Dark Money Investigations: News

Revealed: P&O Ferries using PR firm favoured by oligarchs and Putin allies

New Century Media, which has donated to the Conservative Party, will try to sanitise P&O’s profile following brutal sacking of 800 staff

Martin Williams
18 March 2022, 2.33pm
A P&O cross-channel ferry approaches Calais
GFC Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

The ferry firm that sacked 800 people yesterday is using a PR firm that has also advised oligarchs and Kremlin allies to clean up its image, openDemocracy can reveal.

P&O Ferries has partnered with New Century Media for advice on public relations.

The PR business, which is run by former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside, has donated more than £200,000 to the Conservative Party. It has previously worked for an array of Russian businesses and top oligarchs linked to Vladimir Putin. P&O’s parent firm DP World is also directing journalists’ enquiries to New Century Media.

It will be trying to sanitise P&O’s profile following a brutal staff cull that took place without notice over a video call yesterday.

Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19

The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.

MPs called the P&O sackings “callous”, “despicable” and “wholly unacceptable”, while protests are planned at several UK sea ports.

P&O Ferries, which was bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World, did not immediately comment on its relationship with New Century Media. But it described the sacking of staff as a “tough” decision, claiming it would “not be a viable business” without the changes.

New Century Media has faced criticism for its work with Russian clients, including billionaire Vladimir Makhlai, who fled to Britain in 2005. Records show the firm briefly provided him with “reputation management” and “personal introductions” to individuals in politics, as part of a £900,000-a-year contract.

It once also advised Ukrainian-born oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who has brokered gas deals with the Kremlin. Firtash was sanctioned by Ukraine last year over alleged business links to Russian defence firms and is wanted by the FBI on corruption charges.

Yesterday, openDemocracy revealed that New Century Media’s chair Burnside has access to the heart of Westminster

New Century Media has also previously represented the Kazakh mining giant, Eurasian Resources Group. One of the group’s directors, Patokh Chodiev, was awarded the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation at a special ceremony in the Kremlin in 2020.

The lobbying firm even paid £10,000 a month to a former Kremlin adviser, Alexander Nekrassov, to act as a consultant.

Nekrassov, who died in 2020, was widely seen as a ‘Putin apologist’ and was prolific in spreading disinformation. In 2018, he said there was “no evidence” that Moscow was behind the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal with the nerve agent Novichok. He also tried to cast doubt on Russia’s 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

Nekrassov’s son – who is also called Alex – remains a senior consultant for New Century Media, where he has advised British oil giant BP on its “reputation management strategy” over its stake in Rosneft, the Russian state oil company.

Yesterday, openDemocracy revealed that New Century Media’s chair Burnside has access to the heart of Westminster – thanks to a parliamentary pass he was given when he stepped down as an Ulster Unionist MP in 2005. The company said that none of Burnside’s visits to Parliament were for company business.

In 2013, Burnside sponsored a table at the Conservatives’ exclusive summer party, where his guests included Vladimir Putin’s wealthy judo partner, Vasily Shestakov. It is understood that Shestakov was not a client of New Century Media.

The company’s website boasts: “Our team enjoys strong and long-lasting relationships within the highest political spheres in both the UK Parliament and Government, as well as in foreign government offices.”

A spokesperson for the company said: “New Century has no Russian billionaire clients nor Russian state company clients. It would never act for any individual sanctioned by the UK government. New Century has never been paid by the Kremlin to carry out any promotional activities or political lobbying.”

The company did not comment on its relationship with P&O Ferries.

Why should you care about freedom of information?

From coronation budgets to secretive government units, journalists have used the Freedom of Information Act to expose corruption and incompetence in high places. Tony Blair regrets ever giving us this right. Today's UK government is giving fewer and fewer transparency responses, and doing it more slowly. But would better transparency give us better government? And how can we get it?

Join our experts for a free live discussion at 5pm UK time on 15 June.

Hear from:

Claire Miller Data journalism and FOI expert
Martin Rosenbaum Author of ‘Freedom of Information: A Practical Guidebook’; former BBC political journalist
Jenna Corderoy Investigative reporter at openDemocracy and visiting lecturer at City University, London
Chair: Ramzy Alwakeel Head of news at openDemocracy

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData