More Russian Linked Lobbying in UK Parliament
Further investigations by Iain Campbell reveal key Russian businessmen tied to parliamentary groups involved in tech and healthcare data
Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
The launch of a Westminster lobbying group by a business associate of Roman Abramovich “certainly raises causes for concern” the former chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, Dominic Grieve told Byline Times. This paper revealed that Sergey Bratukhin, a close associate of sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, has been a key partner of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity, helping to launch the group in 2019 under the name ‘Sergey Young’.
APPGs are forums run by Members of the House of Commons and Lords that lobby the Government in relation to particular areas of interest – whether foreign affairs subjects related to a particular country, or an aspect of public policy. They produce reports that are often endorsed by ministers, and they are commonly advised and even directly managed by private firms and charities.
The APPG for Longevity – the science of extending the human lifespan – is chaired by former senior Cabinet minister, Conservative MP Damian Green, while other members include former Head of the Home Civil Service Lord Bob Kerslake, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Paul Holmes MP, Jonathan Lord MP, and five other members of the House of Lords.
The APPG produced an influential report in February 2020 on NHS data usage, including ‘opening up’ this data to stimulate innovation, that was endorsed by the-then Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Byline Times can now reveal that there are further questions to be asked about the overseas links, and the private sector conflicts of interest, of other individuals that have been associated with this parliamentary lobbying group and others like it.
What is an APPG?
An APPG is a parliamentary group, run by MPs and peers, dedicated to lobbying the Government in relation to a particular policy area. APPGs are often advised and managed by private firms, which act as the ‘secretariat’.
The Parliamentary Standards Committee warned in May that the “risk of improper access and influence by hostile foreign actors through APPGs is real, though difficult to measure,” and conceded that “there is also evidence that this risk has already materialised”.
The report went on to warn that “if left unchecked, APPGs could represent the next great parliamentary scandal, with commercial entities effectively buying access to and influence of parliamentarians and decision-makers”.
The Skolkovo Connection
Bratukhin’s journey into medical science and longevity seems to have been influenced by Russia’s Skolkovo Foundation, a business incubator set up on the outskirts of Moscow in the early 2010s and led until 2018 by now-sanctioned oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, which in part focused on life sciences and artificial intelligence (AI) as key areas of study.
Skolkovo built a large science campus on the outskirts of Moscow and encouraged Western tech companies such as IBM and Microsoft to establish research centres within the facility, alongside Russian startups. The centre also received funding from Abramovich’s Millhouse Capital.
In 2014, the assistant special agent in charge of the Boston division of the FBI warned that the Skolkovo Foundation “may be a means for the Russian Government to access our nation’s sensitive or classified research, development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial applications”. There is no evidence that any of the individuals or firms mentioned in this article were aware of this threat, when they invested.
Bratukhin has been a visitor to the Skolkovo business park for numerous events and his firms have invested in businesses established there, including a startup called Insilico Medicine, run by the young scientist Dr Alex Zhavoronkov, which describes itself as an “artificial intelligence-driven” healthcare-technology company.
Early investors in Insilico also included Jim Mellon, a business partner of Brexit money-man Arron Banks and an early supporter of UKIP. Mellon, who made his money in Russia in the early 1990s, visited Insilico’s offices in Skolkovo and promoted the company through his Master Investor events in London where Dr Zhavoronkov has appeared several times as a key speaker.
Dr Zhavoronkov has been listed as an advisor to former Russian spy Anna Chapman’s UMA Fund, though he claims that he never had a formal relationship with the firm and that the UMA Fund “just used my picture on the website”.
Dr Zhavoronkov also helped to establish the Biogerontology Research Foundation (BRF) in the UK in 2008, which claims it is “the UK’s leading non-profit focused on longevity”.
Dr Zhavoronkov has held a role on the advisory board of the APPG, sitting alongside another Insilico employee, Polina Mamoshina, as well as Sergey Bratukhin. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of Insilico, Mellon, Dr Zhavoronkov or any of his employees.
Insilico Medicine told Byline Times that the firm has “ceased all operations in Russia. The company firmly believes in the importance of scientific collaboration across borders in order to accelerate discovery and innovation. While the company remains committed to global scientific research and innovation, we have withdrawn all company operations from the Skolkovo Innovation Centre in Russia, sold the local subsidiary (which represented under 3% of global R&D spending), and relocated the remaining team members to other regional sites.”
One of the managing trustees of the BRF is Dmitry Kaminskiy, a Moldovan businessman who was listed in March 2021 as the “co-director of the secretariat” of the APPG for Longevity and is listed as one of the advisors on its February 2020 ‘Health of the Nation’ report, alongside Dr Zhavoronkov. Kaminskiy says that his company, Ageing Analytics, provided data to the private health firm that manages the APPG for Longevity. The APPG claims that neither has been involved in APPG meetings since 2019.
Kaminskiy and Dr Zhavoronkov made headlines together for betting each other $1 million about who would die later.
Kaminskiy, who has also said that he will award $1 million to anyone reaching their 123rd birthday, first came to prominence as the chairman of i-bank.ru, a Russian bank which collapsed in 2016. Kaminskiy and other investors had purchased a 70% stake in i-bank in 2015, with Kaminskiy personally holding 10% of the company. As the new CEO, he pledged to invest $1 billion in the bank to create “the most powerful IT-team in Russia” which he would “motivate to work as in Space X or Tesla – 100 hours a week, 15 hours a day.”
In 2016, the Russian Central Bank withdrew i-bank’s licence, saying, “Interactive Bank (LLC) pursued a high-risk credit policy associated with the placement of funds in low-quality assets. An adequate assessment of the risks taken and a reliable reflection of the value of the bank’s assets led to the emergence of grounds for the credit institution to take measures to prevent insolvency (bankruptcy). At the same time, the bank was involved in conducting dubious operations.”
The administrators of the bank accused its former management of embezzlement – though it’s unknown if any former executives were charged.
No criminal charges were brought against Kaminskiy and he states that he assisted the authorities with their investigations. He told Byline Times that: “some of the managers representing the interests of certain other shareholders were using the bank for very risky financial and potentially even illegal operations,” but that he was not responsible for any wrongdoing.
FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM & INCREDIBLE VALUE
Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.
Kaminskiy (listed here under the name Dmitrii Caminschii) was also revealed as an economic advisor to then-Moldovan President Igor Dodon in February 2018.
Dodon supported the Russian ‘federalisation’ plan of Moldova, which proposed stationing up to 2,000 Russian troops in the breakaway Transnistria region. The region, which sits along the country’s border with Ukraine, currently holds around 500 Russian troops who are present as ‘peacekeepers’ and has been under Russian control since 1992.
In May this year, Dodon was arrested and accused by Moldovan prosecutors of “illicit enrichment, passive corruption, illegal party financing and (treason), which have taken place since 2014.”
Kaminskiy said that his role as an advisor to Dodon was brief and that he does not and has not had any financial relationship with Dodon or his associates.
Sergey Bratukhin did not respond to Byline Times’ multiple requests for comment.
Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain
In addition to supporting the BRF and the APPG for Longevity, Kaminskiy has collaborated with two other parliamentary lobbying groups – the APPG on Blockchain, and the APPG on Artificial Intelligence – through the Big Innovation Centre.
The Big Innovation Centre, co-run by Lancaster University, hosts the APPG on Artificial Intelligence website and has organised several events around blockchain and big data. To date, the Big Innovation Centre has provided £738,000 of services to the APPG on AI and £354,000 to the APPG on Blockchain, the funding for these services paid for by corporate sponsors such as Capita and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
The secretariat of the APPGs on Blockchain and AI used data analysis services from Kaminskiy’s Deep Knowledge Analytics, a collection of loss making or dormant companies – though Kaminskiy says that these services were provided free of charge. Kaminskiy personally presented reports on the UK blockchain and AI industries in Parliament in 2018.
Kaminskiy told Byline Times that: “We have companies that are generating profit in Switzerland and Asia, and we have several companies (in the UK in particular) that are focused on R&D and development of technological solutions. We invest our own money into those companies, and while they are not yet generating profit, they are generating significant IP (intellectual property), and this is very typical for most tech-focused businesses.”
Max Colbert explores the implications of the tech firm’s ever-expanding role in British healthcare
During the pandemic, Deep Knowledge Analytics produced “big data analysis” reports on the global spread of COVID-19, and has published a list ranking countries by ‘safety’ from the virus, which has been quoted by governments and news outlets around the world.
Despite this, a senior Israeli academic described the studies as “the mother of fake news”, after the Deep Knowledge Ventures analysis declared Israel as the safest country in the world in March and April 2020, shortly before a sharp rise in cases in the nation.
Awaiting approval from UK banking regulators is also Kaminskiy’s Longevity Card venture, an online bank account which seeks to sync to your FitBit and record your key health data on a daily basis in return for discounts on “longevity healthcare products”.
The private health interests of Kaminskiy and Dr Zhavoronkov – the latter of whom runs the healthcare technology firm Insilico – are particularly relevant in the context of the APPG for Longevity’s work on NHS data access.
The lobbying group published its Health of the Nation report in February 2020, recommending the opening up of the “UK’s rich and diverse datasets” to encourage research and innovation.
As the report says: “We should apply the lessons from Open Banking where banking data is shared and has stimulated the fintech ecosystem. There are opportunities to harness datasets across the life-course and be a global leader in using longitudinal data and AI to develop new products and services.”
It adds that: “An open data approach will maximise federated open market innovation, competition and efficiency.”
The paper was lauded as “timely and brilliant” by the-then Health Secretary Matt Hancock when he attended its launch. The APPG maintains that it has not advocated for private firms to exploit or benefit from NHS data.
The APPG claims that Kaminskiy and Dr Zhavoronkov both advised the group on this report – though Kaminskiy claims that he stopped advising the group before the report was initiated. Whichever is true, it is clear that he delivered a report on longevity in Parliament in May 2019 – at the launch of the APPG – pictured alongside Hancock and Damian Green.
Past and present members of the APPG, such as Conservative peer Lord James O’Shaughnessy and the Health of the Nation co-author, Tina Woods, run data-led private healthcare firms. Indeed, the APPG is managed by Collider Health – a private healthcare firm run by Woods – while O’Shaughnessy joined Newmarket Strategy, likewise a private healthcare firm, as a senior partner in March 2021. O’Shaughnessy took a leave of absence from Parliament in late 2021 and is not believed to have been active in the APPG since then.
The APPG’s April 2021 report, ‘Levelling Up Health’, further underlined the unique value of NHS data, stating: “We must harness the NHS’s great data assets much more… Its potential power is immense for policy, research, and monitoring.”
Kaminskiy, for his part, told Byline Times that he agrees with calls to better regulate APPGs, saying that “better transparency and a straightforward means of neutralising potential conflicts of interests either from the view of commercial entities or any foreign interests,” are needed.
Dr Zhavoronkov told Byline Times that “At Insilico, we have a policy of not using human biological data unless it comes from public repositories. We [have] never used any non-public data from the UK or anywhere else.”