Yesterday was a very good day indeed for diehard republicans who yearn to replace the monarchy with an elected President.
They can scarcely have believed their ears when they heard that Prince Charles accepted three deliveries of cash totalling about two and a half million pounds between 2011 and 2015. The revelation is beyond their wildest dreams.
As a steadfast monarchist, I had to pinch myself. Could it really be true that bags of cash, some reportedly in the form of high denomination 500 euro notes, had changed hands in the manner described? Alas, it was.
‘No one is suggesting that the Prince behaved in a venal fashion in the tiniest degree, or indeed that he or the munificent Sheikh Hamad acted in any way illegally. But my goodness, what appalling judgment Charles showed’
On one occasion Prince Charles is reported to have accepted a holdall containing one million euros from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, a former prime minister of Qatar, during a one-to-one meeting in Clarence House.
It is true that the money was destined for the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, which supports a multitude of causes, many of them extremely deserving ones, that are close to Charles’s heart.
No one is suggesting that the Prince behaved in a venal fashion in the tiniest degree, or indeed that he or the munificent Sheikh Hamad acted in any way illegally.
But my goodness, what appalling judgment Charles showed. He either demonstrated astonishing naivety or the arrogance of someone who doesn’t believe he is constrained by the conventions observed by the rest of us. Very possibly he is guilty on both counts.
For a prudent man would never accept gifts of cash in such whopping quantities, however good the cause or irreproachable the donor.
A sensible prince would recognise that 500 euro notes (a denomination, now discontinued, which was once dubbed the ‘Bin Laden’ because of its link to terrorist financing) ought to set off alarm bells in the most unwary mind.
A wise heir to the throne, on sighting the holdall (or, on one reported occasion, Fortnum & Mason carrier bags stuffed with banknotes), would have thanked Sheikh Hamad, and said that cash in such amounts would inevitably raise questions. Could he possibly do the normal thing and send a cheque instead?
To put it bluntly, if the saintly Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, had offered Prince Charles a suitcase full of cash for one of his charities, he would have been wise to have given her a wide berth. In the case of Sheikh Hamad, he should have run a mile
I suppose Charles might have been embarrassed to make such a point on the first occasion, but surely he or his flunkies could have politely made clear that in future bags of cash were regrettably not acceptable.
Nor should the Prince have been blind to the fact that the billionaire sheikh is a somewhat controversial figure. From 2007 until 2013 he doubled up as the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of oil-rich Qatar.
It has been claimed that during this period Qatar sponsored terrorism. Sheikh Hamad once said that the state ‘maybe’ financed the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, while he was in office, but he knew nothing about it.
To put it bluntly, if the saintly Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, had offered Prince Charles a suitcase full of cash for one of his charities, he would have been wise to have given her a wide berth. In the case of Sheikh Hamad, he should have run a mile.
Another thought: Qatar’s riches depend largely on its vast oil and gas reserves — indeed, the country ships huge quantities of much-needed gas to the UK. Sheikh Hamad’s reputed 12 billion dollar fortune must be linked in some way to Qatar’s oil and gas.
So shouldn’t Charles, as an arch critic of fossil fuels — in 2020 he said we have only ‘ten years’ to save the planet — be chary of accepting donations from the former prime minister of a country whose enormous wealth derives from fossil fuels?
The Prince has, of course, been accused of hypocrisy in the past. One moment he lectures us on global warming while the next he is wont to jump on a carbon-emitting jet funded by taxpayers, not infrequently to visit autocratic rulers in the Middle East on the Government’s behalf.
I fear he wasn’t merely being naive. There may be a careless tendency for the Prince to assume that his royal status exempts him from the tiresome rules that bind the rest of us
Indeed, among his numerous transcontinental jaunts he has visited Qatar several times, where he has met Sheikh Hamad, with whom he has a relationship that apparently goes back several decades.
Isn’t this all rather distasteful? At the very least, Prince Charles has been running a loose ship. Last year it was claimed that Michael Fawcett, his closest confidant, offered to help a Saudi billionaire obtain a knighthood in exchange for generous donations to the Prince’s Foundation. Police are still investigating the matter.
The Prince put some distance between himself and Mr Fawcett, who resigned. He may have to accept responsibility this time since Clarence House has admitted the bizarre manner of Sheikh Hamad’s cash gifts. The Charity Commission could launch an investigation, which would be an embarrassment for the Prince.
On balance, I am a Prince Charles fan. That is to say, despite his habit of interfering in politics — the most recent instance being his reported description of the Government’s policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda as ‘appalling’ — he seems to me an intelligent person who wants to make the world a better place.
Such qualities were on show in his notorious ‘black spider’ letters to ministers during the Blair years, which ardent republicans hoped would reveal the Prince meddling in party politics.
When finally published in 2015 against Charles’s will, the letters ranged from a blameless worry that overfishing of the Patagonian toothfish was putting its predator, the albatross, at risk, to a commendable concern about the dangerous shortcomings of the Lynx helicopter in Iraq in ‘high temperatures’.
A monarch must be above politics all the same. In preparation for his eventual succession to the throne, the Prince has supposedly made up his mind to stop sticking his oar in, though his remark about the Rwandan policy appears to undermine that resolution.
His acceptance of millions of euros in banknotes from a controversial quarter — albeit in a good cause — inevitably introduces new anxieties about whether he is ready to reign over us.
I fear he wasn’t merely being naive. There may be a careless tendency for the Prince to assume that his royal status exempts him from the tiresome rules that bind the rest of us. If so, this is potentially fatal.
Royalists can only hope that this was an aberration. We do not want an entitled King. We look for a monarch who is modest, full of rectitude, circumspect and scrupulous. Just like his mother, the Queen.