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Exclusive: How Stephen Byers hid his expenses


DISGRACED former Cabinet Minister Stephen Byers used a loophole in House of Commons rules to hide his earnings from a Ukrainian tycoon.

The former Transport Secretary has been working since last June for Victor Pinchuk, who funds a company called Yalta European Strategy.

And Byers, who quit as an MP yesterday when the Commons was dissolved for the General Election managed to leave active politics without revealing how much he was paid by them.

Pinchuk was once accused in court papers of racketeering over a multi-million pound business deal, which he strenuously denied.

In the final Register of MPs’ Interests, Byers only detailed one payment for outside earnings, for less than £5,000.

But the News of the World can reveal he is refusing to reveal how much he received from a company he chairs that is supposed to promote a “just, free and prosperous Ukraine” and is funded by the controversial Ukrainian billionaire.

A spokeswoman for Mr Byers admitted he has arranged to be paid by Yalta AFTER he left the Commons at the General Election.

That means he does not have to reveal how much he is going to receive.

She said: “He gets paid by them once a year and that will be in June. He was told he would not have to declare it until then.”

However, Mr Byers is standing down at the General Election, so he will never have to reveal the amount he receives.

Byers, who had the whip withdrawn by the Labour Party last month after he described himself as a “cab for hire” and claimed to have changed government policy on behalf of businesses, is among dozens of MPs being paid by companies owned by foreign investors.

An exclusive News of the World investigation today delves deep into the shadowy world of MP’s outside earnings.

We can reveal that Byers and almost 200 other MPs are being paid a staggering £4,706,066.92 for thousands of hours of work outside their proper £65,737 jobs.

And the former Transport Secretary’s declaration is a classic example of how MPs can still get away with revealing minimal amounts of information about their outside jobs.

He lists Yalta European Strategy as one of three firms he is paid by in the latest MPs’ Register of Financial Interests.

His mysterious role is just one of dozens of highly-paid jobs carried out by MPs who are supposed to be working full-time for their constituents.

Despite new Commons rules demanding MPs list more details about how much they are paid and how much they earn, many retiring MPs refuse to list extensive details or explain their role in companies.

Byers describes himself as “Chairman (non-executive)” of the company, but refuses to say how much he is paid or how many hours he works.

Yalta, which is also known as YES, was set up and is funded by billionaire Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk - a controversial figure who attended Bill Clinton's 60th birthday and the 80th birthday party for George Bush senior.

His wife owns an £80 million house in Kensington.

On its website, the group says it is “an international network established to promote the development of a just, free and prosperous Ukraine, to open the country to the rest of the world and to support Ukraine’s membership to the European Union.”

Pinchuk’s fortune is founded on his Ukrainian company Interpipe Group, a leading steel manufacturer - with interests in wheels for trains, and piping - among others.

Byers income from YES, which exists to promote the Ukraine in Europe, is not disclosed in the MPs register or in the latest accounts for YES, which are deposited at Companies House.

Four years ago Pinchuk's acquisition of Ukrainian steel company Nikopol Ferro Alloy came under scrutiny.

A lawsuit in America accused Pinchuk and two business associates of using organised crime tactics the gain control of the company.

The legal suit was brought by three companies which were shareholders of the company under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, which is typically used to fight organised crime in America.

The court papers stated the trio paid a £60 million for the business which experts valued at around £750 million.

At the time of the sale Pinchuk's father-in-law Leonid Kuchma was President of Ukraine. Pinchuk vigorously contested the allegations and the case was settled in America. The Ukrainian parliament then tried to block the sale for two years.

But the sale was subsequently blocked for two years by the Ukrainian government before Pinchuk was allowed to take over.

Since then Pinchuk has launched himself on the world stage as a tycoon with an interest in art and social causes, including combating AIDS.

He has given Bill Clinton's foundation £3 million and set up a contemporary art gallery in the Ukraine.
Byers’ links to Pinchuk are by no means unique.

A host of former Labour and Tory government ministers have taken advantage of the profile gained from their previous roles to snap up places on the gravy train.

But besides those at the top, a whopping 190 out of the 646 members of the UK parliament have disclosed they earn cash from a job outside Parliament in the current register of members interests.

They earn an average of £24,768.77 each - more than £1,600 above the average British wage (ONS March 10). Even more shocking is the fact that 26 earn more than £500,000 a year, while 13 of those bank over £100,000.

The top earner is Tory thunderer Ann Widdecombe who, from a dizzying array of speaking engagements, TV work and writing, raked in a colossal £235,059 on top of her MPs salary in the last year.

The biggest figure in this list is £100,000 from a deal to write two more novels to add to the two she has already written while a sitting MP.

She also earned £10,000 from Channel 4 television for 14 days work on a documentary on the Bible and in the area of £52,500 for writing a column in a downmarket newspaper every week.

She also took part in countless speaking engagments around the country, earning her tens of thousands, which while only lasting an hour or so, involve hours more of travel to get there, potentially taking her away from Westminster and the business of being an MP.

To her credit, she is incredibly hard working and has given many speeches to small groups with just a small gift in exchange, many of which have then been donated to charity.

Second in the list of those earning a fortune is former Defence and Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind who, since leaving the Government in 1997, has amassed a raft of highly lucrative directorships and consultancies worth £211,862 last year.

Among those he is paid up to up to £4166.67 A MONTH by are city trust fund Aberdeen Asset Manangement, Eastern European farming consortium Continental Farmers Group plc, mining giant BHP Billiton and a range of other international consultancy firms.

One of the highest-earning Labour MPs is former trade unionist and Defence Minister Adam Ingram, who has been able to use his experience of foreignm affairs and military matters to rake in £159,800 last year from a chairmanship, a directopr’s job and other paying consultancies.

Among the firms Tony Blair’s former defence minister works for is Argus Libya UK; described as one which "sniffs out" commercial opportunities in the North African country.

Close behind is Patricia Hewitt, who last week also had the Labour whip withdrawn after being exposed for claiming she was paid £3,000 a day to help a client obtain a key seat on a Government advisory group in an undercover investigation by C4's Dispatches.

Before she was exposed by the sting operation, we can reveal that the Australian-born ex-cabinet minister earned an incredible £159,575 on top of her MP’s pay in the previous 12 months.

During the last year she was paid up to £12,500 A MONTH as a senior independent director for BT, and an undisclosed amount from city bankers Barclays Capital.

But with her background as former Health Secretary, she would have been much in demand by two of her other payers.

Alliance Boots, which pays her £4,600 a month, is the parent company behind Boots the Chemist.

Meanwhile, Cinven - which paid Hewitt two lots of £15,000 for attending 6 months of meetings - is a private equity firm which focuses on six sectors including healthcare.

Those earnings may increase by even more if her appointment to join the board of Eurotunnel is approved by its shareholders.

Rebel socialist MP George Galloway has managed to declare earnings of up to £140,000 despite not serving as a government minister or belonging to a mainstream political party.

A total of ELEVEN of the top 12 earners are ex-government minsters, with seven Tories and four Labour MPs.

Our findings come after we went through the entire Register of Members Interests, which can be read by anyone who knows where to look on the Houses of Parliament website.

We looked at all the income earned from directorships, from remunerated employment, office, profession etc, or from clients. We have not included any interests registered under the headings of sponsorships, gifts, hospitality, payments in kind, overseas visits, benefits or gifts, unremunerated interests, donations to charity, income from land and property, miscellaneous, or registerable shareholdings.

By examining the income from jobs or directorships declared on the register, we found that nearly a third of MPs have made money in the last year. In total, they earned £4,706,066.92.

In most cases, MPs have detailed exactly how much they made from their work, but in many entries they have given an approximate figure in a band (e.g. £5,001-10,000).

In working out the figure for each MP, when a precise figure isn't supplied for a year, we have taken a midpoint within the band over that period (e.g. for a band which states an MP earned £5,001-10,000 within a year, we have used the figure £7,500).

Our working out has only used the figures that MPs have declared on the register.

There are many MPs who have declared they have an outside interest - either second job, or an asset from which income could be earned - but they do not state how much they received from it.

In many cases they are businesses that the MPs either set up or became involved with before they entered Westminster, but which could still be viewed as benefiting from the knowledge and experience the member gains while in parliament.

Most of the MPs who earn an income from outside work make their money from the media - from writing columns or articles in newspapers or magazines or from TV appearances.

But the big money is nearly always earned by those who sit on the boards of big firms as directors or act as consultants to help them do business.

A total of 39 MPs sit on the boards of various companies including four Japanese banks, other investment banks, Topps Tiles, Eurotunnel, an American technology firm, several water boards and a Russian construction company.

Meanwhile, 57 act as consultants or advisors to other groups including the Caravan Club, Scottish Coal, an African construction company and JCB group.

Several MPs also hold down second jobs as councillors or members of other legislative bodies like the Northern Ireland Assembly.



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