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Explained: The ‘cash for honours’ scandal, and how Prince Charles is involved

The revelations have led to the resignations of three top-level employees of the charity, including Charles’ close aide Michael Fawcett. The chief executive of The Prince’s Foundation “temporarily stepped down” from his post.

Britain’s Prince Charles.

An investigation has found that a Saudi tycoon allegedly received knighthood by the royal family after he made generous donations to The Prince’s Foundation, a charity established by the Prince of Wales, The Sunday Times and Daily Mail reported on Sunday.

Similarly, a Russian banker, too, was promised a meeting with Prince Charles by middlemen in return for his donations to the royal charities. Scotland’s charity regulator has launched an investigation into his donations — which were rejected by the Prince’s charity and allegedly not returned to the banker.

The revelations have led to the resignations of three top-level employees of the charity, including Charles’ close aide Michael Fawcett. The chief executive of The Prince’s Foundation “temporarily stepped down” from his post to allow an investigation into the allegations.

Prince Charles, on his part, has denied any knowledge of offers for the British honour in lieu of donations to his charity.

What has the investigation revealed?

The Times and Daily Mail reported on Sunday, September 4, that Fawcett had quit after claims that he had helped fix an honour for Saudi businessman Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, who has reportedly donated over £1.5 million to the royal charity.

The newspapers published excerpts of the letters sent by Fawcett to Mahfouz, which show that in 2017 Mahfouz donated a large amount of cash towards the renovation of the Dumfries House, a Palladian mansion in Scotland. Fawcett, in the letter, thanked him for his “ongoing and recent generosity”.

He also offered to help secure citizenship and knighthood for Mahfouz. The letter published by The Sunday Times read, “I am happy to confirm to you, in confidence, that we are willing and happy to support and contribute to the application for Citizenship. I can further confirm that we are willing to make [an] application to increase His Excellency’s honor from Honorary CBE [Commander of the British Empire] to that of KBE [Knight Commander of the British Empire] in accordance with Her Majesty’s Honours Committee.”

The British honours are extended to notable individuals who have made meaningful contributions in different areas like education, social welfare, arts, governance and so on.

Mahfouz had received a CBE in 2016 in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace by Prince Charles. According to the Times, the event was not published in the public list of royal engagements.

What about the Russian banker?

Shortly after the cash for honours scandal broke out, the Scottish charity regulator announced an investigation into another set of donations made by a Russian banker, Dmitry Leus, last year.

The 51-year-old banker had made a donation of over £500,000 in cash to The Prince’s Foundation, following which the Prince of Wales personally wrote a letter to Leus, thanking him for the contribution.

The letter published by Daily Mail read: “I cannot tell you how incredibly grateful I am to you for your encouragement for everything I am trying to achieve. Your support comes at such a critical time and I do so greatly appreciate it.”

Prince Charles also expressed hopes of meeting Leus once the Covid-19 pandemic passes.

The Daily Mail further reported that Fawcett had brokered this meeting between Prince Charles and Leus in lieu of his donations, through a middleman, William Bortrick.

However, the foundation’s ethics committee found out that Leus, in 2004, had been found guilty of money laundering — a conviction later overturned — in Russia, and hence, declined his donation.

Britain’s Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attend a service to mark the 81st Anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey in London Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP)

Leus was then informed that the six-figure sum had been diverted to another of Prince Charles’ charities, Children & the Arts. This charity, however, has claimed to have never received the sum and is now defunct.

At the heart of the entire matter is Bortrick, the editor of Burke’s Peerage, a definitive guide to British aristocracy. According to Daily Mail, Bortrick had been responsible for sending Leus’ funds to The Prince’s Foundation. E-mails accessed by the newspaper show that out of the £500,000, Bortrick passed on £200,000 on two separate occasions to the now-defunct Children & the Arts charity, another £200,000 to a British businessman, Wynne-Parker, while and withheld £100,000.

The Daily Mail quoted Leus as saying, “I made two separate donations together totalling £500,000 to The Prince’s Foundation via Burke’s Peerage. I have now learned that not all of these funds were then transferred on to The Prince’s Foundation. No funds at all were returned to me from Burke’s Peerage.”

Who is William Bortrick?

In the latest development, The Sunday Times reported September 19 that Bortrick had met Charles at least nine times, despite the Prince’s assertion that he had no knowledge of any arrangements made through fixers or middlemen.

Britain’s Prince Charles, second left, watches a flypast of historic aircraft, from the balcony of Church House after a service to mark the 81st Anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey in London Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP)

The Times report describes Bortrick as “the fixer who received thousands of pounds to help secure an honour for a Saudi billionaire and who brokered a personal thank-you letter from Charles to a Russian donor.”

The report reveals that last year, following Leus’ donation, Bortrick and the Prince of Wales had met at Castle of Mey in Scotland. Bortnick was given a commission of £5,000 from the donation, the Sunday Times said.

The investigation traced the duo’s relationship back to October 2014, when they had first met in Dumfries House. The meeting marked the opening ceremony of the Mahfouz Garden, financed by the Saudi tycoon. Next year, Bortrick had held closed-door discussions with Mahfouz, Fawcett and the Prince.

This was followed by a private ceremony to award a CBE to Mahfouz, which was kept from public knowledge but was attended by Bortrick.

The report also lists other meetings in Riyadh, however, a spokesperson has refuted the allegations, stating that Bortrick only met the Prince in groups and never in private.

How has Prince Charles responded?

In response to the allegations, Clarence House, the British royal residence, has denied any involvement of Prince Charles.

“The Prince of Wales has no knowledge of the alleged offer of honours or British citizenship on the basis of donation to his charities and fully supports the independent investigation now underway by the Prince’s Foundation,” the royalty was quoted as saying by British media.

The Foundation has launched an independent investigation into the matter. Fawcett, who temporarily stepped down from his post, stated that he is willing to “assist in every way.”

Meanwhile, last week on September 15, the chairman of The Prince’s Foundation resigned from his post, expressing “shock and dismay” over the “rogue activities”, while asserting that he and other trustees had no knowledge of them.

“My view is that the person chairing any organisation should take responsibility if it appears that serious misconduct may have taken place within it,” Connell was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

A day later, the Deputy Executive Director, The Prince’s Foundation Chris Martin, too, temporarily stepped down from his post.

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