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Britons riled over Anschutz ranch trip
A deputy prime minister took a trip to the financier's spread near Greeley, which looks to some like a conflict of interest.
By Tom McGhee, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Saturday, July 8, 2006

A political scandal is brewing over the visit of a high-ranking British official to the northeastern Colorado ranch of financier Philip Anschutz.

British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott faces a parliamentary probe after reports that he spent two days in July 2005 at Anschutz's 32,000-acre ranch near Greeley.

AEG, a Los Angeles-based subsidiary of the Anschutz Corp., has partnered with a company that plans to develop a hotel and casino in London but needs government approval for the casino.

Prescott is Prime Minister Tony Blair's second-in-command.  Until May, he was in charge of rules managing planning and development, one of the hurdles a casino would have to clear before it could open, according to Bloomberg News.

Prescott, 68, has denied that the trip reflected a conflict of interest, saying he had no influence over casino licensing.  That is managed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and by an independent regulator, according to Bloomberg News.

Anschutz spokesman Jim Monaghan wouldn't comment on the reports.

The Times of London reported that Prescott and a three-member party spent two nights at Anschutz's Equus Ranch, a complex that includes a nine-hole golf course and a spa, before flying to Los Angeles to meet with Timothy Leiweke, chief executive of AEG.

The ranch is a powerful presence in the Greeley area.  The Greeley-Weld County Airport, 20 minutes from Eagles Nest, gets a boost in revenue whenever Anschutz hosts hunting and golf events there.  The 15 to 20 private airplanes that land at the airport for such events increase fuel sales, said Mike Reisman, airport manager.

In response to questions over the ethics of his free stay, Prescott donated money to a charity to cover the cost of hotel rooms for his party's stay at the ranch.

AEG has the rights to develop London's Millennium Dome, now known as The O2 -- after the company that bought the naming rights -- and the area around it.  South African Kerzner International plans to build a hotel and casino on the site.

The Times of London reported that Prescott met with Anschutz on six other occasions in the past three years.  Other media reported that their conversations touched on a mutual interest in William Wilberforce, a British leader who rallied opposition to the slave trade and died in 1833.

The British government will grant only one license for a casino with unlimited jackpots like the one Kerzner plans to build and operate.  An advisory panel will choose from eight sites, including The O2.

"We always planned to lease space to a casino," said AEG spokesman Michael Roth, "but we wouldn't own the license, we wouldn't operate it.  We are only the landlords."

In Los Angeles, after Prescott's visit to Colorado, Leiweke and Prescott attended a Los Angeles Galaxy soccer game at the Home Depot Center together, Roth said.  AEG is developing the area around the Staples Center in L.A., a project similar to The O2.  Both will include a sports arena as the centerpiece of a broader project that will include housing, theaters, hotels and offices.

Roth said Leiweke and Prescott discussed the affordable-housing component planned for the Staples Center development.

Prescott was already under fire after admitting to an affair with a secretary, according to The Times.

A spokesman for Blair reportedly said the prime minister retained "full confidence" in his deputy.

This isn't the first time that Anschutz and his ranch have made news.  For nearly a decade, he was locked in a battle with the owner of a neighboring hog farm over the stench wafting from the hog pens.

Bill Haw, then president and chief executive of National Hog Farms, based in Kansas City, Mo., was forced to shutter his Kersey operations in 2000.  At the time, Haw said Anschutz won the battle because of Anschutz's political influence.

Staff writer Margaret Jackson contributed to this report.

Staff writer Tom McGhee can be reached at 303-820-1671 or tmcghee@denverpost.com.



http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_4017383