When the Russia query got here up throughout a listening to on the British Parliament final month, Alexander Nix didn’t hesitate.
“We’ve by no means labored in Russia,” mentioned Mr. Nix, head of an information consulting agency that suggested the Trump marketing campaign on concentrating on voters.
“So far as I’m conscious, we’ve by no means labored for a Russian firm,” Mr. Nix added. “We’ve by no means labored with a Russian group in Russia or another nation, and we don’t have any relationship with Russia or Russian people.”
However Mr. Nix’s enterprise did have some dealings with Russian pursuits, in response to firm paperwork and interviews.
Mr. Nix is a director of SCL Group, a British political and protection contractor, and chief govt of its American offshoot, Cambridge Analytica, which suggested the Trump marketing campaign. The companies’ workers, who typically overlap, had contact in 2014 and 2015 with executives from Lukoil, the Russian oil large.
Lukoil was all for how knowledge was used to focus on American voters, in response to two former firm insiders who mentioned there have been at the very least three conferences with Lukoil executives in London and Turkey. SCL and Lukoil denied that the talks had been political in nature, and SCL additionally mentioned there have been no conferences in London.
The contacts happened as Cambridge Analytica was constructing a roster of Republican political purchasers in the USA — and harvesting the Fb profiles of over 50 million customers to develop instruments it mentioned may analyze voters’ habits.
Cambridge Analytica additionally included in depth questions on Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, in surveys it was finishing up in American focus teams in 2014. It’s not clear what — or which consumer — prompted the road of questioning, which requested for views on matters starting from Mr. Putin’s recognition to Russian expansionism.
On two promotional paperwork obtained by The New York Occasions, SCL mentioned it did enterprise in Russia. In each paperwork, the nation is highlighted on world maps that specify the placement of SCL purchasers, with one of many maps noting that the purchasers had been for the agency’s elections division. In a press release, SCL mentioned an worker had finished “industrial work” about 25 years in the past “for a non-public firm in Russia.”
Cambridge Analytica has been a political flash level since its function within the Trump marketing campaign attracted scrutiny after the election. Whereas Mr. Nix’s agency turned over some information to the Home Everlasting Choose Committee on Intelligence throughout its investigation of Russian interference, Democrats on the committee desire a fuller assessment. “It’s crucial to interview a broader vary of people employed by or linked to Cambridge Analytica,” they mentioned in a report this month.
Requested concerning the Russian oil firm, a spokesman for SCL mentioned that in 2014 the agency’s industrial division “mentioned serving to Lukoil Turkey higher have interaction with its loyalty-card clients at gasoline stations.” The spokesman mentioned SCL was not in the end employed.
Arash Repac, chief govt of Lukoil Eurasia Petrol, supplied a special rationalization for the talks. He mentioned assembly he attended with SCL in Turkey concerned a promotional marketing campaign with native soccer groups.
“We wanted any person to information us with the shopper knowledge that we had been amassing,” he wrote in response to a query from The Occasions. “Despite the fact that our marketing campaign went forward, we determined to not cooperate with SCL. No contracts had been signed.”
However Christopher Wylie, who helped discovered Cambridge Analytica and develop the corporate’s voter-profiling know-how, mentioned Lukoil confirmed curiosity in how the corporate used knowledge to tailor messaging to American voters.
“I keep in mind being tremendous confused,” mentioned Mr. Wylie, who took half in one of many Lukoil conferences.
“I saved asking Alexander, ‘Are you able to clarify to me what they need?’” he mentioned, referring to Mr. Nix. “I don’t perceive why Lukoil needs to find out about political concentrating on in America.”
“We’re sending them stuff about political concentrating on — they then come and ask extra about political concentrating on,” Mr. Wylie mentioned, including that Lukoil “simply didn’t appear to be ” in how the methods could possibly be used commercially.
Mr. Wylie, a former contractor, left SCL earlier than the talks concluded and couldn’t say what turned of the connection with the oil firm. He had a falling out with SCL and tried to arrange a rival enterprise. SCL mentioned he had violated a nondisclosure settlement and that his feedback had been an try to harm the corporate.
A second individual conversant in the discussions backed up Mr. Wylie’s account, however spoke on the situation of anonymity due to a confidentiality settlement.
Although Lukoil isn’t state-owned, it will depend on Kremlin assist, and its chief govt, Vagit Alekperov, has met with Mr. Putin on various events. Reuters reported final 12 months that Lukoil and different firms obtained directions from the state vitality ministry on offering information tales favorable to Russian management.
Mr. Nix, for his half, has lengthy been adamant. “We simply don’t have enterprise in Russia,” he advised TechCrunch final 12 months. “We’ve got no involvement in Russia, by no means have finished.”