrac over the past few years. In 2019, the party accepted £75,000 on 9 November, £11,700 on 14 August, and £12,000 on 15 January. In 2018, the Tories accepted £175,000 on 24 October, £8,000 on 14 August, and £11,800 on 13 March. Back in 2015, the party accepted £100,000 from Unatrac.
A Mohamed Mansour is also recorded as having given £12,500 to the Conservatives in 2017. It is unclear if this is the same Mohamed Mansour who owns Unatrac.
Unatrac is the British arm of the Mansour Group, a business empire owned by Mansour. The empire includes car dealerships, real estate, healthcare, logistics and food distribution. The Mansour Group acquired Unatrac, the Caterpillar dealership in East and West Africa, in 1997.
Mansour also served as a transport minister under dictator Hosni Mubarak and praised his current authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for making the country “much more stable”.
During the BBC interview, Mansour was asked why he donates to the Conservative Party, to which he replied: “As a businessman, I think the Conservative Party has had the right vision and I believe that today they are going to lead the UK over the coming years.”
In reference to Brexit, he said: “I believe that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be the right man to get the thing moving, and get the UK the best possible deal it can, and I believe that the party that can take the UK forward in the coming years would be the Conservative Party.”
Earlier in the interview, Mansour indicated that he was wary of Brexit, describing it as an expression of populism and protectionism.
When openDemocracy approached representatives of Mansour, they said that they do not have any further comment to make at this time.