SOLOMON HUGHES on how Westfield grabbed a tasty government subsidy while donating to to Britain’s political parties
ANOTHER international sporting tournament, another bunch of accusations of corruption, cronyism and waste.
An Associated Press report carried in many British newspapers, “High cost and corruption claims mar the Brazil World Cup,” said that, according to government auditors, “the cost of building Brasilia’s World Cup stadium has nearly tripled to $900 million (£529m) in public funds, largely due to allegedly fraudulent billing.”
This waste is linked to political cronyism and corruption with “sky-rocketing campaign contributions by the very companies involved in most Cup projects. The lead builder of Brasilia’s stadium increased its political donations 500-fold in the most recent election.”
The Andrade Gutierrez Group, the Brazilian firm that built many of the World Cup sites, increased its donations to political parties to $37m (£21.7m).
Brazil’s other big builder, Odebrecht, gave $11m (£6.5m) and got loads of stadium contracts.
These accusations follow charges that stadiums in the Sochi Winter Olympics were built by tycoons who cosied up to Vladimir Putin with cash and propaganda support.
Corruption at the Qatar World Cup in 2022 is so obvious that it is casting a shadow eight years back.
Thank God that kind of thing never happens here. Or maybe thank God we pretend it doesn’t. Because the 2012 London Olympics were marred by the same kind of political donations linked to big, bad deals.
One of the biggest London Olympic winners was the Westfield shopping centre. We Brits value retail higher than sport.
In 2011 Westfield was given over £200m subsidies by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to build roads and other infrastructure for its Stratford City shopping centre.
The ODA wasn’t declaring browsing the aisles an Olympic event. It was claiming that the subsidy was justified because Westfield was next to the Olympic site, so part of the sport-driven regeneration.
Australian retail giant Westfield is vastly profitable, but it was able to grab this subsidy while donating to Britain’s political parties.
Westfield has given over £250,000 to the Tories since 2008. It gave David Cameron’s mob the latest £50k this February.
Westfield UK boss Michael Gutman was invited to meet Cameron along with other big donors at what the Conservatives call “leader’s group dinners.”
Westfield knows all about buying and selling. It has also given £55k to Labour, buying Labour’s complicity in its cash-for-access scheme, ensuring criticism is quietened.
While Westfield enjoyed this huge taxpayer support, a report by Australian trade union United Voice showed it used a super-complex accounting strategy to avoid paying billions in tax on its profitable British operations, in Stratford and elsewhere.
This wasn’t the only Olympic ring between Tory donors and games profiteers. In 2011 Delancey Real Estate, a firm run by Jamie Ritblat, gave the Tories £50,000. This was the first time that Ritblat, the Eton-educated millionaire son of property giant John Ritblat, or his firm have given to the Tories, according to Electoral Commission records.
A few months after the donation Ritblat’s Delancey bought the Olympic Athlete’s Village at a £275m loss to the taxpayer.
Ritblat’s real estate firm bought the Olympic Village in concert with the Qataris for £557m, nearly £300m less than the ODA paid to build it. Announcing the loss, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This is a fantastic deal that will give taxpayers a great return.”
Delancey is now offering two-bedroom flats to rent in the Olympic Village at £405 a week. It still throws the odd bone to the Tories, giving £20,000 in March 2014.
Others cashed in on the Olympics in subtler ways. Last December the European Commission estimated that the subsidy to EDF for building the Hinckley Nuclear Reactor was up to £17 billion, to be paid in above-market rates levied on consumers with government backing.
But EDF didn’t get this subsidy offer without making an investment. Nuclear expert Dr David Lowry pointed me to a speech made by Gareth Wynn, head of Nuclear PR for EDF at a PR summit at the end of April.
Wynn told his fellow spin doctors that EDF sponsorship of the Olympics “gave us a fantastic platform for launching” the “supply of electricity backed by nuclear.”
He described EDF’s Olympic sponsorship as “us trying to normalise nuclear for consumers.”
EDF paid £40m to sponsor the Olympics. That sounds a lot, but with a £17bn subsidy on offer, it looks like money well spent.
Those damned Iraqis have gone and spoiled our lovely invasion. The ungrateful natives have let our lovely occupation go all wrong.
The desperate situation in Iraq as Isis advances has caused a desperate attempt by supporters of the war to claim it wasn’t their fault.
Everyone from Blair downwards is claiming that that nasty Mr Maliki messed up their plan.
But the problem is that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rules with a system he was given by the US-British occupation.
The same politicians and generals who promoted the war with lies ran the occupation on sectarian violence — the same “liberal interventionists” who cheered the war tried to pretend the occupation was OK.
In order to hold a rebellious Iraq, the occupiers cynically weakened the Iraqi state and encouraged a divide-and-rule policy, heightening sectarian tension.
Western contractors were handed basic services. They took Iraqi oil money for the job, but botched the work, leaving the Iraqi state unable to supply clean water or regular electricity. Little binds Iraqis to this failing state.
Facing rebellions by both Shia and Sunni groups, the occupiers tried to split the opposition by promoting sectarianism — the election of 2005 was deliberately designed to take a sectarian form.
The occupiers helped the Iraqis set up the Wolf Brigades — a sectarian torture squad in the police.
They even put the tortured confessions they got on a “reality cop” TV show in Iraq.
In a particularly low moment, “laptop bombardier” Christopher Hitchens said that the sectarian killers and their TV show were a good thing.
So the fragile, sectarian state that is wavering in the front of Isis might be found in Iraq, but it was made under plans drawn up in Washington and London, cheered on by the warmongers in the press.