Jeremy Hunt’s Tory leadership campaign is being funded by the UK’s official point man to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
Ken Costa, the UK government’s special representative to bin Salman’s controversial Saudi Vision 2030 project, is a close associate of the crown prince and has been described as the “linchpin” of the partnership between Britain and the kingdom.
Costa’s Instagram and Twitter profiles show photos of him meeting bin Salman on multiple occasions. The Foreign Office confirmed that he remains in his role as the UK’s envoy to the crown prince’s beleaguered political and economic modernisation project.
His £10,000 donation will raise questions about why Hunt is accepting money from the UK’s link to bin Salman after the crown prince’s implication in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.
Two weeks ago, a UN investigator found that there was “credible evidence” that bin Salman was behind the killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, and that he should be investigated.
The damning 100-page report described the killing as a “deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible”. It said there was evidence that bin Salman and other senior officials were individually liable for the killing.
Labour is calling on Hunt to give the money back. The party has also raised questions about whether it is appropriate for a serving UK government official to be donating to a party political campaign.
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the parliamentary committee on arms exports controls, told BuzzFeed News: “Serious questions need to be raised if the foreign secretary is taking money from Saudi interests to finance his bid to become prime minister.
“Hunt needs to give back the money immediately and pledge to not accept future donations that could interfere with his day job of running the foreign office.”
Speaking in the House of Commons in October, Hunt, the foreign secretary, said the official Saudi explanation of Khashoggi’s death was not credible and expressed his view that the "horrific treatment was inflicted by people who work for a government with whom we have close relations”.
Hunt has also repeatedly spoken in defence of press freedom, tweeting in March that it was “shocking” that journalists around the world have been killed while doing their jobs.
But that did not stop him from accepting a five-figure donation from bin Salman’s close ally Costa via his company KJ Costa Advisory.
In an interview last year, Costa said he had an “extremely cordial” relationship with bin Salman, boasting that he had met him a dozen times.
When bin Salman came to the UK on a state visit in March 2018, Costa helped set up a UK-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council meeting hosted by the crown prince and Theresa May where £65 billion of investment pledges were made.
According to reports at the time, Costa was responsible for organising another meeting between UK business leaders and bin Salman at the Saudi ambassador’s residence.
“The linchpin of this partnership is Ken Costa,” said the Financial Times, noting: “He injects a bit of humour into proceedings and the Saudis like him.”
The paper reported that those present at the meeting orchestrated by Costa were “plied with mint tea and Arabic coffee, and were addressed by Mohammed bin Salman”.
Costa, a South African-born banker, has previously acted for the Qatari state’s sovereign wealth fund and advised Mohammed al-Fayed during the sale of Harrods to the Qatari royal family. He was approached for comment.
Hunt's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Wickham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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