Former Africa minister Malloch-Brown advises oil firm on African expansion
• Vitol post concerns MPs tracking jobs close to ministerial roles
• Firm talking to Shell about oil assets in 19 Africa countries
Rajeev Syal and Solomon Hughes
The Guardian, Friday 30 July 2010 17.04 BST
Just 12 months after resigning from the government, Lord Malloch-Brown, the former Foreign Office minister for Africa, has become an adviser to an oil firm that is expanding its interests on the continent.
Vitol, the Swiss-based oil firm, has previously been fined for paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussain's regime. It recently entered talks to take over oil businesses in 19 African countries.
The disclosure about the talks and that Malloch-Brown, the Labour peer and former UN deputy secretary general, is a consultant to the firm, has raised concerns among Labour MPs over former ministers who have left government and gone into lucrative, private-sector, jobs closely related to their ministerial roles.
Sir Peter Soulsby, a Labour member of the Commons' political and constitutional reform committee, said: "There ought to be much tougher rules on the jobs that ministers take when they leave office. Taking this particular job at the very least shows an unfortunate lack of judgment."
Malloch-Brown, 57, joined Gordon Brown in July 2007 as part of the former prime minister's "government of all the talents". Her was also made a life peer. He stood down from office in July last year, for "personal and family reasons".
His new role has been approved by the advisory committee on business appointments, which advises ex-ministers on jobs taken within two years of leaving office.
Vitol is in negotiations with Shell Oil Products Africa for the potential acquisition of their businesses in several countries, including Egypt, Togo Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia. It already has interests in Ghana and Cameroon.
In 2007, the firm admitted paying illegal kickbacks under the UN oil-for-food programme and agreed to pay $17.5m in restitution and fines.
The oil-for-food scheme was designed to use proceeds from Iraq's sales to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian aid, to alleviate the impact of international sanctions.
In 2006, when Malloch-Brown was chief of staff to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, he defended the organisation's oil-for-food programme from claims of fraud by telling the security council that "not a penny was lost from the organisation".
Malloch-Brown, who is also a consultant to Southwest Energy, an Ethiopian oil firm, defended his new role and dismissed claims of a potential conflict of interest. "My knowledge of Africa was not gained as a British minister. Rather I was recruited into government because I had worked extensively on African and international issues throughout my career. My activities today continue to reflect that," he said, adding that he had never been in contact with Vitol during his time at the UN, nor had any dealings with the company when he was a minister.
When in government, Malloch-Brown quickly gained a reputation for making colourful comments. The then foreign secretary at the time, David Miliband, who is 11 years his Malloch-Brown's junior, was said to have been upset when he the latter told a newspaper: "It's fine for me to be, for the first time in my life, the older figure, the wise eminence behind the young foreign secretary." He also raised eyebrows when he said that Tony Blair and George W Bush were "joined at the hip".
Other ministers who worked under Gordon Brown and who have taken up private-sector jobs include Lady Vadera, a former business minister who is now advising the authorities in Dubai, and Lord Carter of Barnes, the former head of strategy at No 10, now marketing chief for Alcatel-Lucent telecoms group. Ruth Kelly, the former education secretary, was appointed as senior strategic manager for HSBC. John Hutton, the former energy minister and defence secretary, has become an adviser to Eversheds, the law firm, and is joining the board of the US firm Hyperion Power Generation, which sells nuclear reactors.
Malloch-Brown, who is also a consultant to correctSouthwest Energy, an Ethiopian oil company, defended his new role this week and dismissed any allegations of a potential conflict of interest. "My knowledge of Africa was not gained as a British minister. Rather I was recruited into government because I had worked extensively on African and international issues throughout my career. My activities today continue to reflect that," he said.
He added that he had never been in contact with Vitol during his time at the UN, nor had any dealings with the the company when he was a minister.
"As part of my due diligence prior to starting my consulting appointment, I have discussed the oil-for-food issue and reviewed the steps that have been taken by Vitol to ensure that the necessary lessons have been learnt and the right compliance programme put in place," he said. He declined to say how much he would be paid for the role.
A spokesman for Vitol said the timing of Malloch-Brown's recruitment, and the decision to negotiate to take over parts of Shell's operations in Africa, was a coincidence. "This type of expansion activity is something that Vitol has been looking at for some time."
A statement added that the peer's new consulting agreement began last month and had been properly disclosed on the Lords website. "Lord Malloch-Brown provides consulting services on geo-political issues of importance to the Vitol group, including current and potential future business in Africa," it read.