Author: By Andrew Grice, Political Editor
The Tory leader delayed the start of his family holiday in Turkey to fly to Santorini, where he had drinks with Mr Murdoch on his 184ft yacht Rosehearty and later attended a dinner party with him. Mr Cameron then accepted a second free flight to Turkey, while Mr Murdoch sailed to Corfu, where the guests at a party to mark the 40th birthday of his daughter, Elisabeth, included the shadow Chancellor George Osborne, Lord Mandelson and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
The Tory leader has not revealed his talks with Mr Murdoch. In the Commons register of interests, he discloses that on 16 August, a private plane provided by the public relations guru Matthew Freud took his wife, Samantha, and two of their children from Farnborough to Istanbul. Mr Freud is married to Elisabeth Murdoch.
A source in the private jet industry estimated the Camerons’ flights would have cost around £34,300 in total.
Mr Cameron joined his family in Istanbul after he made a flying visit to Georgia, where he upstaged the Government by meeting its President, Mikheil Saakashvili, in the wake of the Russian invasion. His flights to and from Tbilisi were paid for by the Conservative Party. He and his family were then taken on Mr Freud’s Gulfstream IV jet to Santorini.
After drinks with Mr Murdoch, Mr Cameron and his family attended a dinner party on Mr Freud’s yacht, Elisabeth F, which was also attended by Mr Murdoch. Later that evening, Mr Cameron and his family were flown to Dalaman in Turkey on Mr Freud’s plane. He then began a sailing holiday with his wife’s family to celebrate the 60th birthday of his mother-in-law, Viscountess Astor.
A spokeswoman for Mr Cameron insisted that Mr Freud, and not Mr Murdoch, paid for the flights to Istan-bul, Santorini and Dalaman. She said he had already booked his family’s tickets to Turkey and had been unable to attend Mr Freud’s party at that time. But it became possible to attend when he decided to go to Georgia, which required him to fly from Istanbul.
She said that the gathering in Santorini was a “social event” and that there was “nothing unusual” about a politician meeting Mr Murdoch. Mr Cameron paid for his family’s return from Turkey.
One witness said that the dozen or so guests at Mr Freud’s party gathered on Mr Murdoch’s yacht for drinks before moving on to Mr Freud’s for dinner. They included the singer Billy Joel, Rebekah Wade, editor of the Murdoch-owned newspaper The Sun, and Ben Silverman, co-chairman of the American television network NBC Universal.
However, a Labour MP questioned whether Mr Cameron’s entry in the register of interests was accurate and urged him to amend it to include his meeting with Mr Murdoch. Denis MacShane, a former Foreign Office minister, said: “First George Osborne, and now David Cameron, have made a mockery of the idea of transparency, disclosure and accountability for senior politicians as they seek to sell their party and discuss their financial affairs with rich foreigners.”
The Labour MP pointed out that Tony Blair disclosed in the register that he was a guest of Mr Murdoch when he flew to meet him in Hayman Island, Australia, when he was leader of the Opposition in 1995.
Mr Cameron faced criticism after he was photographed by the press during an earlier “bucket and spade” family holiday in Cornwall. Critics said that was a “pseudo holiday” and that his real one was with his wealthy relatives and their friends in Turkey.
Yesterday, Mr Osborne’s embarrassment over his ill-fated holiday in Corfu continued. Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat frontbencher, has asked Parliament’s anti-sleaze watchdog to investigate whether Mr Osborne should have declared his family’s stay at the Rothschild family’s villa in Corfu in the register. However, the Electoral Commission dismissed calls by the Liberal Democrats for an inquiry into whether Mr Osborne had sought an illegal donation from Mr Deripaska in Corfu.
Mr Osborne denied reports that he rubbished David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, for failing to back fully the Cameron project to modernise the Tory party in a private conversation with Peter Mandelson. Mr Osborne had dinner with Lord Mandelson at a taverna the day after Ms Murdoch’s birthday dinner. After Lord Mandelson returned to the Cabinet, stories appeared in the press that had “dripped pure poison” about Gordon Brown to Mr Osborne. There has also been a series of articles about Lord Mandelson’s relationship with Mr Deripaska. The reports prompted Nathaniel Rothschild to claim that Mr Osborne sought to solicit a donation from Mr Deripaska ? which he denies.
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