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Jonathan Aitken was paid £166,000 for book on Kazakh autocrat, leak suggests

Pandora papers cast doubt on ex-Tory minister’s claim he received no pay­ment from Kazakh gov­ern­ment for flat­ter­ing biography

The Pandora doc­u­ments sug­gest that Aitken received his covert book pay­ments between 2007 and 2010. Illustration: Guardian Design

In April 2010 Jonathan Aitken flew to Washington. The for­mer Conservative MP and min­is­ter, famous­ly jailed for lying, was in the US for the launch of his lat­est book: a flat­ter­ing biog­ra­phy of Kazakhstan’s pres­i­dent, Nursultan Nazarbayev. “Biographers are artists on oath,” he told an audi­ence of sen­a­tors and diplo­mats. “They like paint­ing on a broad can­vas.” He added: “I have nev­er had a more dra­mat­ic and tur­bu­lent can­vas than the life sto­ry of Nazarbayev.”

Aitken’s speech at the pres­ti­gious Library of Congress failed to men­tion one cru­cial point: that a PR firm work­ing for the Kazakh gov­ern­ment appears to have secret­ly com­mis­sioned and paid for his book. According to the Pandora papers leak, Aitken got £166,000 for his lit­er­ary efforts. The mon­ey was rout­ed via Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands and dis­creet­ly sent to Oxford and the ex-MP’s com­pa­ny, Aitken Consultancy & Research Services Limited.

Professing to have redis­cov­ered his Christian faith in prison, Jonathan Aitken became a cler­gy­man three years ago.Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

According to the doc­u­ments, the firm, WorldPR, also picked up the bill for Aitken’s over­seas book tour. His expens­es includ­ed a stay at the Capital Hilton, two blocks from the White House. Aitken’s $1,527 (£1,117) receipt – found in the leak – lists three nights’ accom­mo­da­tion, laun­dry, a meal in the bar and grill, as well as Twigs restau­rant, plus high-speed inter­net access. The PR com­pa­ny paid the Library of Congress $6,996 for venue hire, with the Kazakh embassy bankrolling a lat­er speak­ing engage­ment at New York’s Harvard Club.

Ironically enough, Aitken’s polit­i­cal career came to a dra­mat­ic and sticky end in 1996 after he lied in the high court about who had paid for a sim­i­lar stay at the Ritz hotel in Paris – not a cen­tral Asian dic­ta­tor back then, but the king of Saudi Arabia’s son. Aitken sued fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions in the Guardian and by the pro­gramme World in Action that he had done the bid­ding of the Saudi roy­al fam­i­ly, work­ing since the 1970s as a glo­ri­fied fixer.

The lat­est rev­e­la­tion is embar­rass­ing for Aitken, who claims that he emerged a reformed char­ac­ter from a sev­en-month jail sen­tence after he was con­vict­ed of per­jury in his libel action against the Guardian. The paper dis­put­ed Aitken’s untrue claim that his then wife, Lolicia, had paid the Paris bill. On his release Aitken wrote a mem­oir, Pride and Perjury. Professing to have redis­cov­ered his Christian faith in prison, he became a cler­gy­man three years ago: the lat­est episode in the life of a gift­ed but flawed indi­vid­ual who once aspired to be prime minister.

The for­mer pres­i­dent of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Reviews of Aitken’s book remarked that it glossed over Nazarbayev’s auto­crat­ic behav­iour. Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky/AP

The Guardian by Luke Harding and Harry Davies

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