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Concerns raised over top Tory donors bankrolling Prince Charles’ charity

Super-rich Conservative supporters accused of "buying access" as scale of Tory links to the Prince’s Foundation revealed

Seth Thévoz
9 September 2021, 12.00am
Rich Tory donors have funded Prince Charles' charity
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COP21 / Alamy Stock Photo

Prince Charles’ embattled charity has been bankrolled by major Tory donors, whose names are engraved across its headquarters in Scotland.

The Prince's Foundation's has been supported by a host of leading Conservative donors, including hedge fund manager Michael Hintze, finance and property tycoon Wafic Said, and David Brownlow, who funded the controversial renovation of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat.

Transparency campaigners have raised concerns about the the super-rich buying access to the Royal family.

News of the ties between the Prince's charity and leading Tory donors comes after revelations that a Saudi tycoon, Mahfouz bin Mahfouz, was given an honorary CBE after donating more than £1.5m to royal charities. A string of leaked emails were “explicit about the transactional nature of the agreement”.

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His money helped fund the multimillion pound restoration of Dumfries House, an 18th century stately home owned by the Prince’s Foundation, which is based there.

Parts of the estate are now named after wealthy donors. Mahfouz has a fountain, a wood, a garden and a building all named after him, following his donations, while others are commemorated on plaques.

Dumfries House does not declare all of its donors, with several listed as “anon”. But among those who have been named, there appears to be an overlap with some of the Conservative Party’s top donors.

Hedge fund manager Michael Hintze was a “founding supporter” of the building’s restoration. He was knighted by Prince Charles in 2013, for services to the arts.

With an estimated fortune of £1.5bn, he is one of the UK’s richest people and has given at least £4.4m to the Conservatives since 2003. This includes donating money directly to Boris Johnson and Theresa May.

Another donor, David Brownlow, is the founder of Huntswood business consultancy, and a major donor to Dumfries House’s parklands and gardens. He and his companies have also given £3.3m to the Tories since 2005.

Brownlow has faced questions over an undeclared donation to the Conservative Party last year, to help pay for the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat. The Electoral Commission is still investigating the affair, after saying there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect an offence may have occurred. He was appointed to the House of Lords in 2019, becoming Baron Brownlow of Shurlock Row.

Finance and property tycoon Wafic Said is currently listed as the 89th richest person in the UK, with a fortune of £1.9bn. Like Hintze, he was a founding supporter of the Dumfries House restoration. His wife, Rosemary Said, has donated over £2.5m to the Conservatives since 2005.

Hintze, Brownlow and Ann Said have all been members of the elite £50,000-a-year Leader's Group of top Tory donors. The Conservative Party no longer releases information about the Leader’s Group membership, making it impossible to tell if they are still members. However, they still continue to donate more than enough to qualify for the £50k annual membership fee.

Sue Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, said on the Mahfouz donation: "It is increasingly clear that wealthy businessmen, including from highly corrupt jurisdictions, see making donations to the governing party and the royal family as a way to gain influence and access.

“It is alarming, deeply unfair, and very damaging to our democracy, that such access should be so readily for sale."

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'Access' to Prince Charles

The Prince’s Foundation is conducting an investigation over allegations that middlemen were charging £100,000 for dinners with Prince Charles. Reports said that fixers were taking a 25% cut for themselves, and offering an overnight stay at Dumfries House as part of the package.

The Sunday Times has also reported that a concierge company owned by the Conservative Party’s co-chairman, Ben Elliot, “peddled access to Prince Charles”, offering dinners with the Prince as part of its £15,000-a-year service. Elliot is the nephew of Prince Charles’ wife, the Duchess of Cornwall.

One donor, Mohamed Amersi, was reportedly encouraged to give £1.2m to Charles’ charities after being introduced by Elliot. It followed his having made more than £500,000 of donations to the Conservative Party.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK said: “We welcome the investigation of matters at The Prince’s Foundation, where it is alleged that wealthy donors could buy access to the Prince of Wales. Once concluded, the findings of this inquiry should be published in full to help assure the public that those who are awarded honours receive them solely on merit, not as a result of the depth of their pockets.”

Clarence House has said that Prince Charles had “no knowledge” of any access-peddling.

Sir Michael Hintze, Lord Brownlow, and Wafic Said did not respond to a request to comment, while The Prince’s Foundation also declined to comment.

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