Legatum Group's response to Private Eye magazine's article, 21 February 2019

Legatum Group

This is a response to the profile piece published in the 21st February edition of Private Eye, titled “The Art of Politics – Man in the Eye Special – Ehud Sheleg”, written in collaboration with Finance Uncovered and the Times of Israel.

The article refers to the Legatum Institute and Christopher Chandler, and contains numerous inaccurate or false statements about them. We have summarised the key errors below.

The Issue

The article and the sub-article on page 5 of the publication, titled “A case for Lewis”, repeat demonstrably false and defamatory statements about Christopher Chandler. Wherever other publications, blogs and individuals have done the same, we have sought redress, whether through legal actions or via the administrative and regulatory process that the Independent Press Standards Organisation process affords when this is available. Eleven out of twelve actions that we have initiated have been resolved in our favour, with two other actions currently continuing. The only reason why these untrue and defamatory statements remain in the public discourse is because the members of Parliament who made the statements did so under the protection afforded by Parliamentary privilege.

We have made repeated attempts to engage with the MPs, to demonstrate factually and conclusively that their statements were patently false and give them the opportunity to correct the record. Sadly, they have all steadfastly refused to engage. By way of example, Christopher Chandler has written three personal letters to Bob Seely MP, and our mutual contacts have made over 20 informal appeals to Mr Seely since May 2018, notifying him of our desire to share crucial facts and evidence with him that would allow him the opportunity to do the right thing and help to restore an innocent man’s reputation by making a correction on the record in the House of Commons. No response has been forthcoming.

Responses to the erroneous statements

1. The Private Eye reports: “… his brother Christopher (owner of the hard-Brexit pushing Legatum Institute)”

Truth:

The Legatum Institute is a UK registered educational charity run by a CEO with a board of trustees. Christopher Chandler is neither the CEO nor a trustee. He does not own the Institute, and plays no part whatsoever in its management, programmatic work or research agenda. The Mail on Sunday made the same inaccurate claim as the Private Eye article for which it later had to publish a correction on 26th August 2018.

Moreover, the Charity Commission effectively confirmed the fact that the Legatum Institute is not “owned” by anyone when it found the Legatum Institute to be independent in its report published in May last year.

Regarding Brexit specifically, the fact is that none of the Legatum Group, Christopher Chandler or the Legatum Institute publicly took or supported any position on the referendum prior to June 2016. In the aftermath of the referendum, the Legatum Institute (acting independently and in line with its educational remit) simply responded by providing research and thinking on solutions that it believed could help Britain get the best outcome possible. This point has been addressed on the Legatum Institute website and the Legatum Group’s website too, in a 7th February 2018 blog post.

The New European accused Mr Chandler of being a ‘big backer of Brexit’ in an article in March 2018 and when confronted with the truth did the honourable thing by setting the record straight in a published apology.

2. The Private Eye reports that the Chandlers “made much of their money in post-Soviet Russia”

Truth:

The investments made by the Chandlers’ Sovereign group in Russia were just one chapter in a much longer story. The Chandlers’ wealth was already well established prior to investing in Russia, principally through a long history of successful business operations and investment in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Brazil, and other markets subsequently.

This point was publicly addressed in our response to an article published by the Mail on Sunday on 6th May 2018. The full statement can be seen here.

3. The Private Eye reports that the Chandlers later “co-operated in Putin-friendly changes at [Gazprom]”

Truth:

The Chandlers have never met nor cooperated with Putin in any matter whatsoever. The line from the article above is very carefully crafted but can be easily misconstrued and as such is misleading. Truth be told, the Chandlers were actually trying to do their part to bring about positive change at Gazprom that would benefit all stakeholders.

Whilst invested in Gazprom, Sovereign’s desire was to see corporate governance reforms at the company. Accordingly, it engaged with United Financial Group (“UFG”), which advised a consortium of minority investors on their investments in the company. There was never any engagement with Putin. Rather, Sovereign supported UFG, which united minority western shareholders and on their behalf had the budget, lawyers and PR capacity to undertake a sustained effort to improve and reform corporate governance at Gazprom. This is a fact confirmed by Charles Ryan, Founder and Former CEO of UFG, in a statement on 12th May 2018.

The Institutional Investor correctly recorded in 2006 that: “to combat the abuses and release the company’s value, the Chandlers backed a campaign by [Charles] Ryan’s partner, UFG chairman Boris Fyodorov, to gain a seat on Gazprom’s board and oust Vyakhirev. At the company’s annual general meeting in July 2000, Sovereign and other minority investors succeeded in getting Fyodorov elected to the board over a management candidate. By teaming up with the five government appointees, who were sympathetic to complaints about management abuses following the election of President Vladimir Putin in March 2000, Fyodorov changed the balance of power at Gazprom.”

Liam Byrne MP also made the false claim that Mr Chandler had helped to lead a coup to appoint one of Putin’s associates as the head of Gazprom in an article in the New European on 25th November 2017. Following a ruling in our favour from IPSO, the New European published a correction which can be seen here, in which they confirm they had no basis to make this claim.

Legatum addressed this claim in much more detail in a response published on our website.

4. The Private Eye reports that the Chandlers “play an important role in the capital of the companies Lukoil and Gazprom”

Truth:

Christopher Chandler plays no role whatsoever in Lukoil or Gazprom. He has not invested in such companies for over a decade. It is public knowledge that Sovereign Asset Management held stakes in many Russian companies in the 1990s and early 2000s, ranging from breweries, oil and gas, steel and telecommunications. Sovereign never owned a controlling stake or had any executive or governance role in any Russian company – including with respect to Lukoil and Gazprom. They were merely minority shareholders in large publicly traded companies listed on the Russian and London stock exchanges.

5. The Private Eye reports on statements made by Liam Byrne MP that the Chandlers are allegedly “connected to money laundering”

Truth:

This is a shocking statement from a serving British member of Parliament, not only because it was (and remains) patently false, but because it is not supported by a shred of evidence, and is therefore a blatant example of an abuse of Parliamentary privilege. It is noteworthy that Mr Byrne has not repeated this statement outside the protected walls of Parliament, as he knows that were he to do so, he would be sued for defamation. The fact is that Mr Chandler is not and has never been involved in money laundering or any of the spurious claims made by Byrne and the other MPs.

This allegation, and all the allegations made by the British members of Parliament in May 2018, stem from the imagination of the thoroughly discredited Robert Eringer 15 years ago. It is crucial to understand that the entire basis for Eringer’s false claims against Christopher Chandler is rooted in his mistaken or maliciously motivated conflation of an unrelated Swiss-based group of companies with the word “Sovereign” in their corporate names – which were reportedly engaged in wrongdoing – with the similarly-named but entirely unrelated Sovereign Asset Management, which Mr Chandler co-owned and was based in Monaco. It was the Sovereign group in Zurich which was closed down by the Eidgenössischen Bankenkommission (the “EBK”) for alleged involvement in money laundering and for links with Chechen/Russian interests – nothing whatsoever to do with the Chandler brothers’ business, despite Mr Eringer’s efforts to construct a connection.

Legatum notified Mr Byrne of this in a letter to him dated 19th December 2017. The letter to Mr Byrne received no response. Instead, Mr Byrne saw fit to again link the Chandler brothers to money laundering activities under the protection of Parliamentary privilege, whilst having full knowledge of the truth. The fact that Mr Eringer got this so wrong is evidenced even further by the letter received from the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Canton of Zurich dated 19th October 2018. The Chief Public Prosecutor had investigated the Swiss-based Sovereign group in 2002, and these companies were shut down by the Swiss authorities shortly thereafter. In his letter, the Chief Public Prosecutor provides unequivocal written confirmation that there was no relationship between the Swiss-based Sovereign and Mr Chandler’s Monaco-based Sovereign – a fact that is further substantiated by the Decision of the Swiss Federal Banking Commission, dated September 2002, which examines the Swiss case in detail but makes no mention whatsoever of Mr Chandler. The prosecutor’s letter was also covered in detail by Buzzfeed in their 13th November 2018 article.

In addition, this claim was also repeated by Borderlex.eu, a fringe blog covering trade policy, in 2017. The author published a retraction and apology shortly afterwards.

6. The Private Eye reports that the Chandlers were “linked to longstanding… Russian figures who could be linked to organised crime” and that they were “linked to a Chechen mafia figure”

Truth:

At no time has Christopher Chandler ever engaged with any figures linked to organised crime – whether in Russia or anywhere else. Furthermore, he never knew or met the ‘Chechen mafia figure’ referenced, and has no connections whatsoever with him – nor any other Chechens or alleged ‘mafia figures’, for that matter.

Again, it is evident that these allegations stem from Robert Eringer’s monumental case of mistaken identity – as it was the unrelated Sovereign group in Zurich which was closed down by the EBK for alleged involvement in money laundering and for links with Chechen/Russian interests.



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