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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Dubai-based billionaire hits back at Russia spy claims

Christopher Chandler said that lawmakers had identified him because of his backing for a pro-Brexit think tank.

Legatum Group founder Christopher Chandler secured a libel victory against a pro-EU think-tank which had dubbed him a hypocrite. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde 
Legatum Group founder Christopher Chandler secured a libel victory against a pro-EU think-tank which had dubbed him a hypocrite. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde 

The financial backer of a pro-Brexit think tank hit back Friday at suggestions he was a Russian agent and accused a group of British lawmakers of undermining democracy by naming him as the target of a French investigation.

Billionaire financier Christopher Chandler said that he had been the subject of a “harsh, public attack on my integrity” to discredit him because of his apparent support for the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in 2019.

“The substance of their statements is untrue,” said the Dubai-based businessman in a comment piece for The Times newspaper. “I am not and never have been associated with the Russian state in any capacity.”

Mr Chandler’s comments followed claims by five lawmakers based on documents they had been shown which suggested that the investor was “an object of interest” to the French security services because of suspected links to Russia.

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The claims appear to have been linked to Mr Chandler’s business activities through his investment company the Legatum Group in the 1990s when he traded in stock of Russian companies including the energy producer Gazprom.

His company funded the Legatum Institute which has been an influential voice among influential so-called Brexiteers who campaigned to leave the 28-nation EU. The institute issued its own rebuttal to the spy claims on Thursday and has previously said that it has been a vocal critic of Russia for many years.

Mr Chandler said that the MPs had refused to release the 16-year-old report compiled by French police that aired the claims and used the legal protection of parliament to repeat “innuendo and slander”. “Impugning my reputation while hiding behind parliamentary privilege shows the lack of confidence which they have in their claims,” he said.

Mr Chandler also said that he had never taken a public view on Brexit. "Regardless of this truth, they [MPs and the media] seek to make me an emblem of Brexit and then, as with all others they perceive as enemies, discredit me in their quest to reverse the decision of the British public" which voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

The MPs – from both the government and opposition benches – comes amid heightened tensions with Moscow following the poisoning of a former Russian spy on UK soil, and a tit-for-tat series of diplomatic expulsions.