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UK politician accused of code Breach with Uganda deals

Ex-minister Sandip Verma allegedly broke rules after family firm signed deals worth £88m

A Conservative peer has been accused of breaching the ministerial code after her family firm signed multimillion-pound deals to supply Uganda’s government with solar power equipment.

Sandip Verma’s company, Nexus Green, has signed two deals worth more than £88m after meetings with President Yoweri Museveni.

Lady Verma appears to have broken ministerial rules after joining the company as chair and director without informing the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba).

She was present when Nexus Green signed an £8m deal to provide the Ugandan military with solar power, eight months after leaving her job as a junior development minister.

According to rules to ensure transparency, ministers are supposed to declare all roles and jobs for up to two years after leaving office.

The deals have surprised other suppliers in the African solar power market. Verma and her son Rikki are the only directors, they have no previous experience in the industry, and the company does not have a website.

The Ugandan government also signed an agreement with the firm last September to build a factory to make solar equipment.

According to the agreement, most of it would be financed by applying for a loan worth more than £80m from UK Export Finance (UKEF), which is an export credit agency and a government department.

Preet Kaur Gill, the shadow development secretary, called for Boris Johnson to launch an inquiry, saying: “The guidance on accepting an appointment after leaving ministerial office is clear.

“The prime minister must immediately instigate a full investigation to confirm whether Baroness Verma broke the high standards expected of ministers by both the ministerial code and the public.

“Ministers cannot be allowed to abuse their position for personal gain and if she is found to have broken the code then the prime minister must act to reassure the public that he will not tolerate such violations.”

Verma, 61, a former parliamentary candidate who was made a life peer in 2006, was a junior minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change from 2012 to 2015, and then for International Development (DfID) from May 2015 to July 2016.

She stood last year to become mayor of her home city of Leicester, many of whose residents were forced to leave Uganda in the 1970s.

Contacted by the Guardian, Verma said she believed she did not break the rules on declarations of interest because Nexus Green was an energy firm and not connected to her last role in DfID.

“If it relates to a ministerial position then you have got to declare it.

“I did not have to declare this because I had left energy many years earlier,” she said.

Verma met Ugandan government officials on at least one occasion while she was a minister – on 12 September 2015 in London, at a convention to discuss investment opportunities in sectors such as energy.

The following month Rikki became director of Nexus Green, a company based in a building in Leicester jointly owned by his parents. Rikki, who sometimes uses the title “honourable” because he is the son of a peer, has been described as the chief executive of the company, while his mother is the chair.

The £8m agreement with the Ugandan government to provide its military facilities with off-the-grid solar energy infrastructure was signed in February 2017 and was witnessed by Museveni and Verma.

In January this year, as part of a push to strike deals outside the EU, DfIT announced 27 deals across Africa, including Nexus Green’s plan to export £80m of solar-powered water pumping systems for irrigation in Uganda.

The Ugandan parliament’s national economy committee has written  that Nexus Green plans to establish a factory in Uganda to make solar-powered irrigation equipment and install the systems.

Last September, the committee signed off a proposal to try to borrow up to £90m from UKEF for the development of solar-powered irrigation. It is understood that an application for a loan has been received but has not been approved.

A UKEF spokeswoman said she could not comment on speculation about potential transactions for reasons of commercial confidentiality. “UKEF undertakes rigorous due diligence including checks against financial crime, bribery and corruption, prior to any support being provided.”

A spokesperson on behalf of Verma said there had been no impropriety in the activities of Nexus Green.

“Baroness Verma has never lobbied the UK government on their behalf and has never sought to inappropriately use her ministerial career for the company’s benefit. Any suggestion Baroness Verma has is farcical, not least because when in office her ministerial brief did not cover Uganda,” she said.

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