Helensburgh MP wants to know where DUP ‘dark money’ came from

cook - richard-cook-photo

Cook with Jackson Carlaw, the MSP filling in for Tory leader Ruth Davidson.

Helensburgh and Argyll MP Brendan O’Hara is one of a number of Westminster MPs who have called on Richard Cook, the man behind a secretive group that channelled £435,000 to the Northern Ireland-based DUP’s Brexit campaign, to “emerge from the shadows and explain where this money came from”, after an investigation revealed disturbing new details about Cook’s business dealings across the globe.

An investigation by openDemocracy has uncovered official emails, bank transfer files, and court documents revealing an international trail of regulatory concern, legal action and debt linked to the global waste management business led by Richard Cook that stretches from an Indian port to a California courtroom.

Mr Cook has so far failed to reveal the source of the donation from the Constitutional Research Council to the Democratic Unionist Party, used to pay for pro-Leave campaigning in the final weeks of the 2016 referendum campaign. However, amid escalating questions around his business career, MPs are demanding that he is called to Westminster to explain the source of the money.

o'hara brendan 3Brendan O’Hara, pictured right, the Helensburgh-based Scottish National Party (SNP) member on the powerful Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said that Cook should appear before the committee’s ‘fake news’ inquiry to explain his role in funnelling the biggest donation that the DUP has ever received.

“I think [Cook] has information which would be very useful to our investigation in relation to spending around the Brexit referendum,” Brendan O’Hara, a former newspaper journalist said.

Mr Cook was big into waste management and the following are details of a series of international deals linked to Mr Cook and his waste management firm, DDR Recycling Ltd, which have provoked concern, including:

  • Cook was a defendant in a California court case after DDR Recycling left an international haulage firm with unpaid bills of over $1.5m for shipments to Korea. A default judgement was made against DDR and Cook.
  • DDR Recycling Limited is currently in liquidation owing British tax authorities around £150,000. After Cook left the company, it was involved in a trade in gold that saw $5m deposited in a Cambodian bank account. Liquidators are “currently investigating”.
  • UK and Scottish environmental regulators told Cook that he was involved in an “illegal waste shipment” of 250 tonnes of rubber to India. Test results supplied by Cook to the regulator appear to be fake.
  • Cook said that an Eastern European company was to blame for the illegal Indian waste shipment. When authorities pointed out that Cook’s own LinkedIn page said he was a director of the firm, he claimed that his account had been hacked.
  • On that LinkedIn page, Cook lists his current post as “president of international development” at a Canadian waste management firm. This company has regularly failed to file accounts, in breach of corporate law in Canada, and shows little sign of economic activity.
  • Cook had previously said that he had signed agreements worth $1bn to build environmental projects in Pakistan. A US businessman reportedly involved in the deal said that his company had not worked on the project and complained that Cook “never returned a call or an email”.

Mr Cook strongly denies any wrongdoing but the fresh details of his business career in waste management have renewed focus on the payment made to the DUP. Cross party MPs have called for Cook to appear before parliament to explain the donation.

The DCMS committee first wrote to Cook about the controversial £435,000 DUP Brexit donation in November. Cook claimed that his response had been “lost”, but it can now be revealed that he did subsequently reply to the committee chair, Conservative MP Damian Collins, in what has been described by sources close to the committee as “a less than conciliatory manner”.

openDemocracy has previously revealed that Cook, a Glasgow-based businessman and former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservatives, went into business with a former head of Saudi intelligence and India. But he is best known for the £435,000 donation he channelled to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to campaign for Brexit in the run-up to the knife-edge EU referendum.

The DUP, which now props up Theresa May’s government in Parliament, has always refused to reveal where its record amount of Brexit cash came from, or why it was channelled via the secretive CRC, whose chair and only known member is Richard Cook.

Under the Northern Irish secrecy laws that were in force at the time, neither the DUP nor Richard Cook’s CRC has to reveal the identity of the original donors – even though the cash was not spent in Northern Ireland. Last month the Electoral Commission confirmed it had fined the CRC for failing to report the DUP donation.

Both Cook and the DUP have claimed that the cash came from permissible sources, but our new findings raise fresh questions about the man behind the dark money that drove the DUP’s Brexit campaign.

The story of the DUP’s dark money begins far away from the corridors of Westminster or the streets of Belfast, on a stretch of pebble-dash semi-detached houses in the sleepy Glasgow suburb of Clarkston.

Richard Cook once had high hopes of a career in politics. Back in 2010 he was a 38-year-old recycling company director in Clarkston, widely tipped as the next Member of Parliament for East Renfrewshire. Expectation of a Conservative gain from Labour’s Jim Murphy in Glasgow’s ‘stockbroker belt’ was so high that the BBC even sent a film crew to follow Cook’s campaign.

Cook made much of his environmental credentials. His leaflets talked of “protecting green spaces” and the importance of recycling. 

Mr O’Hara is part of an SNP boycott of The Democrat and does not comment to our reporters.

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