Former government official Brandon Lewis has accepted a high-paying position as an advisor for a company that is partially owned by two Russian oligarchs who have been sanctioned.
Lewis, a previous justice secretary and former chair of the Conservative party, was granted permission to assume the role at LetterOne, a company that is 49% owned by Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) has placed restrictions on Lewis, former government official, from lobbying on behalf of LetterOne for two years after leaving office.
The statement also mentioned that Lewis cannot be involved in a legal case filed by LetterOne against the government. The case disputes the government’s decision to mandate the sale of a fiber company named Upp, citing concerns for national security.
Lewis currently holds multiple positions, with a combined annual income of £150,000. In addition to his role as a backbench MP, he receives a salary of £60,000 per year from Thakeham Homes, another £60,000 per year from FM Conway (a transportation company), and £30,000 per year for advising Civitas Investment Management.
Mervyn Davies, a former banker and ex-Labour government minister, leads LetterOne, which has confirmed its complete independence from Fridman and Aven, who were subject to sanctions in 2022. The company’s portfolio includes investments in popular brands like Holland & Barrett, a health food chain.
Fridman and Aven continue to hold significant shares, but their ownership has been restricted due to UK and EU sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
LetterOne told the Financial Times: “The appointment of Brandon Lewis builds on the decisive changes we have been making following Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine … Today’s appointment follows the swift, robust and decisive action we undertook to distance L1 from its sanctioned shareholders.”
LetterOne followed the instructions for selling Upp, but has also filed a lawsuit in the high court to challenge the government’s decision.
Lewis did not encounter LetterOne during his time in office, but Acoba expressed concern over the company’s attempt to exert influence on the government through their judicial review against a government decision.
The watchdog stated that LetterOne has verified that Lewis will not be responsible for giving advice on Upp or the judicial review. This must be a contractual requirement for his appointment with the company.
Lewis has been chosen to lead the advisory council of LetterOne. In response to his appointment, he stated, “Since Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, LetterOne has made significant progress. The company is now completely independent from its previously sanctioned founders and is committed to making investments that are beneficial for society. Additionally, LetterOne is one of the top corporate contributors of aid to Ukraine.”