Ian Taylor is one of the UK’s wealthiest businessmen, chairman of the Royal Opera House, and a generous donor to the arts and the governing Conservative party. He rubs shoulders with cabinet ministers, boasts a fabulous private art collection and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to stop Brexit and Scottish independence. His choice for lunch is a quintessentially English establishment: the five-star Goring Hotel, close to Buckingham Palace. Yet Taylor is not exactly Mr Conventional. He runs a company you’ve probably never heard of: Vitol, the world’s largest independent oil trader. He has done business with some of the least savoury regimes in the world, from Castro’s Cuba to Saddam’s Iraq, via Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia. If he is indeed an English gentleman, he fits the tradition of the Elizabethan buccaneer, albeit without the knighthoods bestowed on Drake, Grenville and Raleigh — a sore point, of which more later. Taylor is seated at his usual far corner tabl...

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