A Conservative MP has claimed that a billionaire who founded an influential pro-Brexit thinktank has “a link with Russian intelligence”.
In a speech made in the Commons under parliamentary privilege, Bob Seely alleged that Christopher Chandler had been an “object of interest” to French intelligence. Chandler – who founded the Legatum thinktank – rejected the claim as “complete nonsense”.
Seely said that he and four other MPs had seen documents from Monaco’s security department. These “brief, terse, factual files” related to “national security and money laundering” and included information supplied by the DST intelligence agency, France’s equivalent of MI5.
The MP said senior French intelligence sources plus their British and American counterparts had “authenticated” their content. He added: “The documents indicated a link – a noted individual in this country – with Russian intelligence.”
The files dated from 2005 and covered a period from the mid-1990s, he said. They concerned “Christopher Chandler and his brother”, the MP said, adding that he was convinced the files were genuine.
He told the Commons: “According to the French intelligence services, as recorded by their colleagues in Monaco … Mr Chandler is described as having been ‘an object of interest’ to the DST since 2002 on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence services.”
Monaco intelligence division had marked Chandler’s file with an S, to indicate “counter-espionage”, he added.
The Legatum Institute has advocated hard Brexit and has had significant influence on ministerial thinking, especially over trade policy. Chandler and his brother Richard were born in New Zealand and made their fortunes from a series of investments in Russia in the 1990s.
Legatum robustly denied the MP’s allegations on Tuesday. In a statement, the institute said that Chandler “has never been associated directly or indirectly with Russian intelligence or the Russian state”.
It added: “Neither Christopher Chandler nor anyone at Legatum is aware of any such alleged “investigation” by the French authorities, not 16 years ago or at any time since.
“To be clear Christopher Chandler has never been approached at any time by the French or any other authorities regarding Russia and maintains a sterling record of ethical business practices earned over many decades.”
p style=”text-align: justify;”>It called the accusations “complete nonsense” and said Legatum had “previously rebutted them”.
Speaking in the Commons, the MP Ben Bradshaw who has previously raised questions about the Kremlin’s possible role in Brexit said he called for an investigation into Legatum last November.
Bradshaw said he was concerned by Seely’s new “information” and by the “growing corruption, money laundering and sale of passports by Malta, where Chandler has just acquired citizenship”. The MP called on the UK authorities to “urgently investigate”.
Last year the Mail on Sunday published a detailed story on Chandler’s alleged ties to Moscow. It claimed that Legatum’s economics director, Shanker Singham, had met Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and had coordinated a letter written by them to Theresa May demanding a hard Brexit.
Singham held discussions with leading cabinet Brexiteers on multiple occasions, and saw representatives of David Davis’s department six times in the year up to August 2017, it has been reported. Singh recently left to work for a rightwing thin tank. Legatum said at the time in a statement that Singh had been sought out for his “unparalleled knowledge and expertise”.
Legatum has said it will do less Brexit work and instead concentrate on the benefits of international trade. Chandler and Legatum’s chief executive, Mark Stoleson, became Maltese citizens in 2015. They say their applications were unrelated to Brexit, and were made the previous year.
The Legatum institute responded to the Mail on Sunday with a lengthy statement. Among other things, it said that Chandler was “a much-loved friend of the institute” but that he had no role within it.