Millionaire financier Rothschild defends Mandelson’s invite on Siberian sight-seeing tour
By Vanessa Allen
Millionaire financier Nat Rothschild invited Peter Mandelson to Siberia for a sightseeing break, not to ‘bless’ a £500million deal, he said yesterday.
The 2005 invitation to the then EU trade chief was made because Mr Rothschild knew he had no weekend plans, he told the High Court.
The hedge fund manager was giving evidence at the start of his libel case against the Daily Mail over a 2010 article which said he invited Lord Mandelson in an effort to impress Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Lawyers for Mr Rothschild, 40, who is financial adviser to Mr Deripaska, said the article painted him as a ‘puppet-master’ involved in ‘dubious games’ with the former New Labour spin doctor and Russia’s richest man.
Hugh Tomlinson QC, for Mr Rothschild, said it was ‘fanciful’ to suggest the trip was engineered to allow discussions between the newly appointed European trade commissioner and Mr Deripaska.
Lord Mandelson’s relationship with the oligarch came under the spotlight in 2008, when he was Business Secretary.
He faced criticism over a potential conflict of interest surrounding a summer visit to the billionaire’s yacht in Corfu, along with then Shadow Chancellor George Osborne.
The 2010 Mail article raised questions about Lord Mandelson’s presence at a January 2005 dinner in Moscow, which was said to have resulted in a £500millon deal between Mr Deripaska and U.S. aluminium executives.
Mr Tomlinson said Lord Mandelson was not a guest at the dinner, but had visited the table briefly while he waited for his host, a Russian minister, to arrive at the restaurant.
He told the High Court that the deal was done before the dinner without any involvement from the former New Labour architect.
Mr Tomlinson said Lord Mandelson and Mr Deripaska were both at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a week earlier and could have discussed the EU’s position on aluminium tariffs then, if there had been any need for them to do so.
They did not need to do so at the dinner, he said, nor during the subsequent 24-hour visit to Mr Deripaska’s holiday home in a Siberian ski resort.
In written evidence to the court, Mr Rothschild said he invited Lord Mandelson on the trip because ‘he had no plans for the weekend and did not know people in Brussels’.
Mr Tomlinson said: ‘The case now put forward by the newspaper is that Mr Rothschild took Lord Mandelson on a trip to Siberia in order to impress Mr Deripaska when he knew, or ought to have known, that if anyone had found out about it, Lord Mandelson would have been compromised.
‘It is also said there were grounds for believing that Lord Mandelson discussed aluminium tariffs with Mr Deripaska on that trip and the claimant encouraged the inappropriate relationship. Our case is that there is no truth in any of that.’
Swiss-based Mr Rothschild said he was ‘incredibly upset and distressed’ by the article, adding: ‘It had absolutely no bearing to the truth whatsoever. It was fiction.’
He is seeking ‘very substantial damages’ from Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail. The hearing continues.