Chatham House: Lobbyist link with leading think tank

Melanie Newman,Oliver Wright
Friday 09 December 2011 01:00

Britain's most prestigious think tank published a report by a lobbyist on a subject in which his client had a direct interest, The Independent has learnt.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) found an article about Kyrgyzstan written by an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank which did not mention his involvement with the country. A seminar on democratic reform in Bahrain was also funded by a lobbyist working for the Kingdom.

In an article for the think tank published in June last year, John Lough discussed a diplomatic row between Russia and Kyrgyzstan. He noted that the latter's interim government had begun an investigation into alleged corruption around fuel-supply contracts to a US air base in the country. But what the article did not mention was that Mr Lough was vice-president of the lobbying firm BGR Gabara, which was acting for Mina Corp, a supplier of fuel to the air base.

When contacted by TBIJ, Keith Burnet, communications director at Chatham House, said he had removed Mr Lough's article from its website. "Chatham House's reputation for independence is crucial to us and I think it is legitimate to say that some elements of the article could undermine this," he added.

Mr Lough said: "When I write or speak in my Chatham House capacity, I do so from an objective and independent viewpoint. I am open about my professional activities, which is why I am listed on the Chatham House website as working for BGR Gabara. Our firm's role in advising Mina Corp is fully disclosed and you will find reference to these clients on our website."

A Chatham House seminar on democratic reform in Bahrain was also funded by a lobbyist working for the Kingdom. The seminar in April last year, entitled "Democratic Institutions and Community Relations in Bahrain", was criticised for the "propagandistic" language of its speakers.

One speaker criticised the British Government for granting asylum to Bahraini dissidents – "good-for-nothings" – and described Bahrain as a "shining symbol of internationalism". A few months later, the Kingdom launched a crackdown on suspected dissidents, ahead of fiercer repression after the Arab Spring.

Chatham House admitted the seminar was funded by Apex Communications, which was working for Bahrain at the time. Mr Burnet said: "The Bahrain event was organised by Chatham House with costs covered by Apex Communications, who are linked to the government of Bahrain. It was undertaken on a not-for-profit basis."

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