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From the file

Greg Barker: The lord’s work | The days of the Russian oligarch in London are numbered. What fate awaits the enablers – those well-connected people who worked for and provided services to wealthy Russians? This is the story of one of them.

Greg Barker: the lord’s work

Greg Barker: the lord’s work

The days of the Russian oligarch in London are numbered. What fate awaits the enablers – those well-connected people who worked for and provided services to wealthy Russians? This is the story of one of them

Date commissioned
11 March 2022

Date published
11 April 2022


Why this story?

Londongrad is over for now, it seems. Many of the assets of Russian oligarchs in and around the capital are frozen. One oligarch complained in a recent interview with The Times that being sanctioned was like being under house arrest. Mikhail Fridman said he was forced to dine alone at home, albeit in a house which he reportedly bought for £65 million in 2016. Of course wealthy Russians didn’t make lives for themselves in the UK on their own. Their paths were made immeasurably smoother by an army of enablers: the bankers, accountants, PR agents and estate agents who benefited financially from London becoming a centre for Russian wealth. This is a story about one of those enablers. After a career as a Tory MP and a minister Greg Barker was elevated to the House of Lords by David Cameron. As Lord Barker of Battle he became chairman of En+, one of the biggest aluminium producers in the world. The majority shareholder at the time was Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire oligarch who was close to Putin. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Deripaska was sanctioned by the British government and trading in shares of En+ on the London Stock Exchange were suspended. Lord Barker has stepped down from the company. This story raises important questions about what deal Britain struck with the oligarchs to make London an attractive place for Russian billionaires? And what deal did Britain strike with itself to turn a blind eye when the reality became inconvenient? Jasper Corbett, editor

Transcript

[Russian music playing on Belgrave square]

Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: A grand house on London’s Belgrave Square. A house once occupied by an earl, a baron, and even Chips Channon, the Conservative MP, diarist and social climber.

But now, the house is occupied by squatters. They’re playing Russian music and shouting for Ukraine.

Paul, narrating: Because the owner of No. 5 Belgrave Square is an oligarch called Oleg Deripaska. 

Bob Seeley: He has been investigated for money laundering and accused of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegal wiretapping a government official, taking part in extortion and racketeering… There are also allegations—not only that—that the gentleman bribed a government official… and had links to Russian organised crime groups. 

Paul, narrating: Deripaska was sanctioned by the US four years ago. Britain finally followed suit after Russia invaded Ukraine – because of his closeness to Vladimir Putin.

His Belgravia house – with its Linley dining room table and chairs, its Bösendorfer grand piano, its paintings by Gino Sverini and sculpture by Barbara Hepworth – is now a frozen asset. 

[Clip: actuality of protesters] 

Paul: There’s a small group of protesters stood outside… can you hear cars are hooting as they drive by. There is an enormous police presence given it’s just one house, not many protesters.

Paul, narrating: It’s not the only one. Across Belgravia, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in the leafy streets of Highgate and Hampstead, there are vast mansions belonging to wealthy Russian men. 

How did this happen? Why Londongrad? Not Madridski. Not Parislav. But Londongrad. What deal did Britain strike with these men to make London the place for Russian billionaires? More to the point, what deal did Britain strike with itself which enabled this to happen?

Bill Browder: In my mind it’s probably the single most awful example of Russian influence in British politics I’ve ever seen.

Paul, narrating: So, this is not the story of Oleg Deripaska. But the man who was at his side. 

Chair (Tom Tugendhat)You are not frightened of Mr Deripaska?

Lord BarkerAm I frightened? No. Why would I be frightened?

ChairQuite a lot of people seem to be, for various reasons, perhaps wrongly, quite a lot of people seem to be.  

Paul, narrating: My name is Paul Caruana Galizia. At the end of my last Slow Newscast – the Lord of Siberia, an investigation into Evgeny Lebedev’s fancy dress rise from son of a KGB agent to a seat in the House of Lords – I felt I’d left a question hanging. It wasn’t, how did he do it? But, who helped him? And not just Lebedev. For the scores of oligarchs who found safety, power, a haven for their wealth and a high society welcome in London, who opened the doors? 

Chair: Welcome, Lord Barker. 

Paul, narrating: Who were the enablers?

Lord Barker: Thank you. 

Paul, narrating: What was the story they told themselves as they welcomed Russian tycoons and their fortunes to London?

Lord Barker: It is a great British success story that we attract so many companies. We are, here in London, a global marketplace.

Paul, narrating: Within the course of a short but busy decade, Greg Barker went from David Cameron’s ‘bag carrier’, an MP’s salary of some £67,000 and a stint as the Government’s climate envoy, to a seat in the House of Lords and the chairmanship of En+, earning millions of dollars a year running the sprawling aluminium giant that Oleg Deripaska had built.  

Liam ByrneIt’s what you might call lord’s washing. Can we whitewash a reputation by putting a guy in an ermine robe at the top of the tree.

Paul, narrating: But this is more than the standard story of the revolving door from politics into business.  

Because Lord Barker has proved to be, arguably, the most adroit and successful enabler of all: when the US sanctioned Deripaska in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its supply of weapons to Assad in Syria, and its election interference, Lord Barker restructured and remade En+ to reduce the oligarch’s stake and meet the new rules set by Washington. And to hear En+ version of events, Barker made sanctions work. He cleared out the old board, sidelined Deripaska and shrunk his stake, then set the company on a greener path.  

But isn’t that how we all got here – by telling ourselves a story.  

In this week’s Slow Newscast from Tortoise, we take our next step in understanding Londongrad. What deal did Barker do with himself? And how did we come to convince ourselves that enabling the oligarchs was about more than the money, but for the greater good? 

From Tortoise, this is “Greg Barker: the lord’s work.”  

***

Bill Browder: I first met Greg Barker in Moscow in the early 2000s. 

Paul, narrating: This is Bill Browder. He campaigns against corruption and human rights abuses in Russia, but was the country’s largest foreign investor until the Kremlin blacklisted him as a national security threat. He’s most famous for bringing about the Magnitsky Act, a law designed to clamp down on dirty money.

Bill Browder: I was a fund manager running an investment fund called the Hermitage fund and Greg Barker was the investment relations person for Roman Abramovich’s oil company called Sibneft. We were invested in Sibneft, we had identified a number of suspicious transactions. Sibneft looked like they were selling oil at below market prices to companies that were affiliated to Roman Abramovich but weren’t part of Sibneft and we were challenging that, and Gregory Barker shows up in our office with a bunch of glossy presentations trying to deflect our questions. 

Paul, narrating: He’s recalling a moment from just before Greg Barker became Greg Barker MP.

Bill Browder: He struck me as a superficial character who was being… was effectively an English speaking concierge to a very rich Russian oligarch. 

He was a totally forgettable character. And the next thing I remember about Gregory Barker was seeing his name in some document that he was a member of parliament which I thought was odd because how did some PR flack for Roman Abramovich in Moscow end up as a member of parliament? 

Paul, narrating: It’s striking to me that the man Bill remembers is not the nondescript politician, but a slick PR agent for Roman Abramovich.

It’s a memory few people have. Instead, Barker is more often associated with David Cameron’s rise to power and his efforts to modernise the Tory party. 

Yet he wasn’t an obvious member of Cameron’s so-called “chumocracy”. He wasn’t an old Etonian; he didn’t go to Oxford.

He went to state schools on England’s south coast, switching for his last two years to private school at Lancing College, “a small public school of ecclesiastical temper on the South Downs”, as Evelyn Waugh described it. From there, he went to Royal Holloway, one of the University of London’s loosely affiliated colleges. 

What Barker did have is ambition. He’d made money in business. And he had vision; he married an heiress.

And he saw Cameron’s potential early on. They both were elected as MPs in 2001. 

The following summer, Barker invited Cameron and Charles Moore, then the Editor of The Daily Telegraph and a man of considerable influence in the Conservative Party, for a weekend at his ten-bedroom Queen Anne house in Sussex. 

Over dinner, they plotted Cameron’s run for the party leadership, later recruiting other ambitious young MPs like Michael Gove – and wealthy ones like George Osborne.

Paul, narrating: It was a picture of the Young Establishment that Barker felt he had to fit into to continue his rise.

Laura CummingMy name is Laura Cumming. I’m the art critic of the Observer newspaper. This is what we call a swagger portrait.

Paul, narrating: Laura’s appraising the huge oil painting of Barker that used to hang in his house.

Laura Cumming So it’s where you take a member of the aristocracy or someone who wishes to be in the aristocracy, and of course, this man… but he is appearing in a painting that is absolutely intended to elevate him. What the painting shows is a timeless scene of the English country house tradition. Full-scale hunting outfit. So riding boots, which are polished to within an inch of their lives, he’s wearing jodhpurs, a yellow waistcoat, the hunt waistcoat, a white stock and you know a very highly tailored black riding jacket…

Paul, narrating: Cameron promoted Barker to his shadow minister for energy and climate change, which was central to his “Vote Blue, Go Green” campaign, and when Cameron was elected Prime Minister, Barker became his climate change minister. 

Lord Barker: Climate change is happening now, I’ve been to the arctic, I have seen the vast stretches of open arctic seawater where there was frozen ice caps just a few years ago.  

Paul, narrating: During his time in government, Barker drove the increase in the UK’s renewable electricity from seven to 19 per cent. But he was better known – in Whitehall at least – for warming a cushion in the ministerial office microwave for his sausage dog, Otto.

When an anonymous complainant threatened to cut off Otto’s legs, Barker protested: “the poor chap is short enough already.”

At the end of Cameron’s first term, in 2015, Barker told the Prime Minister that he wanted to go back into business. Cameron gave him a seat in the House of Lords. 

To begin with, Barker took his role in the Lords seriously. He voted more than 100 times in three years. He gave four speeches. I mention this because in the years to follow, Barker would insist that the peerage was nothing to do with the success of his work; the title was a recognition of his service in government, not a responsibility. A gong, not a job. And he wasn’t, he’d tell people, just a lord on a board.

But from his seat, Barker took on numerous directorships and jobs. Within two years, in October 2017, he landed his biggest one yet.

***

Barker was made Chairman of the Russian conglomerate, En+, one of the largest aluminium producers in the world. His appointment raised eyebrows. He doesn’t speak Russian and had only spent two years in Moscow – two decades earlier. 

He said:

Lord Barker: I understand the Russian’s business culture and the challenges there are of that, and what needs to be done to drive best practice.

Paul, narrating: But the bigger problem was that En+ was 70 per cent owned by Oleg Deripaska. An orphan from a village in southern Russia, Deripaska had conquered the country’s aluminium assets during the 1990s bloody “aluminium wars” with the help of organised crime groups and he held onto them with the help of the Kremlin.

Bill Browder: I found it highly irregular that a member of the House of Lords would be the chairman of a Russian oligarch’s company and particularly an oligarch who was so controversial that he couldn’t even get a visa to enter the United States.

Paul, narrating: Deripaska was more welcome in Britain. So welcome, in fact, that just a few weeks after Barker’s appointment, En+ floated on the London Stock Exchange.

Xavier Rolet (CEO, London Stock Exchange Group): A warm welcome to you all, to the home of the London Stock Exchange Group. It’s a great honour for us this morning to welcome the EN+ team. 

Paul, narrating: It raised more than £1 billion in share sales. 

Lord BarkerThis was a very major IPO, it was the largest foreign IPO of the year. The largest of that type, I think, for three years, and was a great success for the many City institutions who were involved in it.

Paul, narrating: Russia was happy, here’s its ambassador. 

Russia’s ambassador: This is a sign of the stability of… our economy, a sign of the growth of the economy, and I hope maybe next year some other Russian companies will come to the London Stock Exchange, to our good friends. 

Paul, narrating: Bank of America, 

Merrill Lynch, 

Citigroup, 

Credit Suisse, 

J.P. Morgan, 

BMO Capital Markets, 

SocGen, 

UBS Limited and

Linklaters –

They all worked on En+’s flotation, and provided reassurance to the newly appointed chairman.

Lord BarkerThe names of the people who stand behind it, gave me a significant degree of confidence in the process and in the company.

Paul, narrating: And before all that, the company had to pass tests set by the UK Listing Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the London Stock Exchange itself.

There were the large fees, but also the arguments that people made, and no doubt wanted to believe, that bringing an oligarch’s company to London would bring good corporate governance to Russia.

That said, there were problems with En+ that you had to make an effort to ignore.  

An En+ subsidiary, for example, supplied military material to Russia’s defence sector, which was then under EU sanctions, that may have been used to support Assad in Syria in 2015. 

And there was the Russian bank, sanctioned by both the US and EU because of Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014, that held a stake in En+. 

And then there was En+’s plan to use the proceeds of its flotation to repay a one-billion-dollar loan to that same bank.

MI6 had “serious concerns” about En+ floating in London. So did US security officials. 

And the questions just kept on mounting. 

***

News clip: We’re just getting this from senior administration officials, that they have now sanctioned seven Russian oligarchs, 12 companies that they either own or control.

News clip: … in what could be the toughest penalty we have seen for Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election…

Paul, narrating: Just six months later, in April 2018, the US sanctioned Oleg Deripaska and, because he owned most of En+, it sanctioned the company, too. 

The company’s share price more than halved. It was a disaster.

And Barker, well, he was shocked into action.

Lord Barker: I will be very honest: there was a degree of panic in the business, there was a degree of alarm in the business, and I certainly considered my own position. 

Paul, narrating: But should he have been so surprised? Eight months earlier, in response to Russia’s election interference, the US passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The law called for a list of “oligarchs and parastatal entities,” which was released around three months before the sanctions hit.  

The list included Oleg Deripaska.

Dan Fried: Deripaska as an individual was a worthy and appropriate target. But the US government had not done its homework. When he was sanctioned, En+ was sanctioned along with him, and no one had done the necessary analysis to determine whether there were unacceptable unintended consequences, which there were…

Paul, narrating: This is Ambassador Dan Fried. 

Dan Fried: … small towns, I think one in Sweden, one in Ireland, employed people in aluminum plants that were in danger of going out of business because of the sanctions. So then the Swedes who had been great on sanctions and the Irish complained, and the treasury department had to find a way to back out of it…

Paul, narrating: He worked for the State Department for decades as a Russia specialist and crafted sanctions against the Kremlin after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. 

Dan Fried: Well I think what they did was kind of clumsy, that is the walk back. 

Paul, narrating: What the US Treasury did, under enormous pressure, was agree in principle to a plan Barker lobbied for.

Paul: Dan, another extraordinary thing about the En+ sanctions was this big lobbying effort to have the sanctions lifted. In your experience, how normal is that?

Dan Fried: Lobbying in Washington? 

[Paul laughing]

Dan Fried: Right I mean, you have to expect this. So lobbying happens all time. You just have to be prepared to stare down. Lobbyists can bite, if they have a case. If they don’t have a case then tell them to, tell them to fuck off. 

Paul, narrating: But in this case, the lobbyists did bite. And there were a lot of them.

In Washington, the law firm Latham & Watkins advised on negotiations with the Treasury. 

Mercury Public Affairs, which Paul Manafort had used to lobby for Kremlin-backed Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs, spammed US officials with supportive material. 

The headhunters Russell & Reynolds were hired to look for new board members.

In London, Barker hired public affairs consultants Hawthorn Advisors, which was founded by Tory fundraiser Ben Elliot, and Hudson Sandler.

All of them, in one way or another, emphasised that they did not work for Deripaska but for Barker. Or, as one En+ shareholder put it, “The lord”. 

The lobbyists prepared letters on behalf of embassies in Washington from across the world. Sweden, Ireland, France, Jamaica, Germany, Australia – it’s a long list of countries arguing the sanctions were causing job losses in their countries.

Back in Britain, Barker – still an active member of the Lords – had just voted against strengthening the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. 

He was prohibited by parliamentary rules from lobbying his colleagues. But, he had an idea.

He wrote to at least three MPs – on an En+ letterhead – asking for a meeting to update them on his plan to divest Deripaska – but, carefully, adding that he had “no ask” of them.

Bill Browder: The fact that a lawmaker in the UK, an active member of the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, could it be working for a sanctioned oligarch, but not just working for a sanction oligarch, but going with his House of Lords business cards to the United States, using his gravitas and credibility to try to argue, to have Deripaska’s company taken off the sanctions list, in my mind is probably the single most awful example of Russian influence in British politics I’ve ever seen.

Paul, narrating: In June 2018 – two months after the US had enforced the sanctions against En+ – Barker secured a meeting with Sir Alan Duncan, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Russia. 

Both men say that it was simply an update on Barker’s plan, which was within the rules.

It took me a Freedom of Information request, fought for almost a year, to get the minutes of that meeting. With redactions – because someone, presumably Barker or Duncan, had filed a privacy complaint about it. 

And it’s easy to see why. 

Thanks to these minutes we can now see some of the arguments that Barker was making behind closed doors to have sanctions lifted.

Voiceover of minutes: Lord Barker said the sanctions on En+ had been a shock. In answer to the Minister’s question, Lord Barker could not offer any reason why the US wanted to go after Deripaska.

Paul, narrating: Could this be true? 

I don’t know. The US was clear why they went after him. As Senator Ben Sass said in the judiciary committee: 

Senator Ben Sasse: He’s been investigated by the US government and by [some] others of our allies for money-laundering, he’s been accused of threatening the lives of his business rivals, he’s been charged with illegal wiretapping, taking part in extortion and racketeering schemes, he’s bribed government officials, he’s ordered the murder of a businessman and he has many links to Russian organised crime so I think we can in an open setting at least agree that he’s a bad dude, right this is a bottom feeding scum sucker. 

Paul, narrating: From the minutes we can tell that Barker pushed what Russia was worried about. 

Voiceover of minutes: The potential social unrest that might be caused in towns affected by a reduction in Rusal’s activity and hence employment there. 

Paul, narrating: And that the UK was under threat from these sanctions too because…

Voiceover of minutes: It might be in the interests of the Chicago Metal Exchange to capitalise on the downward trend of the London Metal Exchange.  

Paul, narrating: Missing from these minutes though, is any mention of the major bonus Barker was in line for if he successfully removed the sanctions.

But what is clear was Barker’s mindset at the time. He wanted to put his own name to a plan to solve his problem. The minutes state, he:  

Voiceover of minutes: … was also keen to present the ‘Barker Plan’ as a strategic ‘blueprint’ for the successful implementation of sanctions. Without breaking down the company completely, his proposition would ensure a better governance structure, removed from the control of Russian oligarchs.”

Paul, narrating: The lord’s plan.

For him it would show how sanctions could work, how the West could benefit, and Russian influence be diluted.

But is it really that clear cut?

It is almost impossible to know the impact of that meeting. 

But what we do know is that Barker was, ultimately, successful – his ‘blueprint’ worked. On the 27th of January 2019, the US removed En+ from their sanctions list. 

Mr SeelyWhat is Mr Deripaska’s ownership of… what’s his block of shares as a percentage?

Lord Barker: It’s on this…

Mr SeelyIs it 40 per cent?

Lord BarkerIt’s on this infographic that I can show you… 

Mr SeelyJust remind me for the committee…

Lord BarkerIt is 44.95 per cent. 

Mr SeelySo he is no longer a controlling influence on the company with 44.95 per cent of the company.?

Lord BarkerNo, because there is an additional 10 per cent that is required to go into trust, so he actually can vote on 35 per cent only.

Mr SeelyYou are saying that you do not work for Mr Deripaska, but Mr Deripaska has voting rights for 35 per cent of the company.

Lord Barker: Correct.

Mr SeelyI know I’m a simpleton, but if you own a third of a big company, and everyone else is a smaller minority shareholder, aren’t you still the dominant person?

Lord BarkerWell not in the view of the US Treasury.

***

Paul, narrating: Barker went from chairman to executive chairman – and got a $5.9 million bonus, which he described at the time as “relatively modest”. This, on top of his $1.9 million salary.

Dan Fried: Now you can say what you like about Lord Barker and why anybody would be working with Deripaska in these circumstances, I get that. But once we were in the position, there had to be somebody to manage the divested company. Now, if I’m wrong, and it turns out that Deripaska is exercising effective control, then Lord Barker is in trouble because this is a form of sanctions evasion. And I think OFAC would look dimly upon this and probably go after him. But I’m assuming that he, because he knows this and he’s no fool, he is unlikely to have sought to circumvent the sanctions. In which case he has a defence.

Paul, narrating: That was Dan Fried again. On paper, Deripaska wasn’t controlling the company. Barker was.

He called the result:

Lord BarkerA real triumph for good corporate governance in London. We wouldn’t have been able to do that I don’t think, if the company had not been listed in London or subject to the UK code. 

Paul, narrating: As he saw it, he brought riches to London and removed the company from oligarchic control. It was a win win.

But Deripaska’s position wasn’t as diluted as Barker made out. His plan kept to the letter of the law, but – I think – broke its spirit.

Deripaska’s position was governed by what were known as the Terms of Removal, a confidential document signed by representatives of Deripaska and a senior US Treasury Official.

The terms allowed large chunks of shares to be transferred to his allies, including to his own charitable foundation, another sanctioned oligarch’s company, and his own family.

If you take all that together, the document shows that Deripaska, his charity, his ex-wife, her father, and the company linked to the family, could own up to 57 per cent of En+ under the deal that Barker secured.

In other words, the money very much stayed in the family.

***

Barker insists that his strategy is, in his words, a “blueprint” for the successful implementation of sanctions – that it improved corporate governance and distanced oligarchs. And he insists there was never any conflict of interest with his membership of the House of Lords.

The thing is, right after the sanctions were lifted, and his role came under increasing scrutiny, he took a leave of absence from the Lords to focus on En+.

Chris BryantAs I understand it, that means that you are no longer bound by the code of the House of Lords?

Lord BarkerStrictly speaking, I suppose that that would be correct but I would certainly intend to honour the code…

Paul, narrating: As allowed when on leave, Barker stopped registering his business interests, paid employment, and shareholdings. There was no longer any way of knowing whether he had a conflict of interest – because his interests were now hidden.

But he kept his title – and remained extremely sensitive to further scrutiny.

I know this because after Tortoise published my first report on Barker in 2019, his lawyers sent many long letters on his behalf claiming we’d defamed him. And that we’d breached his privacy and copyright.

Susan CoughtrieYou often see that letters come with as many potential claims put in as possible written in quite dense legalees language, often very outlandish claims of how you’ve behaved as a journalist and the claimant has been woefully wronged and has some incredible amount of damages required to remedy that sort of distress.

Paul, narrating: This is Susan Coughtrie from the Foreign Policy Centre where she researches SLAPPs, or Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation. 

Susan CoughtrieIt’s a form of abuse of the law in order to shut down or suppress information in the public interest. So that could be a journalist investigating a story, or it could be people protesting, or speaking out in some other way that’s tried to challenge or provide scrutiny of those in power.

And we usually see sort of tactics involving drawing out procedural manoeuvers, or different ways to basically rack up the cost involved and, and, and draw out the process so the names that do come up, like Schelling’s like Mischon de Reya Taylor Wessing, Carter Ruck, Kobre and Kim and others, these are the names that come up when journalists are talking and giving examples of a piece of what they perceive to be abusive threats.

Paul, narrating: The first letter came a day after we published the report. Within three weeks, Schillings – the law firm – was claiming around £40,000 in legal costs – for writing four letters. The defamation complaint resulted in two very minor amendments to the report.

The tactics became increasingly outlandish. Schillings threatened legal action against sources who went on the record in my report unless they signed statements renouncing what they’d told me. Statements written by Schillings.

Barker’s lawyers claimed he was independent of Deripaska and that it was defamatory to suggest otherwise. 

And then I got a legal letter from Deripaska’s lawyer, Paul Tweed. His client, it seems, reads Tortoise and didn’t like being described as a “feared oligarch.”

There was one more letter – and then silence. Barker and Deripaska, neither of them followed up anymore. The story – and the threats – had died down.

It all went quiet.

Until the 24th of February 2022.

***

[Clip: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine]

Paul, narrating: Russia invaded Ukraine. And Barker came under pressure to resign from En+. 

“Whatever the optics,” Barker said, he had duties to the company’s employees, including several thousand in Ukraine. He said he would not “shirk that responsibility”.

Bill Browder: Gregory Barker doesn’t have any employees. Gregory Barker is a member of the House of Lords who is chairman of a publicly traded company. It’s disgusting that Gregory Barker will remain in the employment of somebody who is on all the sanctions lists for being a Putin partner, when the innocent women and children are being butchered and killed and exploded under Putin’s bombs. Every other responsible person, even questionable people have pulled out and Gregory Barker hasn’t? You know, what kind of man is this?

Paul, narrating: Two weeks later, the UK – finally – sanctioned Oleg Deripaska, the London Stock Exchange suspended En+, and Barker announced his resignation.

It had all come crashing down.

But he didn’t actually leave until the end of March. He remained in control of En+, whose largest shareholder was still Deripaska, for a full month into the war.

Why not sooner? 

En+ was, it said, “exploring the possibility of carving out” its international business. In other words, looking to keep the non-Russian parts separate. 

A process that Barker was exploring himself while still at the company.

Bill Spiegelberger: I don’t know what he would carve out… 

Paul, narrating: This is Bill Spiegelberger, an American lawyer who worked for Derispaska in Moscow for ten years from 2007, dealing with all legal risks coming from outside Russia.

Carve-out, Bill explains, is unlikely to work because everything is connected.

Bill Spiegelberger: So you have to dig the bauxite out of the ground, you have to process the bauxite into alumia and you have to turn the alumina into aluminum. Alumina production, because of the electricity, requires vast quantities of electricity. So think of it…. where do you make aluminum? Where do you have the electricity? Where do you have cheap electricity? Right. The cheapest would be hydroelectric. Where’s there high, cheap hydroelectric electricity? Siberia. Where are all the plants? Siberia. 

Paul, narrating: And the bauxite – that comes out of the ground in places like Guyana and Guinea, Australia and Kazakhstan. That has to be shipped to the plants. 

Bill Spiegelberger: So you see it’s a, it’s quite a complicated and international process. So I’m not sure what Barker is talking about. It’s certainly not about dividing the company into east and west.

Paul, narrating: But, although Barker’s left the company, I understand he may still try to raise funding to acquire and then manage some of its parts. 

One of his fellow Cameroons told me, “The thing with Greg is, he always wanted to be a country squire. The Old Rectory in Sussex. The sausage dogs Cecil and Percy. It needs money.” 

For several months I have tried to speak to Barker. I asked for an interview almost a month ago. He didn’t respond. I emailed again two weeks later. He didn’t respond to me. And then, just before we published this podcast, Barker sent us a long statement. Most of it was devoted to the article I wrote about him in 2019.

Voiceover of statement: the previous profile…was so biased and so strangely personal, it was clear from the get go, this podcast’s damning conclusions had been written well before any research had begun. This would be less remarkable were there not quite so many deadly serious issues at play in the world today.

The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, with its gut wrenching consequences has shocked the world and almost over night completely reshaped the geopolitical landscape. Having formerly had responsibility for nearly four thousand Ukrainian employees who now find themselves right in the conflict zone, this war is very personal to me.

Given the appalling turn of events, there must be a serious debate to be had about commercial relations with Russia in recent years, the efficacy of Western sanctions policy and perhaps the whole question of any future trade with Russia, but you won’t find it here. 

Instead the authors have pursued a weird personal attack, including a bizarre obsession with a picture given to me as a private gift over a decade ago. This is a rehash of the previous frivolous written profile which wasn’t just sneering but also had a clear undertone of homophobia. I hope this podcast does better on that score at least. 

Paul, narrating: On the substance of his work at En+ Barker said: 

Voiceover of statement: In respect of En+, and my former leadership role specifically,  in light of events, it would only be right that any historic involvement with Russia should now give rise to serious reflection. But this is not it. 

However, one thing is for sure, while the decision to work again with a Russian company was not taken lightly… I remain proud of much of my work at the world’s leading producer of low carbon  aluminium  and clean hydro-power. And I am grateful to have worked with some truly outstanding young colleagues who are still  committed to making the world a better place. 

There is still a very long way to go to reach Net Zero, especially in a traditionally heavily polluting sector like aluminium but however bad the geo-politics, fighting climate change must remain a worldwide effort and at En+ we made a real start. 

Paul, narrating: Lord Barker ends his statement saying this: 

Voiceover of statement: I hope and pray for a swift end to this dreadful conflict, as do so many people in Russia too. But I can safely guarantee that I won’t come out well from this crude hatchet job, however to any truly objective listener, nor should Tortoise. 

[Russian music playing on Belgrave square]

Paul, narrating: Oleg Deripaska’s Belgravia mansion, now frozen by UK sanctions, may symbolise the end of an era for Russians in London.

But for some MPs, like Labour’s Liam Byrne, this is just the start.

Liam Byrne: We want to topple Londongrad, you know, this place that is the great laundromat for dirty Russian money. And we can see it in our top lane. And what we have to do now is push harder and faster. 

So I think if we had tougher regulation on proxies here, that would actually give us the power to turn the tables on many of these enablers. And look, if the enablers aren’t in London, the oligarchs won’t be in London either. It’s kind of as simple as that, they’re not here for the weather. 

Paul, narrating: It’s tempting to dismiss this as the wisdom of hindsight.  But even before Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, US election interference, Oleg Deripaska’s companies held a murky history.

These issues were plain to see, if you chose to look.  The enablers succumbed to more than misplaced optimism; there was a willingness to look away.  

What now will be the story we tell ourselves? 

Britain may be in too deep. 

The deal it did with itself, attracting investment by waving through Russian money, can’t be undone with sanctions alone.

It created a new class of enablers – who have already cashed out – and are already exploring new opportunities.

How we got here

I first reported on Lord Barker three years ago, after the US Treasury sanctioned Oleg Deripaska and En+. I wanted to know how Barker engineered one of the most successful lobbying efforts in modern multinational business, getting the sanctions on En+, the company he chaired, lifted. It was an extraordinary feat. 

But Barker wasn’t a fan of my report. He threatened to sue Tortoise for defamation, and privacy and copyright breaches. The legal letters, including one on behalf of Deripaska himself, came and went over a year, but ultimately got nowhere. At least, nowhere Barker wanted to go.

Tortoise’s lawyers advised me to keep reporting on him because new material would be useful if we went to court. So I did.

And it was just as I began sifting through the new material, some of it which painted a more concerning picture of Barker, that he hit the news again.

Russia started bombing Ukraine, and people were reminded that Barker was still running one of the largest Kremlin-linked companies out there. And that he was still a member of the House of Lords. How did he – and the rest of us – think there was nothing to see here? Through reporting this story, I began to understand just how London became Londongrad. Paul Caruana Galizia, reporter


Further reading

  • Bill Browder’s Red Notice (2015) is an unputdownable first person account of Russian capitalism at the dawn of the age of the oligarchs
  • Chrystia Freeland’s Sale of the Century (2005) is one of the first, comprehensive accounts of how the oligarchs made their money
  • Tom Burgis’s Kleptopia (2020) shows how London is the world’s piggy bank for dirty money.
  • Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People (2020) is exposé of how Vladimir Putin created an oligarchy that took control of Russia.

Past reporting

Russian Money

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