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OPINION - The Standard View: Dirty money ruling is victory for the Standard — and for open justice

 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

In a victory for open justice and the role of a free press, the Evening Standard can today reveal that a multi-millionaire Conservative Party donor who owns London’s Conran Shop and is the landlord of Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire is a key figure linked to a major money-laundering operation targeted by the National Crime Agency.

A court ruled that bank records showed Javad Marandi either owned or was connected to companies involved in a “criminal enterprise” shifting illicit funds around the world and into Britain. The judgment states Mr Marandi received $49m directly from the bank account of one of the companies used to “launder the proceeds of crime” as part of a so-called “Azerbaijan laundromat”.

Mr Marandi’s link to the scheme had been kept from the public due to an anonymity order, contested by this newspaper when it was first imposed and lifted yesterday following A Court of Appeal ruling. Simply being able to report these facts is a triumph for the Standard and our Home Affairs Editor, Martin Bentham, cited in this case, as well as the BBC, which also took up the fight. Mr Marandi has denied any wrongdoing and he was not party to the proceedings brought by the NCA.

Lawyers for Mr Marandi tried to sustain a bar on revealing their client’s name via judicial review. But two senior judges rejected this strategy.

There remain questions about the cost risks faced by the media in fighting such cases but this is a reminder that a free press, empowered to pursue truth no matter the wealth or privilege of those involved, lies at the heart of a democratic society.

‘Ghost children’ crisis

Covid-19 let rip a level of learning loss from which students are still trying to recover. But the pandemic has had an even more pernicious outcome — the rise of ‘ghost children’, young people who never returned to school.

Headteachers continue to report elevated levels of persistent absenteeism, as MPs have been told that Covid “fractured” the social contract between some families to attend school and receive an education. This has been exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis, and reports of children being sent to work, further fuelling truancy.

The risk to children who drop out of education of falling into gangs or being subject to sexual exploitation is all too real. We must ramp up targeted support, including a focus on mental health, to get students back in classes.

TfL expands the brand

Transport for London (TfL) is turning to licensing agency IMG to expand its brand engagement and licensing programme in Britain and around the world.

This will grant access to the famous roundel, Harry Beck’s iconic map and TfL’s poster archive. Even the moquette seat designs are up for grabs. It is certainly one way to plug a black hole in its finances.