Even earlier than Uber’s prime executives arrived in Davos in January 2016, its bosses have been making an attempt to safe invites to the unique social gathering hosted by the billionaire Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska. Well-known for its free-flowing vodka, the occasion was an invitation-only, after-hours fixture of the world financial discussion board, the annual gathering of company leaders and politicians within the Swiss Alps.
Happily for Uber, it had employed somebody who might pull strings. “Put them on listing at door,” ordered Peter Mandelson, in keeping with messages within the Uber recordsdata information leak.
Lord Mandelson’s enterprise associate at their “strategic advisory” agency International Counsel, Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, rapidly secured entry for a gaggle of Uber executives. And when the large night time got here, considered one of Uber’s prime staffers, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, danced exuberantly with a troupe of costumed Cossack musicians.
It was identified that Mandelson, a member of the Home of Lords, was a longtime buddy of Deripaska. However leaked emails and textual content messages reveal the total extent to which the previous Labour minister, who served beneath Tony Blair, has monetised his entry to a wider array of pro-Kremlin billionaires.
Paperwork present how International Counsel secretly labored behind the scenes for Uber, with Mandelson and Wegg-Prosser showing to function as discreet advisers for the corporate in Russia between 2015 and 2016, brokering introductions with senior authorities officers and highly effective enterprise figures.
The pair helped Uber entry Russia’s monetary and political elites and handle delicate relationships with oligarchs who’ve since been positioned beneath sanctions by the UK and EU within the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
International Counsel, which was arrange after Mandelson left authorities in 2010, has beforehand mentioned it’s doesn’t have interaction in lobbying and differentiated its actions from these of conventional public affairs consultancies. It stresses that it affords firms strategic and coverage recommendation, not lobbying providers.
Nonetheless, the paperwork recommend the agency performed an instrumental function in supporting Uber’s personal lobbying actions and engaged with politicians and policymakers on the corporate’s behalf in each Russia and Europe.
The recordsdata additionally increase questions for International Counsel about what Wegg-Prosser knew a few secret cost Uber made to a political operative in Russia regardless of inner issues inside Uber that paying the lobbyist carried a danger of corruption.
Legal professionals for International Counsel mentioned the agency was not concerned in any association between Uber and the Russian lobbyist. They confused International Counsel “expressly refutes any suggestion in any respect” that it was in breach of any anti-corruption legal guidelines.
However the recordsdata place a highlight on Mandelson and Wegg-Prosser, a former communications adviser to Blair, and their relationships with individuals who have allegedly benefited from sustaining shut ties to the Kremlin.
‘We wish somebody aligned with Putin’
In early 2015, as Uber confronted vital headwinds in Russia and located itself with few mates, Wegg-Prosser met Uber’s Moscow-based executives and impressed them along with his handle e book. “Use this Wegg-Prosser man on demand for his contacts and entry,” one govt advisable.
Weeks later, Mandelson visited Uber’s worldwide headquarters in Amsterdam to debate how International Counsel might assist the corporate, sealing what would change into a detailed working relationship with Uber’s chief lobbyist in Europe, Mark MacGann.
The connection would generate nearly £200,000 in charges for International Counsel between 2015 and 2016, paperwork recommend, as Uber continuously turned to Mandelson and Wegg-Prosser for assist in Russia and recommendation on its lobbying technique throughout Europe.
In 2015, Uber was searching for “strategic allies” in Russia and had begun approaching politically related oligarchs it believed might assist foyer for the corporate’s pursuits. Emil Michael, considered one of Uber’s prime executives on the time, had described the corporate’s objective to colleagues: “We wish somebody aligned with Putin.”
For recommendation on navigating Russia’s enterprise elites, Uber turned to Mandelson and Wegg-Prosser. Each knew Moscow properly. On the time, Mandelson sat on the board of considered one of Russia’s largest conglomerates, whereas Wegg-Prosser – a former journalist who labored on the Guardian between 2000 and 2005 – had labored as a senior govt at a Russian media firm.
When Uber struck a $200m funding cope with a agency managed by Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven in 2016, Wegg-Prosser advisable it set up a “direct line” with the 2 oligarchs. This was one thing he might assist with, he mentioned, boasting of his means to speak straight with Aven over the telephone.
Recordsdata recommend Mandelson additionally performed his half and helped Uber safe an April 2016 assembly with Aven to debate how the previous minister – who on the time attended frequent conferences with Putin – might assist the corporate overcome the political points it confronted in Russia. Afterwards, Wegg-Prosser thanked Aven for a “very reassuring” assembly.
Months later, as he helped Uber put together a visit by Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, to Moscow, Wegg-Prosser turned to Aven once more, this time for a “cheeky”, although in the end unsuccessful, request: might he repair a gathering between Kalanick and Putin’s chief of workers, Sergei Ivanov?
“Would possibly you be capable of make a name/join us?” Wegg-Prosser requested. Mandelson adopted up, thanking Aven for his help.
Aven instructed the Guardian he knew Wegg-Prosser “very properly” and continuously spoke to him, nonetheless the oligarch mentioned he stayed out of politics and was not concerned in Uber’s Russian lobbying efforts. In a press release, Uber mentioned its present management “disavows any earlier relationships with anybody related to the Putin regime”.
Entry was not all that Wegg-Prosser and Mandelson provided. Paperwork recommend the pair counselled Uber on the realities of doing enterprise in Moscow and the sensitivities of working in usually opaque waters.
When Uber agreed to make a big cost to Fridman and Aven’s firm’s influential lobbyist Vladimir Senin, Uber’s attorneys raised issues the cost risked breaching US anti-bribery legal guidelines. The problem is claimed to have prompted appreciable “inner strife” at Uber however Wegg-Prosser was available to advise on dealing with the state of affairs.
Initially he mentioned he wouldn’t be “snug” with paying Senin, but additionally appeared dismissive when Uber’s attorneys proposed a collection of solutions about inserting anti-corruption provisions into Senin’s contract.
In an e mail to Uber’s MacGann, who requested his views on the proposals, Wegg-Prosser wrote: “I see this on a regular basis from fool attorneys within the US who suppose that the world ought to work like a suburb of Seattle.” He mentioned the thought of requesting the oligarchs’ lobbyist to finish compliance coaching “will make you look absurd. You simply want a contract that claims they carry the danger.”
Recordsdata recommend that regardless of his earlier discomfort, Wegg-Prosser at one stage turned concerned in discussions associated to the cost and personally assured Aven the lobbyist had obtained a monetary reward.
“I spoke to Aven immediately re Senin,” Wegg-Prosser instructed a senior Uber govt in July 2016. “I defined Uber v grateful to for Senin help however had put work on maintain. Stated Senin had been paid correctly for his help (I discussed quantity). Aven mentioned he knew, was glad to listen to shifting in proper route and knew Uber had executed proper factor.”
Senin didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.
An influencers’ dinner
Mandelson and Wegg-Prosser suggested Uber there was a higher prize than the Fridman and Aven relationship. They urged the corporate to domesticate Herman Gref, the chief govt of the state-controlled Sberbank and a key Moscow powerbroker. “In the long term, Gref is extra necessary,” Wegg-Prosser instructed Uber.
A former economic system minister beneath Putin, Gref had earned a status as an influential however liberal adviser within the president’s ruling circle. The pair had first labored collectively in St Petersburg within the Nineteen Nineties. In March, the US imposed sanctions on Gref, describing him as a “shut Putin affiliate”. Gref didn’t reply to requests for remark.
In accordance with inner messages exchanged between Uber lobbyists, Mandelson arrange a key assembly with the state banker in Moscow in July 2015. The next 12 months, when Gref attended Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, International Counsel was described by MacGann because the “architect” of the go to.
Earlier than Davos in 2016, Wegg-Prosser provided to assist Uber’s management safe a seat at a key Russian gathering hosted by Gref at a five-star Alpine lodge. “The occasion is all the time the principle Russian dialogue discussion board. PM often does slightly flip,” he wrote to MacGann, referring to Mandelson.
Later, in June 2016, Wegg-Prosser performed a key function in organising an “influencers’ dinner” in Moscow hosted by Gref for Uber. He helped arrange the occasion, crafting the invitation listing and seating plan that positioned influential Russian enterprise individuals and authorities ministers alongside senior Uber executives.
He was additionally eager to make sure he had a spot on the desk. “I’m a employed gun I do know, however I do wish to attend the dinner,” he insisted to MacGann.
However Uber’s employed weapons didn’t come low cost. Alarmed by escalating charges charged by Mandelson and Wegg-Prosser’s agency, a US-based govt warned: “These guys are extraordinarily expensive and type of breaking the funds.”
MacGann was clear about their contribution, stressing their function in securing conferences with senior figures within the Kremlin.
When an Uber govt dragged her toes on paying International Counsel’s charges, Wegg-Prosser bristled, evaluating its work in Russia to the diplomacy of two former US secretaries of state. “She wants to grasp we’ve executed the kind of heavy lifting an Albright or Kissinger can be charging $100,000s for.”
In a press release, International Counsel mentioned it stopped working for Uber in 2017. Mandelson’s firm mentioned it was appointed by Uber’s European coverage staff to supply recommendation “concerning the corporate’s worldwide technique” and the work was “undertaken in adherence with all related EU and UK pointers”. It mentioned the agency made clear in February it doesn’t have any Russian shoppers.
A spokesperson for Kalanick mentioned his involvement in Uber’s Russia technique was restricted and he was “not conscious of anybody appearing on Uber’s behalf in Russia who engaged in any conduct that may have violated Russian or US legislation”.
By January 2018 – months earlier than the US imposed sanctions on Deripaska citing his alleged shut ties to the Russian state in addition to allegations of cash laundering, racketeering and extortion, which he denied – Mandelson was again in Davos for an additional of the oligarch’s famed annual events.
This time, Enrique Iglesias gave a non-public efficiency and it was the previous Labour minister who made his approach on to the dance ground. Amid a haze of dry ice, a photographer captured Mandelson dancing because the Latin pop star labored his approach by means of hits together with Hero and Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You).
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