Charles Upham’s Victoria Cross and bar were stolen, alongside many other medals awarded to New Zealand servicemen, from an army museum in 2007. Which is sad. Things like that aren’t supposed to happen in New Zeeland. Anyway, it wasn’t sad for long as the medals were returned after a private collector offered up a sum of money for their safe return. He then offered up more money for information to catch the scamps that pinched them. It is not recorded whether he had to pay out twice. Now the private collector is the same private collector who bought the medals of Captain Chavasse off St. Peter’s College Oxford, the same private collector who has written a book George Cross Heroes and who, the last time anyone asked, had more medals than the Imperial War museum. The private collector is none other than Lord Ashcroft, the ex-Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and a man more recently in the headlines for publishing a different book, which contained allegations that David Cameron did something with a pig’s head that, outside of rural Ohio and all-boys boarding schools, might be regarded as an act somewhere between a bit iffy and thoroughly depraved.
Now Michael Ashcroft is man who is not unfamiliar with controversy. He is also a Lord, a Belizean national, and a regular feature of the Sunday Times Rich List. 74th in 2015 no less, a cool £1.3bn keeping his man at Coutts in cashmere cardies and mid-week golf. Ashcroft made his money doing deals, providing a valuable lesson to all truculent work-shy teenagers that the best way to make money is to perhaps roll up the sleeves and actually do it yourself. In 1972 he borrowed £15,000 and bought a loss making cleaning business which he sold three years later for £1.3m, presumably having doing more than just buy some new mops. With the proceeds he then bought a struggling camping equipment maker. He then went on to buy and then sell businesses involved in hospitals, offices, car auctions, pharmaceutical packaging, and security. He eventually ended up owning a large chunk of ADT Inc, the largest security business in the US which was sold to the sprawling conglomerate Tyco for proper money. Ashcroft made so much money it wasn’t long before he started giving some of it to politicians; hence all the controversy.
He somehow found enough good reason to give a lot of money to the Conservative Party when William Hague was in charge. He even became Treasurer for a few years. The problem some people had was that Lord Ashcroft didn’t pay much tax in the UK as he told the taxman he lived in Belize. Which he did, having spent time there growing up. The Prime Minister of Belize once told his own parliament that Lord Ashcroft’s net worth may have been equal to the entire GDP of Belize, so basically say good morning if you see him walking the dog. Anyway, Ashcroft gave the Tories lots of money. On some occasions he’d write a cheque, on others it would come through an entity based in a Caribbean tax haven . The Conservatives it seems, then gave him a peerage. It was all a bit sticky but he promised move back so his tax affairs were within reach of HMRC. This was described in the newspapers as a gentleman’s agreement, but it was one which was so gentlemanly it took almost a decade to happen, eventually encouraged by a change in the law which meant that if he didn’t move back he would have to quit the Lords. It was only then that he got around to calling Pickfords.
Ashcroft also had a high profile fracas with The Times one time, who thought there would be good copy in running a front page splash that the US Drug Enforcement Agency were interested in him after a researcher working at the DEA leaked some information suggesting as much. This turned out to be rubbish and Ashcroft sued The Times when it emerged that the DEA had done no such thing. The apologetic whistle blower was indicted on eighteen counts of breaching laws that suggested he shouldn’t be leaking stuff to people like The Times. He pleaded guilty to one of the counts and was sent to prison for a year, providing yet another important lesson to truculent, work-shy teenagers of getting one’s facts right. The episode was described as a “fiasco” and The Times had to print another front page run, this time with a wide-eyed apology.
Lord Ashcroft is also a whale spotter. And that’s about it. Likes military memorabilia, off-shore tax vehicles, William Hague and whales. Dislikes The Times.
Quite an interesting man.