Lord Sainsbury's biotech firms hit the rocks (16/4/2004)

Lord Sainsbury has been Science Minister in Blair's government since 1998. He is also a member of the cabinet Sci-Bio committee, and as such is a key adviser to Blair on biotech. He is also a donor to Blair's Labour Party.

He gave Labour its biggest ever single donation in September 1997. On October 3 1997 he was made a life peer by Blair and a year later Minister for Science. By 2003 Lord Sainsbury had given over GBP11 million to Blair's Party. Mark Seddon, a member of Labour's National Executive Committee, told the BBC, 'In any other country I think a government minister donating such vast amounts of money and effectively buying a political party would be seen for what it is, a form of corruption of the political process.' for more: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=116&page=S

Biotech firms linked to Sainsbury trust hit cash trouble
By James Moore, Daily Telegraph (Filed: 15/04/2004)

Two biotechnology firms linked to science and innovation minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville are facing serious financial difficulties, it emerged yesterday.

Diatech Limited, which holds several patents for techniques which could be useful to the genetically modified food industry, has gone into liquidation, while biotechnology investment firm Innotech is making huge losses.

Filings lodged at Companies House show that Diatech entered voluntary liquidation November 2003.

Innotech Investments is still trading but its most recently filed accounts, for 2002, reveal that it made a pre-tax loss of GBP7.4m compared with a loss of GBP4.1m the previous year.

They show that the company currently has net debt of GBP48m compared with shareholders' funds of just GBP20.7m and that the company saw a net cash outflow of GBP1.4m in 2002.

Innotech's net asset value per share, a measure of how the company's investments have performed, tumbled to GBP1.24 from GBP2.72.

During that year, the company was propped up with GBP25m of financing from the blind trust set up to oversee Lord Sainsbury's financial interests when he became a minister.

The company's accounts show that the trust has provided the company with GBP62m in financing over the past three years.

Lord Sainsbury, who receives no ministerial salary, is a strong supporter of GM technology and his interests in Innotech and Diatech have proved highly controversial.

Innotech has a stake in the US-based Paradigm Genetics, which has close links to Monsanto, the controversial GM food company.

He is also responsible for Britain's biotechnology industry. However, he has always said that he has absented himself from government meetings on GM and plays no formal role in policymaking.

Despite his financial interests being controlled by the trust, over which he has no control, the minister has faced repeated attacks from opposition MPs who have voiced concerns over potential conflicts of interest.

In addition to his biotechnology interests, Lord Sainsbury is a member of the Sainsbury retailing family, which controls 38pc of the supermarket group's shares.

He owns two properties in Westminster which are currently used as offices and an adjacent residential property next door which is unoccupied. His wife owns a house in Stratford-upon-Avon and has a partnership in a nursery school.

Judith Portrait, the trustee for the blind trust, said: "Lord Sainsbury was required, under the ministerial code, to transfer all his investments into the blind trust when he was appointed a minister.

"The whole purpose of the blind trust is that the minister cannot know anything about his investments or assets and I, therefore, cannot comment because to do so would unblind the trust and defeat its very purpose."

A spokesman for the Department of Trade & Industry said: "His assets are in a blind trust. He has no knowledge of it and no control over it." Lord Sainsbury was said to be on holiday yesterday.

Related stories:
10 March 2004[Connected]: Beckett gives green light to Britain's first GM crop
2 April 2003[News]: Labour splits emerge over Sainsbury GBP2.5m
17 February 1999: Political science snares Sainsbury


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