BORIS JOHNSON’s plan to hand Crystal Palace Park to Chinese corporation ZhongRong so it can build a hotel in the historic London green space has already had a big impact on the London mayor’s hospitality register.
According to the list of mayoral freebies, deputy mayor Richard Blakeway – in charge of housing and land – and Debbie Jackson, the assistant director in charge of regeneration at the Greater London Authority, have been fed and watered repeatedly by ZhongRong’s representative, William Cheng.
This April they went to Hutong, a fancy Chinese restaurant in London’s “Shard”; and in February they dined at Hispania, a smart tapas joint in the City. In November last year it was dinner at HIX Mayfair at Brown’s hotel, a feast which followed lunch the previous September at Magdalen restaurant on London’s South Bank.
In October 2013, Blakeway was also taken by Cheng to Jumbo Kingdom, the world’s largest floating restaurant, in Beijing; and in March this year he was taken out to dinner by Arup, ZhongRong’s architect on the Crystal Palace scheme.
Boris Johnson himself, his economic adviser Gerard Lyons and deputy mayor Blakeway were also given a dinner by Ni Zhaoxing, the billionaire chairman of ZhongRong, at the firm’s Beijing offices in October 2013, while they were on a trade mission just a couple of weeks after Johnson had announced the plan to give Crystal Palace to ZhongRong.
Many people are puzzled why the GLA is so committed to giving ZhongRong, a firm unknown outside China, the chance to commercialise a London park without any competition. Is it down to the mayor’s carefree attitude to big corporations or his desire to see a big glossy building to commemorate his rule? Or is it thanks to the role of Tory insider Xuelin Bates as a lobbyist for the scheme? Either way, no doubt the agreeable dinners helped.
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CHINA isn’t the most prolific benefactor in the London mayor’s hospitality list, however – that honour belongs to Qatar.
Boris’s cosy relationship with the rulers of the oil-rich Gulf state is at odds with the sentiments of the Telegraph-owning Barclay brothers, who pay him £250,000 a year for his weekly wisecracks. They are fiercely hostile to Qatar, their rivals in a battle to buy three of London’s top hotels.
The hospitality register reveals that last month, while the Telegraph was running a thunderous campaign demanding that Qatar “stop the funding of terrorism”, the Emir presented Boris with a jade sculpture. In October the Qatari ambassador in London gave him a fountain pen. On past form he can expect plenty more before 2014 is out: on 30 December last year the ambassador sent him a hamper, a few days after the Qatar Foundation had flown him to Doha for a “gala dinner” and put him up in the Four Seasons hotel.
The register doesn’t say how much these treats were worth, but they mount up. Look at the heap of goodies bestowed on him when the Emir’s sister, Sheikha Al-Mayassa, had a sudden present-giving splurge in September last year. There were cufflinks, books, a ceramic plate, a camera from the Museum of Modern Art, a “Koznik Yildiz vase limited edition from the Osmanli collection” and a gold damascened pen from the Museum of Qatar. Clearly a professional hack needs plenty of pens: only a week earlier the Qatar Foundation had presented him with another two. Altogether over the past two years, Mayor Bojo has had 20 separate gifts from the Qatari regime – more than twice as many as from his next most lavish benefactor, Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev.
“Qatar has huge investments in Britain – including such landmark businesses as the Shard skyscraper – and yet at the same time is apparently condoning jihadist financiers,” the Telegraph thundered in one of its tirades against the Gulf state last month. Will it now investigate why the Qataris are investing so heavily in its own most highly paid pundit?