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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Alexander Nix rejects claims $8m left Cambridge Analytica before collapse

Facebook data firm boss lashes out at conspiracy theories that destroyed his business

Cambridge Analytica's former CEO Alexander Nix arrives to give evidence to Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee at Portcullis House in central London on June 6, 2018. Cambridge Analytica suspended chief executive Alexander Nix on March 20 after recordings emerged of him boasting that the firm played an expansive role in the Trump campaign, doing all of its research, analytics as well as digital and television campaigns. / AFP / Tolga AKMEN
Cambridge Analytica's former CEO Alexander Nix arrives to give evidence to Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee at Portcullis House in central London on June 6, 2018. Cambridge Analytica suspended chief executive Alexander Nix on March 20 after recordings emerged of him boasting that the firm played an expansive role in the Trump campaign, doing all of its research, analytics as well as digital and television campaigns. / AFP / Tolga AKMEN

The executive at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal rejected claims that he had spirited $8 million (Dh29.3 million) out of the operation in the weeks before its collapse as he revealed on Wednesday that the entire operations of the firm were being wound up.

Cambridge Analytica emerged from the work of a British military contractor SCL Group, which claimed to be a pioneer of the psychological profiling in political campaigns. Alexander Nix revealed in testimony to British MPs that the boards of SCL and Cambridge Analytica had judged the operations were no long viable and were in liquidation.

“It’s the case that all SCL companies are in administration,” Mr Nix said. He added that the Financial Times newspaper had been wrong in its report that resources had been taken out of the business as its collapse loomed. “The allegation is false, the facts are not correct.”

Mr Nix was forced to correct assertions that he had made to the MPs in a previous appearance. Facebook data was used by the British firm as part of its work, he said. Cambridge Analytica played a key role in the Donald Trump presidential campaign and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic are conducting investigations into whether the billionaire was elected on the back of information from the social media giant.

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Reversing a statement given in February to British MPs, Mr Nix conceded that Cambridge Analytica did receive data from the researcher at the centre of the scandal.

Mr Nix in his previous testimony to lawmakers denied that Cambridge Analytica had ever been given data by Aleksandr Kogan, an academic researcher. Subsequent revelations in mid-March said Cambridge Analytica received data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their consent. Mr Nix on Wednesday said the consultancy had been given data by Kogan.

"Of course, the answer to this question should have been yes," Mr Nix said, adding that he thought he was being asked about whether Cambridge Analytica still held data from the researcher. He said the company had deleted the data.

"My focus was on whether we still held the data... There was certainly no intention to mislead the committee," he added.

Mounting a staunch defence against an undercover television documentary that showed Mr Nix boasting of sexual entrapment and other "darks arts" of political campaigning, he said this was a "lie to impress". "We’ve never undertaken any work that involves a honey trap or the use of a sex scandal or anything like that for political leverage or work on a campaign," Mr Nix said. "I can’t be any more blunt than that." Instead he described the firm as a relatively small advertising agency whose capacity had been blown out of proportion

"Most of our time is spent selling toothpaste and automotives," he said.

Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who exposed the relations between Cambridge Analytica and the data firms was, he warned, spreading a damaging and misleading conspiracy theory.

“It is deeply troubling that this conspiracy theory has spread so widely, and caused such damage to our company,” he said.

"My point is you have an individual, claiming to be a whistleblower who purports to be a protector of data sovereignty but who actually acquired a significantly larger dataset than ours, and then went and tried to commercialise it in exactly the same way we did, and then spent the last two or three years getting bitter and jealous.”

The Polo-playing product of the renowned public school Eton College reiterated his denial that the firm had worked on the campaigns to secure the British departure from the EU in the 2016 referendum.