Today
Sun 5 December 2021

Nafeez Ahmed reveals that Alok Sharma, the British MP appointed head of the UN climate summit, received donations from a businessman behind a billion dollar oil and shipping company

The UK’s President of COP26 has received donations from a business tycoon behind a billion-dollar oil drilling and shipping company, Byline Times can exclusively reveal.

Alok Sharma, who was appointed head of COP26 – the latest UN climate summit to be held in Glasgow in the coming days – in January 2021, has been the Conservative MP for Reading West since 2010.

According to data in the parliamentary register of financial interests, Sharma received a total of £10,000 from Dr Ravi Kumar Mehrotra, the executive chairman of Foresight Group International

Foresight Group is a billion-dollar, UK-based global conglomerate with interests in offshore and onshore oil drilling, port and gas infrastructure, and shipping. It also works closely with partners involved in climate science denial and pro-carbon lobbying, including oil giant ExxonMobil. The company’s chairman also has links to individuals involved in the Trump-Russia affair.

The funds came in the form of two political donations of £5,000 in January 2020 and £5,000 in June 2017. Data from the Electoral Commission, seen by Byline Times, confirms that Dr Mehrotra also made three other donations to the Conservative Party – in November 2019, May 2017 and September 2008 – totalling £10,000.

With operations spread across the UK, United Arab Emirates, China, India and Singapore, the Foresight Group operates oil tankers for the fossil fuel giant Exxon Mobil, which is one of the world’s biggest funders of climate science denial. 

Foresight runs oil rigs for the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The UAE is a member of OPEC, which has recently been found to have attempted to water-down a forthcoming climate science assessment being prepared by scientists at the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Foresight is also building the world’s first compressed natural gas (CNG) terminal at India’s Bhavnagar Port. Though widely touted as a ‘green’ fuel, CNG is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to research on its role in leaking methane at well heads. Methane has 80 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after reaching the atmosphere. 

The company has recently bid for expanding the natural gas business of the Indian-Government owned Shipping Corporation of India. According to the shipping and marine intelligence journal Lloyds List, “Foresight is betting on double-digit annual growth in Indian crude imports from the current level of 5.2 million barrels per day” for its future business strategy.

UK companies are already responsible for more than one-third of all foreign direct investment into India’s oil and gas industry, and there are no signs that the Prime Minister plans to roll this back.

Like OPEC, leaked documents confirm that India had also opposed UN scientists’ calls to phase-out coal, of which India is the world’s second biggest consumer.

In December 2020, Lloyds List reported that Foresight “is betting on a revival in the oil and gas sector”, and had begun expanding its drilling sector business.

Before becoming President of COP26, Alok Sharma was Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary. Government disclosures mention a “Foresight Group” among the companies met in March 2021 by his successor in that role, Kwasi Kwarteng, to discuss his department’s future strategy.

But Sharma’s relationship with Foresight’s executive chairman, Dr Mehrotra, appears to go beyond funding.

Dr Mehrotra was listed on the board of governors of a professional training academy for students from overseas, the London School of Executive Training (LSET), the owner of which, Prasenjit Kumar Singh, is allegedly linked to the Trump-Russia affair. Alok Sharma’s father, Dr Prem Sharma, also sat on the LSET’s board of governors as deputy chair, alongside Foresight’s Dr Mehrotra. The listing of governors was removed after being covered by the press. 

In 2017, Singh posted a photograph on Facebook showing then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson with alleged Russian agent Joseph Mifsud, who apparently tipped-off Donald Trump’s then energy security advisor George Papadopoulos in early 2016 that Russia had “thousands of emails” of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Johnson’s meeting with Mifsud and Singh had taken place at a Conservative Party fundraiser in Alok Sharma’s constituency in Reading. 

FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
& INCREDIBLE VALUE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.

Although Johnson denied knowingly meeting Mifsud at the event, before attending it, Mifsud had told colleagues that he planned to meet Johnson there “to discuss Brexit”. Sharma was also in attendance at the event and confirmed to the Observer that he had spoken to Mifsud.

Former Guardian journalist Brian Whitaker notes that Singh ran a separate educational venture which had “donated £5,000 to the Conservative party in Reading West – money which presumably helped Alok Sharma to capture the seat from Labour a few months later”. And in 2015, Sharma also spoke at an event hosted by another training academy where Joseph Mifsud was a director.  

The curious intersection of Dr Mehrotra’s ties with individuals involved in the Trump-Russia affair is notable given the Trump campaign’s early ties with fossil fuel interests, from Saudi Arabia to Gazprom. That this nexus appears to have assisted Alok Sharma’s political ascension since 2010 raises further questions about his continued alignment with fossil fuel interests as he presides over this year’s pivotal UN climate summit.

A spokesperson for Alok Sharma told Byline Times that the MP had “declared these donations… in line with parliamentary rules, received in his capacity as a parliamentary candidate” and that they “have been published with full transparency on the Register of Members’ Interests”.

The Foresight Group, the Cabinet Office, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not respond to requests for comment. 

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

Thank you for reading this article

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION

A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story…

Our leading investigations include Brexit, Empire & the culture war, Russian interference, Coronavirus, cronyism and far right radicalisation. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under The Climate Emergency

More stories filed under Fact