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UK minister under scrutiny over relation with Israel billionaire

Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick arrives at 10 Downing Street on December 17, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holding the first Cabinet meeting since winning a majority of 80 seats in the General Election last week [Kate Green - Anadolu Agency]
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick arrives at 10 Downing Street on December 17, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holding the first Cabinet meeting since winning a majority of 80 seats in the General Election last week [Kate Green - Anadolu Agency]

Beleaguered Conservative MP Robert Jenrick is facing tough questions over a meeting with Israeli billionaire and Conservative donor, Idan Ofer.

The housing secretary, who is currently under investigation for possible misuse of government post, has been asked to explain the nature of his relationship with Ofer, who is considered a “family friend”.

Labour has asked Jenrick to explain the nature of his 2018 meeting with Ofer. The Israeli billionaire had an interest in the future of a multi billion-pound project that Jenrick, who at the time was the exchequer secretary to the Treasury, was considering a request for financial support from Sirius Minerals for a mining project that would have rivalled Ofer’s own firm Cleveland Potash.

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Jenrick has come under the spotlight because in September 2019, Sirius Minerals was refused financial support by the Conservative government, a decision that effectively left the company on the brink of financial collapse. It’s unclear if Jenrick played any role in the decision making process.

“Mr Jenrick must now tell us whether he declared his friendship with Mr Ofer to officials prior to the meeting, why he did not immediately step back from making the decision and what further discussions he had with Mr Ofer,” said Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary.

“It’s time for some honesty. Mr Jenrick must come to the House of Commons to explain exactly what he’s been up to because the public are now worried that a new era of Tory sleaze has begun in earnest.”

Jenrick has dismissed any suggestion of foul play. “Mr Jenrick recused himself from consideration of issues around Sirius Minerals,” the minister’s spokesperson said.

Earlier this week, Ofer told the Guardian he had met Jenrick to discuss the post-Brexit business climate. He said he could not recall if they had talked about the Sirius Minerals mining project, but that it would have been “touched on only briefly” if so.

Labour has reported Jenrick to parliament’s watchdog for a separate case involving another Conservative donor. He is accused of having acted “on direct instruction” from Richard Desmond over a £1 billion ($1.2 billion) property development in east London. The suggestion is that the minister deliberately rushed through a planning decision to save the billionaire tens of millions of pounds due in tax.

READ: British MPs urge government to impose sanctions on Israel if it annexes West Bank

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