Ring of Tory donors ‘line up friends’ for knights and honors in ‘Gong-Go-Round’

A group of Tory donors have been accused of giving themselves a ‘boost’ by lining up friends – and each other – for gongs and honors

The Mirror can reveal donors who have given the party more than £3m, received foreign knighthoods and honorary doctorates within the same circle of businessmen, with deep roots in conservative social circles.

The same three men have been made Knights of the Republic of San Marino, honorary doctors of the University of Bolton and sit on the board of trustees of Regent University in London. And four other Tory donors and MPs were honored by San Marino and Bolton.

Some members of the group, dubbed the ‘Gong-Go-Round’ by an insider, shared a £3,000 table at the Conservative Party’s Spring Luncheon last week.

And several key figures in the clique shared a table at the notorious “President’s Club” dinner – a “men-only” event, where female staff had to wear skimpy black outfits and said they were groped by diners.

A source says the group is seeking to increase its influence within the party, secure knighthoods and peerages for its allies and create a fundraising network for its preferred candidate to replace Boris Johnson as leader.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by any of the men involved.

An exclusive investigation by the Sunday Mirror last month revealed that a series of donors and Tory MPs had been knighted by the Republic of San Marino – including Professor George Holmes, vice-chancellor of the University of Bolton.







A group of Conservative MPs and donors traveled to San Marino to collect their gongs last year
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Picture:

consolatosanmarino.uk)


Professor Holmes is one of the highest paid university bosses in the UK. He pocketed a salary of £322,332 last year and is said to own two Bentleys and a 30ft yacht.

The foreign gongs were arranged by the consul of the UK tax haven microstate, Maurizio Bragagni – a major Tory donor and former chairman of Britain’s Italian Tories.

Today it can be revealed that eight people linked to Mr Bragagni and his charity Esharelife have also received honorary doctorates from Mr Holmes University.

Mr. Bragagni was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bolton in 2019 and was named a visiting professor in “leadership”.

Tory donors Dr Selva Pankaj – CEO of Regent Group, which runs Regent College London – and Professor Nadey Hakim, a British-Lebanese surgeon, were also named Knights of St Agatha by San Marino in the year last.

Both men received honorary doctorates from Bolton in 2019.

Conservative donor and aviation boss Uday Nayak received an honorary doctorate from Bolton in 2017 and was made a Knight of St. Agatha last year.

Former Fujitsu boss Simon Blagden and Mustafa Mohammed, boss of private dental company Genix, are both Esharelife “ambassadors” – and both received honorary degrees from Bolton.

Mr Bragagni, Mr Blagden and Professor Hakim all sit on the board of Dr Pankaj’s private university, Regent College London.

In 2019 Mr Bragagni hired Tory MP and former cabinet minister Sir John Hayes, whom he paid a salary of £24,000 to ‘promote the charity work of Esharelife’.

He received an honorary doctorate from Bolton the same year.

Sir John quit his job at Esharelife after just six months, before taking a £38,000-a-year job as a part-time lecturer at the University of Bolton in 2020.

It is understood that Sir John Heyes was unaware of any connection between Esharelife and the University of Bolton.

Although Sir John knew Professor Holmes, he was offered the post by another academic at the university, whom he knew.

Maurizio BragagniOBE

  • Owns cable manufacturer Tratos
  • Honorary Consul of San Marino to the United Kingdom
  • Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Agatha
  • Bolton Honorary Doctorate
  • Visiting Professor at Bolton
  • Chairman of the Regent College Board of Trustees
  • Attended Conservative Spring Luncheon (2022) and President’s Club Dinner (2018)

indefinite

Professor George Holmes

indefinite

Dr Selva Pankaj

  • CEO of Regent Group, Principal of Regent College London
  • Knight of Saint Agatha
  • Bolton Honorary Doctorate
  • Attendance at the Conservative Spring Luncheon (2022)

indefinite

Prof Nadey Hakim

  • Surgeon
  • Knight of Saint Agatha
  • Bolton Honorary Doctorate
  • Member of the Regent College Board of Trustees

indefinite

Moustafa Mohammed

  • Boss of Genix Healthcare
  • Esharelife Ambassador
  • Bolton Honorary Doctorate
  • Table d’hôte at the President’s Club Dinner (2018), attended the Conservatives’ Spring Luncheon (2022)

Simon Blagden

  • Co-chair of the Rise think tank, based at the University of Bolton
  • Esharelife Ambassador
  • Bolton Honorary Degree

Sir Graham Brady MP

  • Chairman of the 1922 Conservative Committee
  • Visited San Marino as a guest of the Consulate in 2021
  • Bolton Honorary Degree

Sir John Hayes MP

  • Worked for Esharelife
  • Bolton Honorary Doctorate
  • Part-time teaching professor at Bolton

Andrew Rosindell MP

  • Knight of Saint Agatha
  • President of the APPG of San Marino

And Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, received an honorary degree from the University of Bolton in 2018 – before heading to San Marino last year on a £2,433 trip paid for by the country’s consulate.

It was organized by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for San Marino, chaired by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell – also a Knight of St. Agatha.

Sir Graham told the Sunday Mirror he first met Mr Bragagni on the trip, but declined to comment further.

Professor Holmes, Mr Hakim and senior curator Jeremy Hunt traveled to San Marino the same week to collect their knighthoods. Former PM Theresa May surrendered the following week.

Professor Holmes has been made a Knight Commander, the third highest honor of the Order of Saint Agatha.

Mr Bragagni, Professor Holmes, Mr Mohammed, Mr Pankaj and Mr Hakim shared a table at the Conservative Spring Luncheon last week.







The President’s Club Dinner was held at the Dorchester Hotel
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Picture:

SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


And Mr Mohammed hosted a table at the infamous President’s Club dinner in 2018, joined by Mr Bragagni, Professor Holmes and Mr Blagden.

At the time, Prof Holmes said he told an undercover reporter over dinner that he felt “uncomfortable” with “the influx of hostesses and some auction lots” – and that he had left the event as soon as it was “polite” to do so. .

Mr Mohammed received an honorary doctorate from Bolton six months before the dinner and has since been made an ‘ambassador’ by Mr Bragagni’s charity.

Mr Blagden is now co-chair of RISE, a think tank set up and funded by the University of Bolton, and is also an “ambassador” for Esharelife.

Seated at the next table, number 6, was Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

Professor Holmes said all of Bolton’s honorary degree recipients are “highly successful people in their chosen field and almost all are also actively engaged in supporting charities”.

He said it was “not surprising” that the men named in this article meet on social occasions because they “share common interests”.

“Indeed, that’s what like-minded people normally do,” he said.

“I suspect that every table at every event (from a dinner at a local golf club to a mayors’ banquet) has people who know each other coming together to spend time together and support each other.”

“Regarding those people who help in the development of the Republic of San Marino, I think you would naturally expect a country’s diplomats to use their immediate network to attract support from their embassy.

“Again, that’s exactly what ambassadors and consul generals do. Maurizio Bragagni is excellent for this role.”


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