Former City minister Lord Myners, a vocal public critic of the disgraced finance firm Greensill Capital, told its billionaire founder he was “at your service” and assured him negative media coverage would be forgotten and would “wrap fish and chips in no time”, newly published emails show.
The correspondence between Myners and Lex Greensill appears to confirm claims originally made in a Guardian investigation, which showed the peer had been wooed by the financier and weighed an offer to join his board, despite repeatedly raising concerns about its operations in parliament.
Myners told MPs last month that he initially expressed interest in taking the role in order to gather more information about Greensill, which he believed was a “highly questionable business”.
Published by the Treasury committee as part of its inquiry into the lender’s collapse and its lobbying of government officials, the emails show Greensill launched his charm offensive in June 2019.
The Australian financier arranged a meeting with the crossbench peer, after Myners called for a regulatory investigation into a key Greensill fund run by a Swiss asset manager, in comments that were reported by the news agency Reuters. It came nearly a year after Greensill persuaded the former prime minister David Cameron to join the firm as an adviser.
The pair eventually met on 12 July 2019, and despite a “slightly awkward start”, a briefing note claims the tone “swiftly changed” during the roughly hour-long meeting, during which Greensill offered the peer a boardroom position.
Myners raised concerns about Sanjeev Gupta, the entrepreneur and owner of GFG Alliance, which was one of Greensill’s largest borrowers. But Lex Greensill said at the time he did not have any doubts about the metals magnate.
During the meeting, Myners was asked to put his name to a statement that could be used to counter claims Greensill was taking part in fraudulent activities. A draft stated that, after his meeting with Greensill, Myners was “comfortable with [the] business and its operations. I heard and saw nothing that would warrant the use of the word fraudulent or anything similar.”
GFG is now on the brink of collapse, following Greensill’s failure in March. The metals group, which employs 3,000 steelworkers in the UK, is also facing a Serious Fraud Office investigation into suspected fraud and potential money laundering. It follows reports that the group was borrowing funds from Greensill based on fake invoices. GFG has said it will “cooperate fully” with the investigation.
The correspondence suggests Myners did not want his supportive statement, which was intended to counter allegations of fraud, to be distributed to the press.
Later, he advised Greensill that keeping quiet was the best strategy. After a critical Sunday Times story, which highlighted the complex relationship between Gupta and Greensill Capital, he emailed to say: “It contains nothing meaningful and will be forgotten and left to wrap fish and chips in no time. I know it doesn’t feel like this.”
Myners said of another story, in a later email on the same day: “Keeping quiet has worked.”
“I am at your service. I’m a straight dealer,” Myners added.
By September, Myners was responding to a dinner with Greensill and pushing for further information about the “time commitment and package” linked to the boardroom role. “Rather than waste your time: let me know your thoughts on economics,” he said.
The peer’s career has spanned media and politics. He was previously chair of Marks & Spencer, a member of the court of the Bank of England, chair of the Guardian Media Group and financial services secretary to the Treasury in Gordon Brown’s government.
According to the emails, Myners turned down the role at Greensill in October 2019, citing health problems.
Myners said in a statement on Tuesday night that he met Greensill to “test” his reservations about the business and later tried to “give Mr Greensill a reason to continue engaging with me”. He says he tried to break off talks politely after realising he was unlikely to get the answers he was looking for.
“I never once considered taking a role at Greensill Capital. Since my meeting on 12 July 2019 I have asked over 30 parliamentary questions about Greensill Capital, supply-chain finance and issues relating to Gupta,” Myners said. “Within the limits of parliamentary language, these questions have evidenced persistent scepticism about Greensill Capital, its business model and the adequacy of regulation.”
Greensill declined to comment.