Mandelson admits he met tycoon two years earlier

Click to follow

Peter Mandelson faced renewed calls to detail all his meetings with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska today after admitting their contact went back two years further than previously publicly stated.

The Business Secretary used a letter to The Times to confirm reports that he first met the aluminium magnate four years ago - and to insist such relations with senior figures helped make him a better minister now.

A statement issued when the now Lord Mandelson returned to London from his EU Commission role in Brussels for a shock return to the Cabinet earlier this month mentioned meetings in 2006 and 2007.

However The Guardian reported yesterday that the two men had been seen together by a journalist at a Moscow restaurant in October 2004 after Lord Mandelson was appointed trade commissioner but before he took up the post.

Confirming the claim in The Times, Mr Mandelson wrote: "During the weekend when I moved from Brussels to London and prior to me being admitted to hospital for an urgent medical procedure, a statement was released to the press which said I had had meetings with Mr Deripaska in 2006 and 2007.

"Some people formed the reasonable view therefore that my first meeting with him was in 2006. This is not the case: to the best of my recollection we first met in 2004 and I met him several times subsequently."

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said further details were now required.

"The earlier statement about Mr Mandelson's meetings Mr Deripaska was clearly spin, which is now becoming un-spun," he said.

"Peter Mandelson does not say whether these meetings were in an office in Brussels with other EU officials, or on his yacht eating canapes. He must urgently publish a full list of each meeting detailing where these meeting were and what was discussed.

"If Peter Mandelson really played no part in the aluminium negotiations, as he seems to be claiming, then what was he doing as the EU Trade Commissioner.

"This letter is clearly an attempt to head off further bad coverage in the press, which he may be anticipating. This seems like a tactic to avoid a third resignation."

In his letter, Lord Mandelson pointed out that the European Commission's Director General for Trade David O'Sullivan had publicly stated that Lord Mandelson made "no personal intervention to support the commercial interests of Mr Deripaska" in a decision on tariffs which benefited the multi-billionaire.

And he strongly defended his meetings with such figures.

"Naturally I met a great number of business people round the world as EC Trade Commissioner. I think this adds to what I bring to my job now," he wrote.

"In managing my Department's business as Secretary of State I will, of course, in line with the Ministerial Code, ensure that no conflict of interest, or perception of such, arises from any of my past or indeed future contacts."

He said he would take advice from his most civil servant and "continue to act with the public interest in mind, as the public has every right to expect".

It was another letter to the same newspaper earlier this week, from financier Nat Rothschild, which made allegations - strongly denied - that shadow chancellor George Osborne tried to solicit a donation from Mr Deripaska.

He has admitted he was present when a possible £50,000 donation to Tory party funds by Mr Deripaska was discussed and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for the matter to be officially investigated.

But the Electoral Commission, which polices the party spending rules, has rejected calls for an investigation into Mr Osborne's conduct saying it has seen no evidence of any offence.

It is widely thought that it was Mr Osborne's disclosures about Lord Mandelson's meetings with Mr Deripaska while they were both guests of Mr Rothschild that prompted the financier to go public with his own claims.

Mr Osborne tried to return the spotlight on Mr Mandelson by urging him to follow his example and detailing all his meetings with Mr Deripaska prior to the now infamous Corfu engagements.