Mandelson’s right-hand man merged firm with business owned by sanctioned Russian bank

Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, who donated to anti-Corbyn group and founded firm with Mandelson, also still listed as ‘expert’ on Russian think-tank site, but denies any link

The former Blair adviser who runs Global Counsel, the firm he co-founded with Keir Starmer’s chief adviser Peter Mandelson – Mandelson reportedly still chairs the firm – merged a media business with a Russian search engine wholly owned by a sanctioned Russian state bank. He has denied any ongoing links.

Benjamin Wegg-Prosser started Russian media business SUP, which was merged in 2013 with Russian search engine Rambler. Rambler is owned by the state-owned Sberbank, which has now been sanctioned by Russian nations. The merger is mentioned in Mr Wegg-Prosser’s bio on the website of the Russian think-tank The Valdai Club (TVC), where he is listed as one of VDC’s ‘experts’. The bio also says that he advises corporations on ‘business development opportunities’ in Russia:

Wegg-Prosser’s Global Counsel profile, which refers to his previous ‘roles in publishing in both the UK and Russia, contains a link to an audio discussion, published earlier this month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, with ‘a Moscow-based investment strategist and founding partner of Macro-Advisory, to talk through the sanctions’ impact on corporates and investors and the specific challenges they face in Russia and the wider region‘.

Skwawkbox asked Mr Wegg-Prosser:

you are currently still listed as an ‘expert’ on the site of the Valdai Discussion Club, which according to its website was founded by four Russian entities at least two of which are state organisations. Do you still have links with the VDC?

– according to your VDC profile, you ‘co-founded a digital media business in Russia in 2006 which was subsequently merged with Rambler in 2013’. Rambler is entirely owned by the state-owned Sberbank, which has been sanctioned. Do you still have links with Rambler, Sberbank or the merged digital media business – which presumably is SUP?

– according to the same profile, you advise ‘multi-nationals on business development opportunities in international markets, including Russia and the CIS’. Have you now ended those Russian activities and severed links with Russian clients?

– in a recent article on the Global Counsel website, you discuss ‘the specific challenges [corporates and investors] face in Russia’. Is advising businesses on how to handle the ‘challenges they face in Russia’ in keeping with the spirit of sanctions meant to make companies and individuals divest their Russian investments?

Mr Wegg-Prosser responded, denying any ongoing links:

Please note the following. In response to your questions:

– No role / relationship with Valdai
– No role / relationship with Sberbank / Rambler
– No Russian clients.
– Supporting clients divest or scale back their Russian profile is focal point of our work.

We have a zero tolerance approach to errors or misrepresentation.

His response also made reference to a media statement issued by Global Counsel following claims earlier this month on the right-wing Guido Fawkes website:

This week Global Counsel (GC) has explained to a number of media outlets that this blog by Guido (and other social media comments by him) with regards to Global Counsel are wrong and actionable. 

For the record, as has been confirmed with mainstream media throughout this week:

GC does not have “5 colleagues working on Russian clients”
GC does not work for any Russian state-owned companies
GC does not work for any Russian “oligarchs” or their associated businesses
GC does not work for any other kind of Russian owned entity

GC’s coverage of Russia is exclusively focussed on advising international businesses on the policy and political fall-out from the crisis in Ukraine – much of this is covered on our website.

Last weekend, Keir Starmer appeared on national news media to assert that Boris Johnson has ‘serious questions to answer’ about his links with Russian oligarchs including Evgeny Medvedev, who was made a peer by Johnson in 2020.

Starmer continues to retain Peter Mandelson as his senior adviser, despite Mandelson’s extensive and well-known links with Russian businessmen and even Vladimir Putin himself, as well as his friendship with deceased child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

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