Tuesday, 25 March 2003

'Ex-presidents club' gets fat on conflict

High-flying venture capital firm Carlyle Group cashes in when the tanks roll, writes Jamie Doward

It is the sort of thing they really could have done without. For 15 years one of America's most powerful venture capital groups has tried to play down suggestions that its multi-billion dollar funds get fat on the back of global conflict. But now, with the invasion of Iraq under way, a new book chronicling the relatively short history of the Carlyle Group threatens to draw attention to the company's close links with the Pentagon.

Dan Briody, author of the Iron Triangle, Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group, alleges the company's executives were so worried about his book they told staff not to talk to him. The Carlyle Group rejects this and argues the book is little more than a cuttings job based around some of the more crazy conspiracy theories found on the internet. It also points out that only around 7 per cent of its funds are invested in defence companies, far less than several other venture capital groups.

'Peel away the layers of factual errors and self-righteousness and all you're left with is baseless innuendo. This book should be exposed for what it is: a compilation of recycled conspiracy theories masquerading as investigative journalism,' said Chris Ullman, Carlyle's spokesman.

But Briody's account of how an upstart venture capi tal firm went from nothing to managing funds of nearly $14 billion in just 15 years, earning investors returns of around 36 per cent, is likely to reinforce the controversial image of the Carlyle Group and raise concerns about its influence in Washington and beyond.

Sometimes called the Ex-Presidents Club, Carlyle has a glittering array of ex-politicians and big league bankers on its board. Former secretary of state James Baker is managing director while ex-secretary of defence Frank Carlucci is chairman. George Bush senior is an adviser. John Major heads up its European operations. To give the conspiracy theorists plenty of ammunition, US newspapers have also highlighted the fact that current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a wrestling partner of Carlucci's at Princeton and the two have remained close friends ever since.

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