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July 20th, 2013:

David Cameron urged to probe claim that aide had £6m tobacco deal

David Cameron urged to probe claim that aide had £6m tobacco deal

Lynton Crosby comes under renewed fire over Philip Morris links as row over cigarette packaging rages on

Lynton Crosby

Lynton Crosby signed the contract with Philip Morris. Photograph: Stuart Clarke / Rex Features

Labour has urged David Cameron to investigate claims that a contract that his electoral strategist, Lynton Crosby, signed to provide the cigarette firm Philip Morris International (PMI) with lobbying services could be worth as much as £6m.

As the row over Crosby’s role in a government U-turn on plain cigarette packaging continues, an informed source claimed that the PMI contract was signed personally by Crosby last November after another lobbying firm, Luther Pendragon, severed its ties with the company following criticism from leading health organisations.

The source said a figure “of around £6m” was discussed, although the agreed amount and the duration of the contract are not known.

In a letter to Cameron, Labour’s shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, states: “It has been alleged to me that last November, after his appointment as your electoral strategy adviser, Lynton Crosby personally signed a contract between Philip Morris International and Crosby Textor for lobbying work in the UK, including on standardised packaging of tobacco. It is claimed that the contract was in the region of £6m.” Burnham also asks Cameron to clarify what discussions, if any, he had with Crosby on plain packs.

“In various interviews, you refused to say whether you had discussed the issue of standardised packaging with Mr Crosby, leaving the clear impression that a conversation has indeed taken place,” he writes. “It is essential that you address this point directly and clear this matter up.”

The contract with Crosby’s company, Crosby Textor Fullbrook (CTF), was signed following close discusssions with Livio Vanghetti, PMI’s vice-president of corporate affairs, European Union region, and Brett Cooper, its director of corporate affairs, UK and Ireland.

PMI said in response to a series of questions put to it by the Observer that the claims were “factually incorrect” and “completely inaccurate”. It declined to comment further. A CTF spokesman said that the “allegations are without foundation and categorically untrue”. It declined to comment on the value of its contract with PMI.

Crosby’s relationship with the prime minister has been under intense scrutiny since the government abandoned plans for cigarettes to be sold in plain packs. Cameron is expected to repeat on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday his assertion that he has never been lobbied by Crosby on the issue of cigarette packaging and add that there has been no other “intervention” by the Australian on the matter.

There has been speculation that the rise of Ukip, which promotes the rights of smokers, and concerns that plain packaging would lead to a rise in tobacco smuggling were two reasons why Cameron decided to abandon the plan after Crosby reputedly encouraged him to prioritise the Tories’ goals ahead of the 2015 general election.

“Nobody cares about the latest hair-splitting evasion Mr Cameron dreams up to obscure whether he and Mr Crosby spoke about standard packaging,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Ash. “But they do care that over 200,000 children still start to smoke in this country every year, and that many will go on to terrible illnesses and early deaths as a result.”

In January PMI shared a report with Department of Health officials that it had commissioned from an independent expert that was scathing about the arguments made for plain packaging.

The report was written by Rupert Darwall, who worked with Crosby on the 2005 Tory election campaign and was offered an associate directorship at one of the lobbyist’s companies.

A spokesman for the Conservative party said: “The PM has already been absolutely clear that he was not lobbied by Lynton Crosby on this, or anything else, and that the decision was his and the health secretary’s without reference to any other outside bodies.”