Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Saturday, 25 October 2008 18:07 UK

'No interference' from Mandelson

Lord Mandelson
Lord Mandelson clarified his dealings in a letter to a national newspaper

The European Commission has again insisted there was "no political interference" from Lord Mandelson in decisions to ease EU import duties.

It came after the UK business secretary admitted meeting a Russian billionaire earlier than previously revealed.

His relationship with aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska led some to suggest he could have intervened on the Russian's behalf while EU Trade Commissioner.

The Commission insists the decisions were taken in "full transparency".

Controversy has surrounded events at a summer party on board the tycoon's yacht attended by Lord Mandelson, then European Trade Commissioner.

Lord Mandelson has admitted first meeting Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2004 - two years earlier than EU officials had previously claimed.

Conflicts of interest

The length and nature of their relationship is central to questions over whether Lord Mandelson faced conflicts of interest when dealing with matters connected to Mr Deripaska.

His admission prompted calls from Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker for the business secretary to release full details of the meetings.

In 2004, as Trade Commissioner, Lord Mandelson had proposed that tariffs on aluminium imports be cut from 6% to 3%.

Mr Deripaska has an estimated 16bn fortune and owns the world's biggest aluminium producer UC Rusal.

Earlier this month, the European Commission cleared Lord Mandelson of any inappropriate links with the tycoon.

Some people formed the reasonable view, therefore, that my first meeting with him was in 2006. This is not the case
Lord Mandelson

But a newspaper report in the Guardian suggested officials who cleared the peer had not been aware of a previous meeting between the two men, before he took up his post as trade commissioner.

On Saturday, European Commission director general for trade David O'Sullivan released a statement in response to the media interest.

Referring to decisions relating to aluminium imports, he said: "There was no political interference by Peter Mandelson."

Decisions were, he said, "subject to numerous discussions in Council and final decisions were reached in an entirely standard and routine manner".

He said discussions over a decision to halve import tariffs "took place in full transparency... with all 27 Member States and Commission officials around the table".

He has described the move as a compromise between countries wanting to scrap duties and those wanting them retained.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had earlier said: "This was already investigated by the European Commission when he was a commissioner and the answer was nothing untoward happened. That's where the story lies."

BBC political correspondent Vicky Young said the reduction of tariffs saved Mr Deripaska millions of pounds.

Oleg Deripaska
The row centres on a party on board Mr Deripaska's yacht

"The fact that he met him earlier than previously thought means it coincides with the time when these tariffs were discussed," she added.

In a letter to the Times on Saturday, Lord Mandelson had said a statement had been released to the press stating he 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."

He went on to say he would "ensure no conflict of interest, or perception of such" arises from any past or future contacts and would take advice from his permanent secretary "at all times".

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

"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."

The row about the party on board Mr Deripaska's yacht relates to allegations that the shadow chancellor George Osborne, who was also attending, attempted to solicit a 50,000 Tory donation from him. Mr Osborne has firmly denied the claims.

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