David Cameron Comes Under the Spotlight for His Business Dealings

LONDON — Until last month, David Cameron was known for one big thing: calling the referendum in June 2016 that produced Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union and triggered a political earthquake that toppled him as prime minister.

Now, Mr. Cameron is in the headlines for something else: the spectacular collapse of a high-flying Anglo-Australian finance firm. His lobbying on behalf of the firm, Greensill Capital, does not appear to have violated any laws, but it has added another blot to an already checkered legacy.

Greensill’s access to senior British officials — aided by Mr. Cameron, who worked for the firm — has set off a noisy debate about the rules on lobbying by former leaders; critics say they are woefully inadequate. It has also turned a fresh spotlight on a recurring theme in Britain: the challenging after-lives of British prime ministers.

From Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair, occupants of 10 Downing Street have often struggled after leaving office, an abrupt transition to private life that leaves them without the trappings of power, no clear public role, and little financial support. For politicians used to privilege and influence, analysts said, it can lead to trouble.

miscalculation on Brexit — he does not arouse the hostility that many in Britain still feel toward Mr. Blair over his backing of the Iraq war. Much of the media coverage has portrayed Mr. Cameron as a decent man guilty of poor judgment.

Ms. Maddox said his case underscored that “Britain should do more to help prime ministers forge a useful life afterward.”

Unlike American ex-presidents, who get taxpayer funded offices and can busy themselves building their presidential libraries, prime ministers have little in the way of a soft landing after they leave office. The rough-and-tumble nature of British politics means that many are defenestrated — one moment, at the helm of a nuclear state; the next, exiled to the parliamentary backbenches.

Mr. Cameron announced his resignation hours after Britons voted narrowly to leave the European Union, an outcome he campaigned against. At his last appearance in Parliament, he declared, “I was the future once,” a rueful play on a jibe he once aimed at Mr. Blair, when Mr. Cameron was the rising leader of the Conservatives and Mr. Blair a Labour prime minister in the twilight of his career.

“When you’re in politics, every day is a thrill or a spill,” said Simon Jenkins, a columnist at the Guardian. “Then you’re out, almost invariably because of a great mistake. You’ve got nothing to do, and nothing you can do.”

Only 49 years old when he left office, Mr. Cameron wrote a memoir, for which he was paid a reported advance of 800,000 pounds ($1.1 million). He joined several boards and became the president of an Alzheimer’s charity. He plays tennis regularly at a club near his house in West London. In 2017, Mr. Cameron’s wife, Samantha, started her own women’s fashion business.

A well-pedigreed graduate of Eton and Oxford, whose father was a stockbroker, Mr. Cameron is wealthy by conventional yardsticks. But his fortune is less than that of Mr. Blair, who amassed real estate and established a lucrative consulting business. Mr. Blair’s money-raising activities drew criticism as well, especially his work on behalf of the repressive government of Kazakhstan.

Mr. Cameron’s friends have described him as thriving on the speaking circuit and not hung up about his financial circumstances. In “Diary of an MP’s Wife,” a gossipy account of Conservative Party social circles by Sasha Swire, the wife of a former Conservative lawmaker, Hugo Swire, Ms. Swire wrote that in 2017, Samantha’s business was “taking off and Dave is making loads of money.”

“He says every time he looks for a loophole to stash it away, he realizes that George and he closed it, and laughs,” Ms. Swire added, referring to George Osborne, who was Mr. Cameron’s chancellor of the Exchequer.

Ex-prime ministers, however, have far less earning power than ex-presidents. Barack and Michelle Obama signed a $65 million multi-book deal with Penguin Random House and earned millions more in a production deal with Netflix. Bill and Hillary Clinton earned $139 million from 2007 to 2014, mostly from speeches and books. George W. Bush has also earned tens of millions from speeches.

Like presidents, prime ministers become accustomed to mingling with extremely wealthy people, Mr. Jenkins said, leading them to question “why they’re an ex-prime minister when they could have been a wealthy tycoon.”

Not everyone who vacates Downing Street has struggled. John Major, Ms. Maddox said, has arguably been more successful as an elder-statesman commentator than he was in office. Theresa May, who succeeded Mr. Cameron and resigned in 2019 after her efforts to strike a Brexit deal failed, stayed on in Parliament as a Conservative backbencher and has weighed in on debates at key moments.

“It’s a rightly informal system here,” said Charles Moore, the author of a biography of Mrs. Thatcher. “If you cannot command a majority in the Commons, you’re out. That is democratic, and you should then, with a little help over the immediate transition, make your own way in the world.”

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Greensill Capital: The Collapse of a Company Built on Debt

LONDON — The courthouse should have already been closed for the day.

At a hearing that began at 5 p.m. on March 1, lawyers for Greensill Capital desperately argued before a judge in Sydney, Australia, that the firm’s insurers should be ordered to extend policies set to expire at midnight. Greensill Capital needed the insurance to back $4.6 billion it was owed by businesses around the world, and without it 50,000 jobs would be in jeopardy, they said.

The judge said no; the company had waited too long to bring the matter to court. A week later, Greensill Capital — valued at $3.5 billion less than two years ago — filed for bankruptcy in London. An international firm with 16 offices around the world, from Singapore to London to Bogotá, was insolvent.

Greensill’s dazzlingly fast failure is one of the most spectacular collapses of a global finance firm in over a decade. It has entangled SoftBank and Credit Suisse and threatens the business empire of the British steel tycoon, Sanjeev Gupta, who employs 35,000 workers throughout the world. Greensill’s problems extend to the United States, where the governor of West Virginia and his coal mining company have sued Greensill Capital for “a continuous and profitable fraud” over $850 million in loans.

At the center of it is Lex Greensill, an Australian farmer-turned-banker, who in 2011 founded his company in London as a solution to a problem: Companies want to wait as long as possible before paying for their supplies, while the companies making the supplies need their cash as soon as possible.

The Australian newspaper that he did the same for President Barack Obama in the United States.

Eventually, Mr. Cameron would become an adviser to Greensill. Julie Bishop, Australia’s former foreign minister, also joined the company as an adviser.

Greensill Capital’s defining year was 2019, when SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the $100 billion investment vehicle built to make huge bets on disruptive technology companies, invested $1.5 billion. On the day the first of two SoftBank investments was announced, Mr. Greensill told Bloomberg TV that his company would have “multiple opportunities” to work with SoftBank and the other companies in their portfolio.

Mr. Greensill had become a billionaire.

Carillion in 2018 and the Spanish renewable energy company Abengoa, which filed for insolvency in February. Abengoa, an early customer of Greensill, narrowly escaped bankruptcy in 2015 when its huge debt load — billions of euros — was revealed.

Regulators, auditors and ratings agencies have grown concerned about the lack of transparency that can make company balance sheets look stronger than they are. In June, the Securities and Exchange Commission asked Coca-Cola to provide more details about whether it was using supply chain finance after noticing an increase in its account payables of $1.1 billion.

After pleas from accounting companies, the rules might be tightened in the United States. In October, the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board said it would start developing stronger disclosure requirements, though two months later, an international accounting board decided not to do the same.

For Greensill Capital, signs of trouble began appearing in 2018, the year before SoftBank made its big investments.

GAM, the Swiss asset manager, rocked the London financial community when it suspended one of its top fund managers, Tim Haywood. He later lost his job for “gross misconduct,” Bloomberg reported, after an internal investigation raised questions about investments he made in companies tied to Mr. Gupta, who was fast-becoming a steel and metals tycoon. The middleman in the deals, Bloomberg said, was Mr. Greensill.

The next year, Mr. Greensill’s debt funds were attracting unusual interest from SoftBank. Even as the Vision Fund was investing in Greensill, a different arm of SoftBank poured hundreds of millions into the Credit Suisse funds, according to people with knowledge of the transactions. That arrangement put SoftBank in a complex position: One division was Greensill’s largest shareholder and another was a lender to Greensill, via the Credit Suisse funds.

BaFin said it had uncovered evidence that assets linked to Mr. Gupta listed on the bank’s balance sheet did not exist.

insolvency proceedings for Greensill Bank.

an 18 million euro state-backed loan in December from Greensill Bank. But two days later, the bank abruptly pulled back the funds, said Jean-Philippe Juin, a member of the Confédération Générale du Travail labor union representing the factory, where 600 people work.

While GFG said it had “strong cash flows” across the group, the workers at the Poitou plant were warned last week that there might not be enough money to pay their salaries for March, Mr. Juin said.

“Mr. Gupta presented himself to us as a savior, with hopeful words and many promises,” Mr. Juin said. “In the end, he turned out to be an empty shell.”

Michael J. de la Merced, Stanley Reed, Matthew Goldstein and Raphael Minder contributed reporting.

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