Lobbyists: Q: Who on earth would speak up for men like these? A: The PR firm that specialises in the people we love to hate

Kim Sengupta
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:14

It is a champion of unpopular causes. Lobbyists may have been cleansing themselves of controversial clients after being tainted by sleaze allegations, but Kim Sengupta discovers a firm determined to buck the trend.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Colonel Gadaffi's Libya, the military regime in Nigeria, and Daniel arap Moi's Kenya may not be the most welcome list of clients for a lobbying firm in the post-cash-for-questions era. Special Profiles International, however, says it would be happy to act for them. It is counterproductive to treat unsavoury regimes as pariahs, it says.

Until a month ago SPI was known as GJW International, a company holding a pounds 3m account with Libya. It was owned by GJW Government Relations, acknowledged to be one of the leading government relations consultancies in Europe which has strong links with both Labour and the Conservatives.

The Libyan account, which even Ian Greer, a lobbyist whose name has become synonymous with political sleaze said he rejected, required GJW International to present Colonel Gadaffi's position on the Lockerbie bombing. The Tripoli regime maintains that it is being made a scapegoat by the West for the destruction of the Pan-Am airliner in December 1988. It also wanted the trial of two Libyan nationals, alleged to be the bombers, to be held at a neutral venue rather than in Britain and or the United States as London and Washington demand.

GWJ International set up links with the families of the Lockerbie victims and their spokesman Dr Jim Swire. It is also said to have played a part in the intervention of the South African president, Nelson Mandela, as a mediator. Since then Dr Swire and Mr Mandela have become increasingly critical of the British and US stance over the affair.

Among its broader promotional campaign for Libya, GJW International arranged for British politicians including Lord Trefgarne, the former Tory defence minister, to visit Tripoli to discuss plans for a pounds 1bn power station on behalf of two British companies, GEC Marconi and Babcock. He was accompanied by Lord Redesdale, the then Liberal Democrat spokesman on overseas aid.

Now GJW International is organising a management buyout in its new guise as SPI. But the two companies will continue to have a close working relationship. Anthony Dawton, who was involved in handling the Libya account for GJW International, is now now a director at SPI. He said his company is certainly prepared to accept as clients countries deemed to be undemocratic, adding: "It is counterproductive to shun these countries, that simply does not give any scope for dialogue and change.

"It also means that British companies lose out on major projects. For instance, one of the world's largest engineering projects, the creation of a man-made river is going on now in Libya. In Iraq, you have got the oil-for-medicines programme, and the companies doing the best out of it are American ones. We are not apologists for dictators. But we believe it is worthwhile to be involved in certain projects with government which are unfashionable and could be beneficial to the people of those countries. It is a specialised field, and we have got a certain amount of expertise. We work closely with GJW Government Relations, and there may well be clients we can pass on to each other ..."

GJW Government Relations, which has a number of blue chip clients including J Sainsbury and British Telecom as well as having extensive establishment political contacts, is believed to be keen to keep a low profile in its work and focus upon government relations.

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