Nigel Farage and a very murky forest

Nigel Farage and Selwyn Duijvestijn

Nigel Farage has joined forces with a Dutch fund manager found to have misled the public to promote “carbon offsetting” through forestry. The conspiracy theorist behind Cornwall’s weirdest hotel is also involved. So how exactly does this motley crew intend to save the world?

Eyebrows were raised yesterday when a company calling itself Dutch Green Business (DGB) shared a Twitter video to announce the latest member of its trustee board – Nigel Farage.

Introducing the former Brexit Party leader, the company’s CEO Selwyn Duivestijn said with a sickly grin  that he was “very excited” to have Farage’s help in the company’s vital mission to “speed up the reforestation process massively”.

Farage then enthused about how the company would be doing “something positive for the environment” with its “plan to plant tens and tens of millions of trees across this world, not just adding to nature but to habitat and biodiversity as well, and to give you the opportunity to offset your carbon consumption”.

Previously unknown to most of us in Britain, Duivestijn is a controversial figure in the Netherlands. In 2019 it emerged that he had been found by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets to have given misleading information on TV shows in 2016 and 2017 about the source of the returns generated by MountainShield, a fund that he managed.

Duijvestijn protested, saying: “I think deception is a heavy word, that is not how I see it myself.” But anyone persuaded by his TV appearances to invest in the fund may have had reason to regret it: between the end of 2017 and the end of 2018, its value shrank from 24 million euros to 9.2 million euros.

A large part of this loss was down to the performance of one of the companies in which the fund had invested heavily: DGB Groep – the same company that Duijvestijn is now fronting up, with the help of Nigel Farage, as an answer to the ecological emergency.

Quite why Duijvestijn should think Farage a credible figure in such a role is hard to fathom. Farage has long opposed measures to tackle climate change and has frequently cast doubt on the veracity of climate science itself.

Duijvestijn has claimed that Farage’s appointment is nothing to do with politics but due to his skills as a communicator. Yet the two men seem to be on the same page politically: both were supporters of Trump, and both shared material questioning the election victory of Joe Biden. But what’s more likely to have brought them together is a shared interest in financial gain.

The vehicle through which DGB says it will be reforesting the world is Miro Forestry Company Limited, based in the Cayman Islands at the address of Intertrust Corporate Services (Cayman) Limited. The latter is a company that provides “services” in one of the world’s foremost tax havens for an interesting variety of companies from around the globe.

Intertrust Corporate Services (Cayman) Limited cropped up in the so-called Paradise Papers – the leaked material that focused the world’s attention on the use of tax havens such as the Cayman Islands for various nefarious purposes. And in January 2021 it was among a number of Cayman-based companies required by a court ruling to hand over documents relating to one of the largest fraud cases in Denmark’s history, in which two British men are alleged to have defrauded the Danish state of more than 9 billion krone (£990 million).

The company’s services were also used by Juan Ángel Napout Barreto, the Paraguayan football executive and FIFA committee member now serving a nine-year jail sentence for racketeering and wire fraud conspiracy.

Of course, this does not mean that the company itself was or is aware of the fraudulent nature of the activities of any of its clients, or indeed that any of its other clients are engaged in racketeering, money-laundering or fraud.

Miro Forestry Company Limited does indeed engage in forestry in Ghana and Sierra Leone, in West Africa. But its website appears to show a business that is “primarily a commercial timber operation”, with a focus much more on the processing and sale of timber products than on biodiversity.

In March of this year the company placed an advertisement in The Times of Sierra Leone in which it described itself thus: “Miro Forestry Company operates in Ghana and Sierra Leone developing over 18,000 hectares of commercial trees to produce globally high-quality and cost competitive commercial forestry plantations: plywood, sawn timber panels, poles and wood biomass.”

Perhaps this is a case of horses for courses, with some investors likely to be drawn more to the idea of commercial processing, and indeed burning, of wood – aspects of the business that might be somewhat less than appealing to the environmentally-minded than the idea of reforestation in the name of nature and biodiversity.

Many environmental organisations are highly sceptical of the value of forestry being used to generate “carbon credits” to offset carbon emissions elsewhere, and particularly so if the products of such forestry are burned as biofuel.  In 2014, a report by Biofuel Watch noted:

 “As Europe’s wood bioenergy demand increases, growing imports from the global South can be  expected. South America (especially Brazil), Central and West Africa are seen as the most likely future sourcing regions.”

The report warned that:

“Serious concerns have been expressed that wood biomass imports from the South could lead to further land-grabs, threatening food security and food sovereignty, communities’ access to water, human rights and biodiversity.”

The same report mentioned Miro Forestry as a company whose reporting on its activities seemed to blur the distinction between timber and wood for biomass burning. And, as environmentalist and West County Bylines author Miles King noted yesterday, there are question marks over the tree species planted by the company as part of the Sierra Leone project that DGB is holding up as an example of reforestation and biodiversity.

As Greenpeace has explained, the problem with carbon offsetting is that it just doesn’t work as advertised:

“Moving carbon from the atmosphere back to the land through reforestation and restoration of degraded ecosystems can reduce atmospheric carbon, but cannot offset ongoing fossil fuel emissions. This is because carbon in the atmosphere and carbon in land systems are both part of the “active” land-atmosphere-ocean carbon cycle – increasing the carbon in land systems parks that carbon in an unstable part of this active system, with no guarantee for it to remain there permanently.”

Even worse, encouraging people to think that planting trees can make up for carbon emissions elsewhere is likely to slow down rather than speed up the transition to a zero-carbon economy – which is the only way the world has a chance of avoiding climate catastrophe.

Farage’s involvement with DGB would be strange enough, but In September of last year the company issued a press release to announce “the appointment of Mr John Mappin and Mrs Irina Kudrenok-Mappin as Chairman and Director of the Supervisory Board”.

As West Country Bylines’ readers may remember, the Mappins are the proprietors of the Camelot Castle Hotel in Cornwall, an establishment that flies the QAnon flag from its battlements and has been compared in TripAdvisor reviews to the hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror movie, The Shining.

Surprising choices, then, to chair and direct the board of a business promoting ethical investment. And all the more so given that Mappin has shared material on Twitter that suggests he thinks the science of global warming is a hoax, or perhaps “an invention of the CIA”.

As well as being a prolific conspiracy theorist, a keen Scientologist and a leading supporter of the far-right organisation Turning Point, John Mappin has a distinctly chequered business history.

In 2002, he was successfully sued for fraudulent misrepresentation by Benjamin Pell (also known as Benji the Binman, due to his habit of sifting through the bins of celebrities). Pell had unwisely given Mappin £77,000, which Mappin claimed he would use to make a film of Pell’s life story.

The judge in the case commented that Mappin’s deception had begun when he “lied to the police” over the money Mr Pell had paid to him, and that this had been compounded when he went on to give a witness statement to the court that gave “a wholly mendacious account of his dealings with Mr Pell”.

Mappin had told Pell that the director of the film would be an American “filmmaker” who had “helped shape the career of John Travolta”. In fact, this “filmmaker” turned out to be Mappin’s hairdresser, Iain Jones, who, the judge found, “had no knowledge or experience of filmmaking”.

Anyone tempted to invest in DGB might be wise to do some thorough due diligence before entrusting their money to the company. As the old saying goes, “money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Except, perhaps, if you are Nigel Farage or John Mappin.