A London-based think-tank with strong connections to senior Brexiteers has rejected claims that it has links with President Putin.
The Legatum Institute has dismissed reports in the Mail on Sunday that it was behind a letter sent by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to Theresa May.
In the letter two of the Cabinet’s leading Brexit supporters urged the PM to take a tougher stance on ministers who were not deemed to be putting “sufficient energy” into divorce planning.
The paper claimed that Shanker Singham, Legatum’s director of economic policy, helped to secretly draw up hard Brexit plans. The paper also claimed to have uncovered a Russia-link to the think-tank.
In a lengthy post on its website the Legatum Institute said all the claims against it were “patently false, completely unsubstantiated and frankly laughable”.
What is the Legatum Institute?
This is a tale of three Legatums. The Legatum Institute, the Legatum Foundation and the Legatum Group.
The Legatum Institute is a charity which was set up in 2009 and operates out of a townhouse in the affluent area of Mayfair.
It claims to offer “leadership” and “vision” to groups, including politicians, who want “effective new responses to the deepest problems in society”.
Documents submitted to the Charity Commission show the Legatum Institute received total donations of just over £3m in 2016, more than 90% of which came from the Legatum Foundation.
According to its website the Legatum Foundation is the philanthropic and development arm of the bigger Legatum Group, a private investment partnership which was set up by Christopher Chandler in Dubai in 2006.
Mr Chandler is a New Zealand-born billionaire who made his money with Monaco based investment organisation Sovereign Global.
Sovereign profited from investing in what it called “under-valued assets”, often in Asia and the developing world. It also made money in Russia as the country sold off state assets from the 1990s onwards.
Legatum means legacy.
How is the Legatum Instiute connected with senior Brexiteers?
The Legatum Institute has strong links with leading Brexiteers in the Government, the wider Conservative party and in the Vote Leave campaign.
Baroness (Philippa) Stroud, who is chief executive of the Legatum Institute, once worked as a special adviser for Iain Duncan Smith – former Conservative leader and passionate Brexiteer.
Matthew Elliott, who was chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign during the referendum, is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute.
On his website Brexit minister Steve Baker, effectively David Davis’ number two at the Department for Exiting the European Union, describes the Legatum Institute as “remarkable”.
New Zealand born Crawford Falconer – who was named the UK’s chief trade negotiator at Liam Fox’s Department of International Trade – was also the Legatum Institute’s “special trade adviser”.
In July Shanker Singham, the Legatum Institute’s director of economic policy, attended a meeting between business leaders and Brexit Secretary David Davis.
The meeting was held at Chevening, the Government residence the Brexit Secretary shares with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
Mr Singham is believed to have been the only non-business leader invited to the Government event. He has reportedly held seven meetings with senior ministers, most recently with Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
What of ‘the Russia connection’?
Legatum Group admits that Mr Chandler’s Sovereign Global invested in Gazprom, the publicly-listed energy giant which is still largely controlled by the Russian government. Gazprom has links to Vladimir Putin.
However Legatum denies any of its leading figures have ever met Mr Putin and has said: “One is not in cahoots with Putin merely because one owns publicly-listed shares of a Russian company.”
The Legatum Institute describes Mr Chandler as a ‘much-loved friend’ but denies he has a specific role within the organisation.
Critics have pointed out that the Legatum Institute receives the vast bulk of its donations from the Legatum Foundation, and that the Legatum Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Mr Chandler’s Legatum Group.
What are others saying?
Conservative Home editor Mark Wallace has branded the allegations “the most spurious of a spurious tradition of stories on this”.
He told Sky News he had received event invites from the institute including one on “combatting the menace of Russian disinformation” and given a platform to Russian opposition leaders “some of whom can’t even live there anymore”.
But Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake insisted it was “clear” the Government was “extremely sensitive about their very close relationship with the Legatum Institute.
He said: “Ministers must distance themselves from a ‘think tank’ whose agenda is leading the UK to a disastrous no deal Brexit that would inflict permanent damage on UK families and jobs.”
Politicos’ Jack Blanchard told Sky News: “I think it’s true that this think-tank does seem to have a very close role with government.
“It’s been invited to some meetings with David Davis and others where it was quite surprising to see it had somehow got itself in there along with some other very big businesses.
“So I think that’s right that we do need to scrutinise it very closely, but the idea that Putin has changed the direction of this country seems a little bit far-fetched.”