Fine dining for Dimon at the Palace raises concerns of commercialization
It must have been a welcome spot of light relief for Jamie Dimon. Only days after he finally agreed to a $13 billion settlement with U.S. mortgage regulators, the boss of JPMorgan – and dozens of his corporate clients - were sitting back amid the splendor of Buckingham Palace, enjoying a fine dinner and performances by the Royal Philharmonic and the English National Ballet.
The event, hosted by Prince Andrew, Duke of York, reflects growing enthusiasm by the Royal Family to use its premises to promote business interests. But it also risks stoking criticism over its apparent commercialization and its intimacy with business.
One senior participant said the bank paid nothing for the evening but the Palace said the bank paid an undisclosed fee for food, drink and the venue. The bank said it also made charitable donations to the orchestra and ballet company.
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According to the Palace, the Duke of York is involved in efforts to support British business, and the event was an opportunity to "engage" with international chief executives about what Britain has to offer.
Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the home affairs select committee, said the arrangement threatened to undermine the cachet of the royal palaces and even the security of the royal family.
He compared it to controversial plans to open up the House of Commons to businesses, telling the Financial Times: "It could be that a company perhaps is not blue chip but may look it. We could take their money and only afterwards find out it is not an appropriate company to book a room in Buckingham Palace."
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He added: "There is also the fact that this should be a special place. This is the home of the Queen. Where is it all going to end?"
The JPMorgan event on October 30, had a guestlist that included up to 100 corporate and political heavyweights, ranging from Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, to Indian industrialist Ratan Tata. Also present was Tony Blair, the former prime minister who chairs JPMorgan's "international council" of senior advisers.
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Key to organizing the night was David Mayhew, the veteran City dealmaker who agreed a decade ago to sell to JPMorgan the Cazenove brokerage he led for many years. Mr Mayhew, still an adviser to JPMorgan, is a close personal friend of Prince Andrew.
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Paul Flynn, a republican Labour MP, said renting out Buckingham Palace to U.S. investment banks should be only the start in making the royal family less dependent on the taxpayer. "I think they could raise about £100 million a year by renting out rooms to tourists on a timeshare basis - they've got about 600 rooms," he said.
Prince Andrew has a mixed record in promoting British business. He stepped down two years ago as the U.K.'s trade envoy following a string of controversies over his business links, most notably his close friendship with U.S. tycoon Jeffrey Epstein who was jailed for sex offences.