Lord Bell last night sought to answer questions about Bell Pottinger's audit trail for the company's work in Belarus, after one of his most senior executives cast doubt on who had been paying for its work in Europe's last dictatorship.
The chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Relations, David Wilson, told undercover reporters who he thought were representing the repressive Uzbek government, that, in Belarus, "we were being funded by a – shall we say – a rich benefactor who had key interests in Belarus".
Mr Wilson added: "In our work for Belarus, nobody knows who paid us but Belarus. As far as they were aware we were working on behalf of the government."
Lord Bell, the chairman of Bell Pottinger's parent group, Chime Communications, told The Independent last night that Mr Wilson, one of his closest colleagues, was wrong.
"All invoices were sent to the Belarus government and all payments were received from the Belarus government," Lord Bell said.
"What David Wilson said was not true, I have no idea why he said it."
During the meeting, Mr Wilson had pointed out the need for an audit trail because Chime Communications is a listed company.
He was asked by one undercover reporter, "Do you need to know who our backers are? If you don't know, there's deniability, isn't there?" Mr Wilson replied: "It would be useful... I'd have to check with my chairman. Because he would probably say we should know who we're working for, because if the media asks us, 'Who is your client?' there has to be an audit trail because we are a quoted company. We have to be ethical."
When asked, "Couldn't you just say you're working for [the front company] the Azimov Group? Do you need to know who is paying us?" Mr Wilson added: "I do understand that. In our work for Belarus, nobody knows who paid us."
Bell Pottinger ceased working for Belarus in 2009. Mr Wilson said, "Unfortunately our funding line stopped."
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism