European commission officials who worked for Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, issued a misleading statement about the history of his relationship with Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire, the Guardian has established.
Mandelson’s officials in Brussels, where he served as trade commissioner before returning to a role in the government earlier this month, said the two men met “at a few social gatherings in 2006 and 2007”, but had never discussed aluminium, the main source of Deripaska’s wealth.
However, Mandelson and Deripaska were seen together at a Moscow restaurant in October 2004, after he had been appointed trade commissioner, but before he formally took up the post. A journalist spoke to both men and their companion, German Gref, who was then the Russian economics minister, and the event is also described in the blog of Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Mandelson’s former adviser and close friend.
The statement by the European officials is understood to be based on information provided by Mandelson himself. It is unclear why the business secretary has not corrected it to reflect the earlier meetings. The disclosure that the two men had met earlier is likely to fuel Conservative demands for an investigation into the relationship between Mandelson and the Russian oligarch.
It is against the law to accept political donations from foreigners but the Electoral Commission, which polices party funding laws, may refuse to get involved because no donation was made. The Labour MP Tony Wright, who chairs the Public Administration Select Committee, also said he saw no need for an investigation – unless it was an internal Tory one – because no laws had been broken.
But the Labour backbencher Denis MacShane, who suggested that Mr Osborne may have broken the law by acting to facilitate what would have been an unlawful donation, made the first move to force an inquiry.
This afternoon, Mr MacShane wrote to Mr Osborne saying that there were likely to be questions for the Electoral Commission to investigate and asking him a series of questions about the events in Corfu and his own role in them.
David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative leader who increasingly looks like the country’s next prime minister, warned in Tbilisi today (Telegraph) that
Russia must not be allowed to dictate the composition of Nato as he met with Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili to express British solidarity with the beleaguered nation.
Standing side-by-side with Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, Mr Cameron said Russia must immediately end its “illegal” invasion of its Caucasian neighbour.
“I think it’s important that the world’s oldest democracy must stand with one of the newest when it’s been illegally invaded by another country,” he said. “We wanted to come to express the strongest possible support of the British people, British government and British opposition for Georgia, its independence and integrity.”