Robert Jenrick is facing new questions over his links to wealthy Conservative donors after it emerged that he met an Israeli businessman with an interest in the future of a multibillion-pound project that the minister was overseeing.
The housing secretary is already under pressure to resign over a disclosure that he “insisted” that a £1bn property development be rushed through so that the Tory donor Richard Desmond’s company could save £45m.
The Guardian has obtained information about his ties to another billionaire, Idan Ofer, a London-based shipping and mining heir whose father, Sammy, was once Israel’s richest man.
Departmental registers reveal a meeting on 21 March 2018 between Jenrick, who was then exchequer secretary to the Treasury, and Ofer, the ultimate owner of the UK mining company Cleveland Potash.
At the time, Jenrick was assessing whether to offer state support for a new potash mine being built by a rival company, Sirius Minerals, which was set to provide intense competition to Ofer’s loss-making business.
A spokesman for Jenrick said he recused himself from any decisions on the Sirius project, but did not say when. The Guardian understands that Jenrick retained oversight of Sirius Minerals’ application for financial support from the Treasury for at least six months after his meeting with Ofer in March 2018.
Liz Truss, then the more senior chief secretary to the Treasury, is understood to have taken over the job of assessing Sirius’s application for support, but not until early 2019.
One of Ofer’s other UK firms, the Mayfair-based Quantum Pacific UK Corporation, subsequently donated to the Conservatives for the first and only time, giving the party £10,000 in March 2019.
In September 2019, Sirius Minerals revealed that the government had refused to provide financial support, a decision that effectively left the company on the brink of financial collapse.
Sirius was eventually bought out in a cut-price deal by the mining firm Anglo American in January 2020, wiping out the shareholdings of hundreds of small investors. Some lost most of their life savings due to the collapse, which Sirius Minerals has said would not have happened if the government had supported the project.
A spokesperson for Jenrick said: “Mr Jenrick recused himself from decisions on the Sirius Minerals project. He disclosed his ministerial interests on appointment in the usual way. The meeting that took place on 21 March 2018 with Mr Ofer was to discuss electric vehicles and charge point technology and was attended by a [Treasury] official.”
The spokesperson did not say whether Jenrick and Ofer had met on any other occasions.
A spokesman for Ofer said: “Mr Ofer met Mr Jenrick and his team at the Treasury and discussed the business environment in the UK, particularly post-Brexit. Mr Ofer attended the meeting on his own.
“Mr Ofer can’t recall if it [the mining project] was discussed, but if it did it would have been touched on only briefly because the main subject of conversation was the wider business and economic environment in the UK.”
He added that the £10,000 donation via Ofer’s Quantum Pacific business was made at the behest of Conservative Friends of Israel. Jenrick is a member of the group but Ofer said the donation had not been discussed with him.