Alarming news that a controversial battery firm went under, and plans to save some of it have now been delayed because of greater scrutiny, once again highlight how The Eye were alone in first revealing that the company was established by a man convicted of tax fraud, and which ditched a planned site in South Wales, despite the fact that its proposals had been greeted with huge fanfare by politicians and reporters in the mainstream media.
A deal to buy the assets of Britishvolt (BV) by an Australian start-up entrepreneur has been put on ice to give administrators more time to check the proposal.
Officials at the auditing firm EY said on February 6 that they hoped to approve the sale to David Collard’s Recharge Industries (RI) within a week, but have now proclaimed that the plans should be looked at in more detail to ensure funds are available. RI’s only project in this field is a controversial scheme to build a large gigafactory in the Australian state of Victoria.
This latest news may worry earlier backers of BV, given its contentious past.
BV was once touted by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a key part of his green industrial revolution, but its £4 billion project in the North East of England (after plumping for a site there instead of one in South Wales) came close to collapse more than two years ago.
In the Sunday Times (ST) it was published: “Britishvolt’s inevitable journey towards disaster has been, well, a very British story…The electric car battery factory planned for Blyth, near Newcastle, had no customers and no products. One of its founders had no automotive experience. The other had a conviction for tax fraud in the 1990s. Britishvolt wanted millions of taxpayers’ pounds for its gigafactory”.
As this report alludes to, the UK Government had committed a total of £100 million worth of taxpayers’ money to BV for the project, and it is understood the firm wanted to draw down nearly a third of the funding early, but officials refused.
The organisation’s original Chairman and co-founder, Lars Carlstrom, had been convicted of tax fraud in Sweden, and afterwards Chief Strategy Officer of BV, Isobel Sheldon, said the operation was severing all ties with him. Mr Carlstrom was also handed a four-year trading ban in the late 1990s. He was later, too, accused of acting negligently by Sweden’s tax authority over a separate unpaid bill for one of his companies in 2011. In leaving BV, Mr Carlstrom said: “I don’t wish to become a distraction”.
With this sort of background, the recent information about BV came as no surprise to critics of the scheme online, and as the website North East Bylines (NEB) had put it about Mr Carlstrom earlier: “He was the same individual whose track record had been queried by The Eye when reviewing the proposed location in Wales in July last year, and who seems still to be a major shareholder”.
Before the information was brought out about a proposed asset takeover when the company went into administration, and prior to BV opting for a site in Blyth, it had first chosen one near St Athan, but there were disturbing details here too.
Neil Moore, leader of Vale of Glamorgan council, was hugely disappointed at their failure to come, and said: “They were given a better deal elsewhere. I was surprised when they pulled out”.
BV had apparently acquired the Blyth site over the Welsh alternative because of better connections to renewable power sources such as windfarms in the North Sea, as well as an interconnector to Norway’s hydroelectric power – with timing difficulties in Wales also a factor.
But as the report in NEB showed, our research featured in publications in the North East of England after the firm had declared that it would not, after all, build the St Athan plant in the Vale of Glamorgan and move to Blyth instead.
The website said: “In July 2020 this (the plans for the battery factory) seemed a welcome bonus for Wales and the prospects of a large new green manufacturing capability with thousands of jobs could only be good news. Except, however, when doubts were quietly raised by The Eye, an investigative news and journalism website ‘looking into misdemeanours by organisations and individuals in Wales and theUK’”.
The questions about prominent figures behind BV have long been persistent, while only our journalists have published them (apart from NEB, and now, other mainstream reporters, like those on the ST). We had been the first in disclosing that a key director had a failed business behind him, possessed links to a former football club owner who was jailed for fraud, and another one until recently had lived in a small flat in a Cardiff terraced house.
Our research could find no record of any director having a background in battery manufacturing. The South Wales venture, though, was met with wild acclaim in the mainstream media and by senior politicians.
BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) declared: “The firm behind a proposed battery factory which could create 4,000 jobs has listed a site in Wales as its ‘preferred option’”. The website WalesOnline (WO) published: “Plans for a giant factory and thousands of jobs for the Vale of Glamorgan have been revealed. Battery manufacturer Britishvolt announced … that two sites are in the running for their factory, with Bro Tathan business park (near St Athan) leading the way”. It stated later: “Plans for a factory producing electric car batteries that would bring thousands of jobs for the Vale of Glamorgan have moved a step closer.”.
This was The Times: “Ambitious plans have been revealed for Britain’s first gigafactory capable of producing enough fuel cells and battery packs to power 100,000 zero carbon electric cars.
“The project in south Wales, which is designed to put the UK in the race to be a global hub for the electrified vehicle industry, comes from Britishvolt, a start-up company founded by a Swedish automotive entrepreneur best known as a former associate of Vladimir Antonov, the jailed Russian businessman. Britishvolt has unveiled plans to build a gigafactory capable of producing 10 gigawatt hours (GWh) of lithium ion batteries a year from early next year at Bro Tathan, on the Cardiff airport commercial complex where Aston Martin Lagonda has opened its new carmaking factory.”
The Secretary of State for Wales at the time, Simon Hart MP, said it was “fantastic that we can talk about Wales as being a leading contender” for the UK’s first gigafactory.
The scheme for South Wales, though, was soon stopped by BV, yet crucial facts about the men behind it could have been easily discovered.
Investigations by our journalists at Companies House (CH) and elsewhere, disclosed that a prominent director of BV was Couroush (or Courosh) Alai who until recently lived in a modest apartment at Lily Street in Cardiff, which appeared to be a terraced house converted into flats.
Mr Carlstrom, had been involved in a coach company at Coventry that was in debt to creditors for around £1 million. He had also been director of a watch manufacturer called Thrupp and Maberly which has now been dissolved. In 2011 it had first come to light that Mr Carlstrom was the “representative in Sweden“ of Vladimir Antonov who, as The Times stated, had been jailed for fraud. Mr Carlstrom was involved, too, in a sale and leaseback deal of property and plant belonging to the Swedish car maker Saab.
At an extradition hearing, the former ‘representative’ of Mr Carlstrom, Russian-born Mr Antonov, who once owned Portsmouth FC, said that the charges against him were part of a politically-motivated plot. Mr Antonov, whose father was shot and injured in Russia in 2009 over a suspected business dispute, claimed that he was at risk of attack in prison if he was sent abroad to stand trial.
Meanwhile before the announcement that the new plant would be built in Northumberland as opposed to South Wales, BV’s ‘Chief Executive’ Orral Nadjari, said: “The first UK gigaplant will… be in an alternative location (to South Wales) which we will be announcing soon”. Yet Mr Nadjari claimed he had looked at more than 100 sites for the BV factory, before alighting on the former RAF site in Bro Tathan near St Athan.
In the way the news of the ‘alternative location’ (Blyth) was welcomed, there would seem to be an uncanny echo of what happened in South Wales.
The Blyth Valley MP, Ian Levy, stated at the time: “This is an incredibly exciting announcement that will have a massive impact in the constituency and the surrounding area for decades to come”.
Presumably it is NOT exciting to hear news that BV had collapsed, and plans to buy the assets have now been delayed because of greater scrutiny, highlighting as it does how The Eye were alone in first revealing that the company was established by a man convicted of tax fraud, and which ditched a site in South Wales, despite the fact that its proposals had received a huge welcome from politicians and reporters in the mainstream media…
The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s astonishing 39 year long award-winning career in journalism when the interesting backgrounds of individuals were uncovered, as he was gripped by the rare neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.
Tomorrow – how during 23 years with The BBC, and 39 years in journalism (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon and clichés), seeing the truth behind headline events was crucial for our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry, so will examine the shrill protests from aides to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson that new revelations about his knowledge of Downing Street parties, were simply part of a political witch-hunt.