“Dear dear dear dear.”
That was all Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of Britain’s Conservative party and a major party donor, had to say as he walked a brisk but meandering path away from a BBC reporter asking about revelations in the Paradise Papers.
The massive trove of leaked files reportedly reveals an offshore trust in which Ashcroft had stored up to hundreds of millions of pounds, and over which his lawyers were allegedly concerned he was still making decisions. A trust is usually used as a tax-advantageous way for a person to cede the management of their money to a third party.
Ashcroft was twice rejected for a peerage, first in 1999 and then 2000, because he was a Belize-based tax exile. He was eventually made a member of the House of Lords after promising to pay UK taxes, later causing an uproar in 2010 when he admitted he was still non-domiciled in the UK for tax purposes.
The video shows Ashcroft in a conference hall walking for more than two minutes away from a reporter for the BBC’s Panorama program until he eventually finds a bathroom (the reporter didn’t follow him in), all the while muttering “dear dear dear.” He had refused to comment through normal channels because he said Panorama had treated him unfairly in the past.
“I’ve never had a chat quite like that, he said, “dear dear dear,” I don’t know, about 200 times,” the reporter said at the end of their awkward walk.
After the event, Ashcroft’s spokesman explained his actions by telling the BBC its reporter had started “shouting at him, by which time Lord Ashcroft had walked away, and heard nothing.” Ashcroft “did not have a clue as to what was being said to him,” the statement continued.
Ashcroft is a powerful figure in British politics and gained notoriety when, after falling out with then prime minister David Cameron, he co-authored an unauthorized biography, making scandalous accusations about Cameron’s alleged youthful indiscretions. (Cameron denies them.)
Update: Lord Ashcroft denied the suggestion that he was secretly controlling the account in a tweet to a Quartz reporter.
He also denied that he was “hiding” in the bathroom.
Meanwhile, an MP for India’s governing BJP party managed to avoid questions about the Paradise Papers with less physical exertion. When confronted about reports his security firm had offshore ties, he said nothing and wrote on a piece of paper that he had taken a seven-day vow of silence for religious reasons.