Written evidence has emerged of a business relationship between Henley & Partners, the global citizenship firm behind Malta’s Individual Investor Programme, and the people behind the now-defunct controversial big data firm Cambridge Analytica.
However, Henley & Partners has said that it has no knowledge of any such formal relationship, and that any agreements were never formalised and implemented.
Lovin Malta has seen three separate agreements as part of a joint investigation coordinated by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation into material provided by a whistleblower who had originally approached the now-assassinated journalist.
The first agreement, signed in February 2010 between Henley & Partners and Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, states that H&P would act as a political introducer to SCL in relation to developing and rolling out its business in countries where it hasn’t been active so far.
H&P would then get paid a success fee for any arrangements SCL would make with clients the citizenship firm would have introduced them to during the validity of the agreement, set at an initial 60 month period.
Evidence provided by the whistleblower also includes two unsigned agreements, dated August and September 2010, between H&P and Alexander Nix, who would later go on to become the CEO of Cambridge Analytica.
At the time, Nix wasn’t representing SCL, but Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI), a research facility for strategic communications with links to SCL.
These draft agreements are similar to the first agreement, but this time propose that BDI would act as a political introducer to Henley & Partners, specifically for the citizenship firm’s plans to roll out its business in the Caribbean nations of Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
It also came with an initial 60-month validity period and entitled BDI to introductory success fees on completion of a transaction between H&P and a government or opposition client party.
Responding to questions from the Daphne Caruana Galizia, Henley & Partners said they don’t have records of these agreements.
“To the best of our knowledge, there was no formal relationship with SCL, BDI or Alexander Nix (or any other company connected with Mr Nix,” they said. “Even if there were agreements contemplated or signed at the time, they were never formalised and implemented.”
Reports of the relationship between Kalin and Nix first emerged in the wake of the 2018 Facebook- Cambridge Analytica scandal, which found that Cambridge Analytica had used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target them with political ads.
In 2019, the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee followed up the scandal by publishing a report into fake news and disinformation, which flagged the relationship between Kalin and Nix.
Back then, British MPs said they were told that H&P chairman Christian Kalin had acted as the “hidden hand” behind much of SCL’s election campaigning and that a ‘Faustian pact’ existed between Kalin and Nix.
They cited an interview that SCL’s former head of elections Sven Hughes gave Fast Company, in which he alleged that Kalin would supply funding from unknown investors, provide talking points for political candidates and discuss various projects they could expect once in power.
Back then, Henley & Partners denied that the firm or Kalin ever provided funding for any election campaign.
“Henley & Partners was advising governments in the Caribbean on citizenship-by-investment at the same time that SCL was active in the region,” the firm said.
“It followed, as is common in businesses with similar client bases, that there was a certain amount of interaction among the numerous advisors and consultants. It is entirely incorrect, however, to suggest that Henley & Partners worked in partnership with SCL or in any way sought to gain from the outcomes of any elections.”
When the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation referred Henley & Partners to this exchange, the citizenship firm recounted its statement word for word, except that this time it said “it is entirely incorrect to suggest Henley & Partners was a formal partner to SCL.”
What is the connection to Malta?
Previous revelations of the relationship between Henley & Partners and Cambridge Analytica have raised suspicions that the big data firm might have been somehow involved in the 2013 general election.
Former PN secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier has said that Nix himself approached him a few months before the election and sent him a proposal related to the targeting of voters through behavioural dynamics.
However, he said he discarded the proposal because it was too late in the day and the PN’s election strategy wheels were already in motion.
The British ‘fake news’ committee said in its 2019 report that it received confidential evidence which shows that SCL had meetings in Malta, that SCL introduced then Opposition leader [and later Prime Minister] Joseph Muscat to Kalin in 2011, and that Kalin met with both political parties before 2013.
Meanwhile, a leaked email that Nix had sent former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser on 8th July 2016 includes Malta among a list of countries whose elections the company was targeting.
“Elections not due until 2018 – we have multiple contacts with both main parties. We will make our approach in the autumn,” Nix wrote.
However, the Labour Party has denied ever meeting any representative from Cambridge Analytica and said such companies played no part in its election campaigns at all. Questioned by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, Joseph Muscat said he never met Nix or any representative of SCL.
Henley & Partners said they could not recall when Kalin or a representative of the firm first met Muscat, nor who initially introduced them to him.
“Our executives meet dozens of senior politicians every year. Henley & Partners had been active for many years prior to the IIP, working on the Maltese residence by investment program,” they said.
They added that they weren’t aware of any planned approach by Nix to the Nationalist Party.
About the material:
The whistleblower who provided most of the material first came to Daphne Caruana Galizia years ago, providing evidence about the IIP.
After the journalist’s assassination, her family tried to contact the whistleblower but they had no name or contact. They eventually resurfaced and were willing to share the evidence about the IIP that would become the basis of the Passport Papers investigation.
In 2020, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation was awarded funding from the Digital Defenders Partnership that allowed them to create the technical infrastructure needed to host the data.
The funders knew little about the material the Foundation had access to, other than that it was committed to creating collaborative investigations that involve all independent media organisations in Malta.
The second round of funding came from Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU), which allowed the Foundation to proceed with the investigation. The data was made available to journalists using Aleph, an application created by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
A small technical team at the Foundation began processing the data in August 2020, and a small team of researchers at the Foundation began analysing it in December 2020.