Daily Mail

Husband of British envoy in Russia runs trading lobby group

- By Sam Greenhill

tHe husband of Britain’s ambassador in Moscow runs a business forum designed to boost trade with russian firms – despite sanctions against vladimir Putin’s regime.

alf torrents, 57, is executive director of the russo-British Chamber of Commerce, leaving his wife, ambassador Deborah Bronnert, facing questions over whether her role representi­ng Britain’s interests in russia is conflicted by his job.

there was an outcry last month after the Daily Mail revealed that British luxury brands such as rolls-royce were still trading in russia.

In peacetime, Mr torrents’s organisati­on lobbied to smooth trade with the Putin regime. In 2016 – two years after the kremlin annexed Crimea – it urged Parliament to ‘reinstate russia as a worldwide trade and investment priority’ and ‘re-evaluate sanctions’.

although it scaled back its operations after the invasion of ukraine, it remains active, and recently advertised for a new treasurer.

Last tuesday, Mr torrents hosted an event to ‘update’ members on the political, trade and consular situation. Held at the British embassy, it was addressed by Miss Bronnert.

Mr torrents, who lives with his wife at the official British residence, a 19th-century merchant’s house opposite the kremlin, told in 2020 how his chamber of commerce held ‘regular consultati­ons’ with the Foreign Office, whose diplomats had ‘ never been anything but supportive’.

In another interview he said he worked ‘closely’ with the British embassy to ‘represent the interests of our members’.

When Mrs Bronnert, 55, was announced in 2019 as ambassador to russia, the official notice did not mention Mr torrents or his job, in contrast to her previous appointmen­t as ambassador to Zimbabwe, when he was named.

Since ukraine was invaded, the uk has tried to isolate russia on the internatio­nal stage and enforce strict sanctions. trading there is all-but banned, and most British firms quit their russian operations.

One informed source said of the russo-British Chamber of Commerce: ‘ the question is whether a lobbying group – especially one that has argued vociferous­ly against sanctions – should have such personal access to HM ambassador to Moscow.’

another expert in the area said the chamber of commerce was operating in a ‘parallel universe’ if it thought there was any way it could continue to promote trade with russia.

Since the invasion, the group’s previously public website has been hidden behind a members-only login.

there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by former army officer Mr torrents or his wife.

after russia invaded ukraine in February last year, Mr torrents told his members ‘these are dark days indeed’, and said the chamber of commerce would cease its main activities

‘Argued against sanctions’

and operate in a ‘significan­tly wound- down format so as, if possible, to preserve the organisati­on for the future’.

He told the Mail that last tuesday’s event was ‘ to update the few remaining British nationals in russia on the current crisis’, insisting: ‘ It is in no way a business event in the sense of promoting business between the uk and russia.’

He added: ‘the environmen­t is changeable and far from easy for those having to operate in it and the session [was] an update to provide informatio­n to British citizens.’

He declined to comment on any possible conflict of interest. the Foreign Office said: ‘there is no conflict of interest in this appointmen­t.’

 ?? ?? Updates: Mrs Bronnert and Mr Torrents
Updates: Mrs Bronnert and Mr Torrents

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