MPs accuse Lex Greensill of ‘disrespect’ over refusal to attend steel inquiry

MPs have accused financier Lex Greensill of acting suspiciously and being disrespectful towards parliament by refusing to appear in front of an inquiry into the steel industry and one of Greensill Capital largest borrowers, Liberty Steel.

The business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) committee claimed Greensill had failed to give legitimate reasons for rebuffing multiple requests to answer live questions in front of parliamentarians at the end of the month.

The committee has insisted that he is required to attend, regardless of his concerns that he would not be able to speak about Liberty Steel, and would be barred from divulging information that could compromise a Serious Fraud Office investigation into Liberty’s parent company, GFG Alliance, owned by billionaire steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta.

“You will appreciate the significant public and parliamentary interest in this matter, and why the committee’s legitimate desire to hear from you is important,” the committee’s chairman and Labour MP Darren Jones said in a letter to Greensill on Wednesday. “Failure to appear before parliament is disrespectful not just to parliament but, by extension, to the British people.”

However, in a response seen by the Guardian, Greensill assured MPs that he meant “no disrespect” to parliament and had already appeared in front of the Treasury committee last month. He also repeated concerns that there were no way to ensure he did not prejudice the SFO inquiry while giving evidence live to MPs.

“I would be happy to consider any written questions that the committee may have for me and will endeavour to respond in writing to the extent that it is appropriate for me to do so,” Greensill said in his letter.

Greensill Capital was one of GFG Alliance’s largest lenders, offering advances on invoices that has not yet been paid by its suppliers. Former prime minister and Greensill adviser David Cameron has described the two businesses as having a “symbiotic relationship”, with Greensill reportedly having loaned the company as much as £3.6bn by the time the lender collapsed in March this year.

The lender’s failure sparked a funding crisis for GFG, which has intermittently paused production to preserve cash and requested and failed to secure a £170m government bailout. It is now planning to sell its steel business in Yorkshire as part of a restructuring deal that could help save the thousands of UK jobs.

The British Business Bank is currently investigating the £400m worth of government-backed emergency Covid loans that Greensill reportedly extended to GFG firms during the pandemic. The SFO is also investigating GFG and its financing arrangements with Greensill Capital, over suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering.

“Given the Treasury’s exposure to government backed loans, via Greensill Capital to GFG Alliance companies, it’s important that the committee hears from Lex Greensill,” Jones said. The BEIS Committee explained there were “broad questions” that needed to be answered about audit, corporate governance and due diligence at Greensill, as well as its communications with the British Business Bank.

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“It is therefore suspicious that Lex Greensill is refusing to engage constructively with our inquiry or even outline legitimate reasons for failing to do so,” Jones said.

“If Lex Greensill maintains confidence in his actions and that of his company, then he should want to appear before the Committee to put his position on the public record. I urge him to think again,” Jones added. The committee has given Greensill until the end of Thursday to respond to requests to appear in front of the committee on 29 June, or the next convenient date.

Greensill appeared in front of MPs on the Treasury committee in May, as part of its own inquiry into Greensill Capital’s collapse and the lobbying scandal that followed. The company sparked of one of the largest lobby scandals in a generation after Cameron relentlessly pushed Whitehall and Bank of England officials to give the firm access to emergency Covid loans at the start of the pandemic, sending 56 texts, WhatsApp messages, emails and phone calls in the process.

In total, Greensill’s collapse and the resulting controversies have sparked at least 11 investigations and parliamentary inquiries in the UK and abroad.

The BEIS committee is set to hold further inquiry hearings in July, including with Gupta.

A spokesman for Greensill said he was “in dialogue with BEIS about how best to answer this request and will respond within the timeframe set by the committee.”

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