This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
The former Cabinet minister approached senior Egyptian officials before the uprising in an attempt to win lucrative work for Global Counsel, his Knightsbridge-based “strategic advisory” firm.
At the same time, he was publicly defending “reformists” in the regime, including the Egyptian president’s son Gamal Mubarak.
He also apparently offered to use his role at a think tank which is close to Labour to help his international clients.
The disclosure follows controversy over former prime minister Tony Blair’s business interests and his relationships with the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the current Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP, said last night: “I would never criticise Lord Mandelson for being involved in business, but you have got to ask yourself why he gave such plaudits to a regime that was obviously oppressive and which ultimately fell at the will of the people.”
Lord Mandelson voiced support for the regime of Hosni Mubarak
Lord Mandelson’s company was set up last December to “support international businesses” and to devise “market entry strategies”.
A month later he wrote to the Egyptian ambassador in London, Hatem Seif El Nasr, who contacted the then minister of foreign trade in Cairo, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, on January 31, outlining Lord Mandelson’s offer.
Mr El Nasr’s letter, written in Arabic and bearing the Egyptian government seal, stated that Lord Mandelson was “establishing a new international company of his own for economic advisory to render support and economic consulting for businessmen and enterprise”.
“The new company aims at renewing and reintroducing the commercial franchises to new communities, and helping grand agencies and organisations to accomplish new goals and make use and adapt with the globalisation consequences on these companies,” it added.
Mr El Nasr wrote that Lord Mandelson had said the firm’s aims included “helping companies and organisations understand the economic challenges… to overcome the business obstacles of new markets”.
He went on to explain that Lord Mandelson “will be the head of the new company” and Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, his former Whitehall aide, “who used to be… an adviser for… Tony Blair” will be its chief executive.
“Lord Mandelson will also be the head of a new committee set up by the Institute for Public Policy Research [IPPR] to research how the global economy can benefit from globalisation,” he wrote.
“Lord Mandelson hopes that his new positions can contribute to the development of the interrelations between the West and the rising markets around the world in order to achieve the common interest.”
Lord Mandelson’s spokesman said the peer had written to a number of embassies, although he would not disclose which ones, and also to company chief executives about Global Counsel.
On Feb 1, Lord Mandelson wrote to the Financial Times in support of the Egyptian regime as it clung on to power in the face of mass demonstrations and violent clashes which left at least 846 dead. Mubarak was ousted on Feb 11.
In the letter, he defended “reformers” in the regime, including the president’s son, Gamal, saying the president was a “civilian facade” for the security forces while his son was “the leading voice in favour of change”.
Mr Rachid, the ex-Egyptian foreign trade minister, fled to Dubai and was found guilty in absentia of embezzlement and squandering public funds. He has been sentenced to five years in prison.
Lord Mandelson founded Global Counsel with the backing of Sir Martin Sorrell, the multi-millionaire businessman, and his international communications firm WPP.
Shortly after its creation, Lord Mandelson sent letters to possible clients explaining that Global Counsel drew on his career “in the creation of New Labour” and as a minister and European trade commissioner.
“Since leaving public office last year, I remain committed to understanding and supporting the expansion of businesses from the fast-growing economies of the world,” the letters stated.
“While the benefits of globalisation are clear there are still many obstacles in the way of businesses wanting to take advantage of new open markets and access to capital.”
A spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy in London confirmed that its letter had been an “official communication”.
She said: “The ambassador received a letter from this person [Lord Mandelson] and passed it on to the appropriate minister in the then Egyptian government, conveying its contents and translating it into Arabic.
"This is normal procedure. The minister…did not reply”
A spokesman for the IPPR said: “Peter Mandelson is voluntarily leading a piece of work for us on the future of globalisation”
A spokesman for Global Counsel said it “respects the privacy of those that it does and does not work for but is able to confirm that it has not and does not work for the Egyptian government”.
The spokesman insisted that Lord Mandelson was not using his role at IPPR for commercial purposes.
Lord Mandelson: secrets of a filthy rich fortune
When Lord Mandelson said Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” he may have been talking about himself.
When Lord Mandelson said Labour was 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich' he may have been talking about himselfPhoto: Christopher pledger
His declarations on the House of Lords register of members’ interests give little clue as to how the 58-year-old career politician has made his fortune.
Neither his public speaking and writing firm Willbury, which collects proceeds from the sales of his memoirs, nor his consultancy firm Global Counsel have published accounts yet.
And the remuneration for his senior advisory role at Lazard investment bank has not been disclosed, although some reports have suggested it could be as much as £1 million a year. Under restrictions imposed on Lord Mandelson by Whitehall watchdogs, he was banned from lobbying ministers and civil servants after leaving government. But there are no restrictions on his work overseas.
He has developed close links with the rulers of oil-rich Kazakhstan and recently spoke at two events organised by the Kazakh investment company Samruk-Kazyna. He has also made shrewd property investments. In 1997 Lord Mandelson was living in a one-bedroom flat worth £250,000. Earlier this year, he and his partner, Reinaldo Avila da Silva, moved into an £8 million home in north London.
Young, good looking and articulate, he introduced as himself as "Michael" at events at Westminster think tanks and embassy receptions.
A slight accent betraying his foreign roots, the tall, suave, urbane young man mixed easily with politicians, businessmen and policy wonks on the Whitehall drinks party circuit.
But rather than being the fast-track civil servant, defence industry high flier or political adviser that many assumed he was, "Michael" was Mikhail Viktorovich Repin, Third Secretary in the Political Section at the Russian Embassy, and a spy.
Far removed for the caricature image of fictional Soviet agents, Repin had arrived in London in the wake of the murder of dissident former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, allegedly on the orders of the Kremlin, after several Russian diplomats had been expelled from Britain.
Within two years he himself had been kicked out of the country following "clear evidence" of spying.
Mikhail Repin (left) with fellow Russian embassy official Slava Konkov.
There is no trace of Repin in the Russian archives before he arrived in London.
It is likely he graduated from one of the elite diplomatic academies in Moscow, which have schooled Russia's spies in languages and dark arts since the Cold War.
A junior officer in the SVR – the Russian foreign intelligence service – operating under diplomatic cover from the embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, he was part of the spy agency's expanding London overseas station known as the "Rezidentura".
Divided by directorates or "lines", some SVR officers are engaged in gathering economic and scientific intelligence while others are tasked with "technical operations" including attempting to bug key government buildings, companies or other embassies.
Last year the director general of the Security Service MI5, Jonathan Evans, said Russian espionage activities now exceed those of the Cold War with between 30 and 50 of its diplomats in the UK who are really spies.
He said these agents "continue to devote considerable time and energy trying to steal our sensitive technology on civilian and military projects and trying to obtain political and economic intelligence at our expense".
A Security Service counter espionage booklet, produced last year for British nationals visiting or working in Russia, warned people involved with the government, military matters, technology, biotechnology, communications and energy may be targeted by Russian intelligence. This is also the role of Russian intelligence officers working in the UK.
Repin was part of the political directorate known as "Line PR" and answerable to the most senior spy at the embassy the "Rezident".
His job appears to have been to talent spot potential agents in the political world who were in a position to obtain useful information to give Russia a political or economic advantage.
He set about his task with enthusiasm, attempting to "cultivate" individuals who either currently or in future may be of value to the Russians and quickly came to the attention of MI5 "watchers", from the Security Service's A Branch, tasked with keep Russian diplomats under surveillance.
A recent MI5 assessment of the work of these Russian spies says: "They seek to make contact with a large number of individuals with current or potential access to areas of interest."
"Most of these contacts will turn out to be unimportant and will not be pursued, but a small number will be.
"A number of individuals could be recruited as agents in order to provide intelligence or assist in intelligence operations.
The potential of a single well-placed agent to provide damaging intelligence justified the very significant cultivation programmes which the Russian intelligence service undertake."
Repin joined international political and military affairs think tanks attending events at International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Chatham House.
An annual fee of a few hundred pounds got him access to private lectures by senior military and intelligence officials and the chance to mingle with them at the drinks parties and finger food buffets that often followed the talks.
This so-called "overt information gathering" is often the first step in identifying individuals for cultivation.
And these events, a magnet for senior executives from defence firms, military research facilities and Ministry of Defence officials, allowed Repin to approach people and discuss their work and their expertise without them realising they were being targeted by a Russian spy.
Repin was also a regular at diplomatic parties at London embassies and he joined the Young Diplomats of London, a networking organisation for diplomats new to the Capital.
A barbecue at the Russian embassy last year provided him with the perfect opportunity to rub shoulders with guests who included MP Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Other guests at the kebab and vodka event to mark Russian National Day, 11 July, included Lord Hannay, the former British ambassador to the United Nations, senior Foreign Office officials, senior civil servants and a host of ambassadors and other senior diplomats.
It is not known whether any of these individuals were targeted by Repin or his colleagues, but what is certain is that Repin was tasked with obtaining intelligence of significant benefit to Russia.
The disclosure of Repin's exploits comes in the wake of a separate espionage case involving Katia Zatuliveter who was cleared of being a Russian agent last month by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) which had been asked to expel her from Britain on national security grounds.
The 26-year-old Russian was a Parliamentary researcher for Michael Hancock MP, then a member of the Commons defence committee, and also had long running a sexual relationship with the 65-year-old and several other older men, including a Nato official and a Dutch diplomat.
MI5 argued she was a spy recruited at university in St Petersburg and tasked with targeting Hancock and gathering intelligence in parliament and through his defence contacts.
SIAC disagreed and dismissed the Home Office's bid to deport her.
During the case SIAC heard how Ms Zatuliveter herself had been target by an intelligence officer from the Russian embassy known only as "Boris".
"Boris" had met her at the House of Commons and also approached her out after an event at the IISS, apparently following her to nearby Temple tube station.
They exchanged cards and, on learning she worked for a member of the defence committee, told her it was "a dream job for every Russian".
He then asked her to lunch and saw her on several other occasions, inviting her to an event at the Russian embassy.
It also comes three years after the then Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay received a warning from Downing Street after MI5 discovered that he was holding meetings with a suspected Russian spy Alexander Polyakov, officially a counsellor at the Russian Embassy in London.
Mr MacKinlay, a member of the powerful Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, was carpeted after the intelligence services reported that he had tea with the agent at the House of Commons.
As the MI5 assessment, a "generic statement" written for the SIAC case and obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, says: "The official cover which Russian intelligence officers have in the UK ... provides them with a legitimate platform for making contacts with members of the public and cultivating them.
"Individuals may be cultivated either because they themselves have access to information of value or because they can facilitate access to others with such assess via their contacts, or because they are considered suitable for use in supporting espionage in some way."
Repin left Britain in December 2010. A British diplomat was expelled from Moscow in the now customary tit-for-tat response.
Neither man was named. To do so would break an unspoken "gentlemen's agreement" between the intelligence services in both countries.
Repin's whereabouts are now unknown. His cover is blown and he is unlikely to be given another foreign posting.
Mikhail "Michael" Repin, an officer from the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR, was thrown out after a surveillance operation highlighted his activities.
Repin, who was officially a Third Secretary in the political section of the Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, also approached people with links to British security and defence companies.
A Sunday Telegraph investigation can reveal new details of the spy – who has not previously been identified – and how he attempted to win the trust of officials he met at the House of Commons and defence and security think tanks in Whitehall.
His role gives a startling new insight into how Russia is targeting Britain as source of intelligence at a level not seen since the height of the Cold War.
MI5 believe the UK is now Russian intelligence's "highest priority target", after the US, because of its key role in Nato and the EU and that it now has between 30 and 50 spies working under diplomatic cover from its London embassy.
The SVR and the other Russian intelligence services are the key to how Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, maintains his grip on power.
The spy agencies are now likely to become even more important as Putin uses them to deal with the growing unrest and protests in the wake of the recent elections which were narrowly won by his United Russia party amid claims of ballot rigging and intimidation.
"Within the UK", a recent MI5 assessment said, "the Russian intelligence service are interested in a broad range of requirements including government policies on EU, Nato, trade finance and the UK-US relationship."
It is also focused on "the strategic nuclear deterrent, energy ... civilian and military science and technology, political dissidents and UK intelligence agencies."
For two years Repin was engaged in talent-spotting British citizens who might provide the Russians with useful intelligence or were connected with someone with access to sensitive information.
A British security expert who met Repin at a Whitehall event said: "He was very friendly and his English was very good. I did not for one moment think he was a spy. I didn't even realise he was Russian until later."
Part of Repin's role saw him attending meetings at the House of Commons, the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), the global security think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, next door to the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, and foreign policy forum Chatham House.
The Security Service have warned that "think tanks such as the IISS would be attended by many people of interest to the Russian intelligence service."
Its recent assessment of Russian security threat adds: "Forums of this type would provide ideal talent-spotting environments".
One lecture Repin attended at the IISS allowed him to mix with leading academics and security experts who had just returned from a trip to Russia and Chechnya.
The trip was described in a Polish newspaper as "one of the most effective tools for brainwashing ... (designed) to advance the interests of the Kremlin's propaganda".
He was also a regular at embassy cocktail parties. One event at the Russian embassy saw him mix with guests including former Labour Europe Minister Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, and Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes.
Repin is believed to have worked for the SVR's political section, known as Line PR, which, according to MI5, gathers information designed to "enable Russia to formulate policies which win maximum advantage in the light of insights gained from intelligence".
"The UK and allied countries are disadvantaged if their negotiating positions or undisclosed aims are compromised. Large amounts of low level intelligence ... provide the Russian intelligence services with insights which gain them advantage in international relationships.
"The effectiveness of government and therefore of parliamentary democracy is also impaired if debate in parliament ... is influenced as a result of an MP or other influential figures working to a Russian intelligence services agenda."
A brief statement from William Hague, the foreign secretary, last December said the Russian embassy in London had been asked to "withdraw a member of their staff from the UK".
The ultimatum was issued "in response to clear evidence of activities by the Russian intelligence services against UK interests," Hague said.
Sources said "lines had been crossed" between what is regarded as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour of an intelligence officer. It is believed he was discovered approaching an individual rather than stealing information or entering any sensitive buildings.
Last night a spokesman for Simon Hughes confirmed he had attended the Russian embassy event in July 2010. The spokesman said: "He is interested in foreign affairs and conflict issues and often attends these sorts of events." Mr Hughes did not recall meeting Repin.
A spokesman for RUSI said: "Unlike other organisations who publish lists of their membership, we do not reveal member details for reasons of security and individual privacy."
He added: "To join, individual members require references from an existing RUSI member or someone in a position of standing within the community.
"For an embassy wishing to nominate individuals for diplomatic membership with RUSI, each nominee's name is checked against the registered diplomat list for each embassy."