LONDON, England — Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the successful “Caribbean” candidate for the post of Commonwealth secretary general at last November’s heads of government meeting in Malta, appears to have evolved from an earlier soubriquet of “Baroness Shameless” to “Baroness Hypocrite” in an article published last week by Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.
Under the headline “Baroness Hypocrite: How the Blairite law chief with an illegal immigrant cleaner has cosy links to two vile despots that raise grave questions about her suitability to be new boss of the Commonwealth”, the Daily Mail described how Scotland is linked to dictators in Kazakhstan and the Maldives.
“Previously, 60-year-old Baroness Scotland was best known for an unfortunate scandal which catapulted her on to the front pages in 2009, when she was serving as Gordon Brown’s attorney general, or chief legal officer. It revolved around the revelation that she employed an illegal immigrant from Tonga … as a cleaner, on a paltry wage of £6 [US$8.40] an hour,” the newspaper noted.
Scotland was prosecuted for breaking immigration laws that she had helped draft, and fined £5,000 (US$7,000), prompting a headline at the time: “Baroness Shameless”.
Although having lived in Britain since the age of two and enjoying British “dominant” nationality, Scotland was nominated as a so-called “Caribbean” candidate for the position of Commonwealth secretary general by Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, her country of birth, a move that provoked no little controversy within the Commonwealth Caribbean at the time.
Scotland is the first British citizen to be elected head of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. This means, as such, she does not qualify for diplomatic immunity in the UK (another first). Neither does she qualify for diplomatic immunity anywhere else in the world even though, for example, she may be issued a diplomatic passport by her country of birth, Dominica, since such immunity only attaches to the country to which a diplomat is accredited.
As the new secretary general, Scotland will be paid a salary of £158,757 (US$222,000), plus pension and private health insurance. She will also enjoy the right to live in a four-storey grace-and-favour residence in London’s Mayfair, and travel in a chauffeur-driven luxury car.
She is said to have complained about having to pay UK income tax on her Commonwealth salary as a person resident and domiciled in the UK (another first). It is unclear what result she expected from her complaint except perhaps that she wanted her salary increased to compensate; something that is unlikely to happen because the secretary general’s salary is set by the Commonwealth heads of government.
Another, so far unanswered question, concerns Scotland’s position as a sitting member of Britain’s parliament concurrently with her holding the post of Commonwealth secretary general (yet another first).
Does she plan to resign (or has she already resigned) from her seat in the House of Lords or ask that it be suspended in some form or another? If the latter, will she henceforth be known as Baroness Scotland of Asthal (suspended)… perhaps prompting a new epithet: “Baroness Suspended”?
Meanwhile, as noted by the Daily Mail, as the new leader of the Commonwealth, which unites Britain with 52 of its former colonies, Scotland is required to spend the next four years working to uphold the Commonwealth Charter.
This document “brings together the values and aspirations” to “unite” the Commonwealth’s member states. Central are three key principles: “Democracy, human rights and the rule of law”.
However, Scotland’s high-flying career has, in recent years, seen her build often lucrative relationships with two of the world’s ugliest dictatorships, the Daily Mail reported.
One is the notorious government of Kazakhstan, whose repressive dictator, 75-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been accused of torturing and even killing political opponents, stifling press freedom, and profiteering from the country’s vast oil and gas reserves.
The other is the despotic regime of Abdulla Yameen, the dictator of the Maldives, whose associates seized power in a 2012 coup and have since prosecuted more than 1,700 opposition activists while imprisoning the leaders of three opposition parties.
Scotland insists there is no contradiction in her ties to these dictators and their regimes with the Commonwealth’s supposed commitment to “democracy, human rights and the rule of law”. In a statement to the Daily Mail, she described herself as a “champion” of human rights.
However, human rights seem to be something of a movable feast for Scotland, given last year’s unsuccessful attempt by very, very expensive London lawyers acting on her behalf to suppress Caribbean News Now’s freedom of expression during her Commonwealth campaign.
Scotland’s relationship with the Maldives has certainly been very lucrative for her. It stretches back to 2012, when the democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, was deposed in a coup.
Soon afterwards, Scotland was hired to act as a legal adviser to the dubious regime that replaced him.
Her contract was later leaked to the Mail and it revealed that she was paid £7,500 (US$10,500) per day to help find potential ways for the new government to escape censure from the Commonwealth, which was investigating its human rights abuses.
It later emerged that the Maldives’ attorney general, Azima Shukoor, who had signed Scotland’s contract, had agreed to pay her a further £50,000 (US$70,000), in addition to the £75,000 (US$105,000) stipulated in her contract.
This second payment, described as a “bonus” in a subsequent audit, was later found to be in breach of the Maldives constitution, not to mention its public finance act, and other public finance regulations.
Now, of course, Scotland, who took this much-criticised job helping the perpetrators of a coup avoid sanction by the Commonwealth, is running the same Commonwealth.
Last summer, it emerged that Scotland had also joined the “advisory board” of Omnia Strategy, the law firm run by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair. At the time, Omnia was carrying out PR and legal work for Abdulla Yameen’s unsavoury government in the Maldives, about which Amnesty International has “serious concerns”.
His regime has arrested hundreds of opposition activists, allowed journalists, human rights campaigners and opposition politicians to be prosecuted, extradited and subjected to death threats, and, Amnesty added, allowed hard-line Islamic courts to force women who commit the supposed crime of “fornication” to undergo “cruel, inhuman and degrading” public floggings.
By the time she joined the advisory board of Omnia in 2015, Scotland was already campaigning to be elected Commonwealth secretary general and her close links to the Maldives and Abdulla Yameen’s regime appear to have followed her not just to Omnia but also to the Commonwealth.
According to the Daily Mail, one of the first people she chose to hold meetings with after taking office as secretary general on April 1 was Shukoor — the dictatorship’s former attorney general who, back in 2012, had been responsible, for signing off on Scotland’s £75,000 contract and unlawfully paying her the further £50,000.
Scotland decided to take this hitherto secret meeting (which was not made public by the Commonwealth) at a time when the Maldives faces potential sanctions from her own organisation, the Daily Mail noted.
Later this month, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which polices human rights abuses in member states, will meet to consider disciplinary steps against the Maldives.
“Baroness Scotland’s role at the Commonwealth and her paid work for the corrupt Maldivian government is an outrageous conflict of interests,” said Tory John Glen MP.
“That she has also been on the advisory board of Omnia, which has represented the Maldivian government, is equally shocking. The key decision of whether the Commonwealth action group will pursue an investigation into the Maldives shouldn’t be influenced by an individual who has had a previous dubious involvement with the regime, and faces such a clear conflict of interest,” he said.
Scotland has denied any wrongdoing, telling the Daily Mail that she did indeed meet with Shukoor but claimed the meeting had been set up by her predecessor. She also later met with representatives of the country’s exiled opposition.
Last week, she issued a statement insisting that “all her work for the Maldives government was entirely consistent with the Commonwealth’s approach at the time” and denying that her 2012 employment contract with the dictatorship involved her being hired to “advocate for one side or the other”.
She also denied ever having done any work, “paid or unpaid”, for Omnia Strategy, despite being listed on its website until last month as a member of the firm’s “advisory board”.
Finally, she insisted that she would have no influence over whether the Commonwealth decides to discipline the country later this month.
“Any decision on the Maldives will be made by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and not the secretary-general. The secretary-general is not a member of CMAG,” the statement read.
According to the Daily Mail, Kazakhstan is another bête noir of human rights campaigners where, according to Amnesty, there is “impunity for torture” and where “freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly continue to be restricted”.
Its ruling dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has no “credible opposition”, has “forcibly closed” newspapers which criticise him, and allowed anti-government protestors to be arrested, tortured and even killed.
Despite Kazakhstan’s appalling track record, Scotland visited the country in February, weeks before taking office at the Commonwealth Secretariat, on what was somewhat opaquely described by the regime as a “working visit”.
Intriguingly, the Daily Mail said, given these meetings, Scotland has also, for most of the past year, maintained a curious business relationship with a company named Arcanum, a secretive private investigation firm based in Zurich, which she quit days before taking office this month. It has described her as one of its “senior advisers”.
The company offers “bespoke and tailored strategic intelligence products to government entities and the private sector across a range of industries” and counts among its many lucrative clients the government of — surprise, surprise, Kazakhstan.
What is more, Ron Wahid, the founder of Arcanum and an American citizen, was revealed by Private Eye magazine last summer to be helping finance Scotland’s campaign for election as the secretary-general of the Commonwealth. In Private Eye’s article, he was described as “a Zurich-based financier and sometime polo player with a taste for private jets”.
Private Eye further reported that Arcanum “has been mentioned in connection with a number of questionable activities, notably, a plan to kidnap Alma Shalabayeva, the wife of Kazakhstani opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov, and her daughter, in Rome”.
“The recent visit of Patricia Scotland to Kazakhstan absolutely stinks. It stinks to high heaven,” commented Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundation. “For what reason is she there? The last time I checked, Kazakhstan was not part of the Commonwealth. What on earth did she think she was doing?”
Asked about the matter, Scotland’s spokesman told the Mail that it was an unpaid visit organised to “talk about civil and criminal justice reform, something on which she is widely recognised to be an international expert”.
The spokesman vigorously denied that her trip to Kazakhstan had anything to do with Arcanum, saying: “She has not done any work, paid or unpaid, for Arcanum in Kazakhstan, nor have they facilitated any meetings, formally or informally, on her behalf”.
However, this version of events was swiftly and explicitly contradicted by Arcanum’s founder, Wahid.
“At the time of her visit to Kazakhstan, Baroness Scotland was a serving senior adviser to Arcanum, which has links with a number of sovereign governments, including Kazakhstan,” he told the Daily Mail in a statement.
“During visits towards the end of her tenure of office as senior adviser, Baroness Scotland held a number of meetings on behalf of Arcanum in relation to Arcanum’s ongoing business activities in Kazakhstan.”
After the Mail contacted the Commonwealth seeking an explanation as to why it was at odds with Scotland’s testimony, half an hour later a spokesman for Arcanum called saying that their aforementioned testimony, which described in some detail how Scotland had worked for it in Kazakhstan, had actually been issued in error.
Due to what the firm called a “misunderstanding”, the first statement contained “completely false” information, said the spokesman.