16/03/2021 11:13 GMT

No.10 Faces ‘Serious Questions’ Over Russian-Linked Media Refit, Says Ex-Standards Chief

Dominic Raab defends No.9 refurb as “value for money” after HuffPost UK revealed a Russian-owned firm had played a key role.

Undated handout photo issued by ITV News of Downing Street's new White-House style media briefing room

Downing Street has “serious questions” to answer over how a Russian-owned firm played a key role in a £2.6m renovation to get No.9 ready for televised media briefings, a former standards watchdog chief has said.

Sir Alistair Graham, ex-chair of the committee on standards in public life, described the hiring of Megahertz in an undisclosed contract as “incredible”.

He said it was the second “very bizarre” refit of a Downing Street property in recent weeks. Questions remain over who paid for a reported £200,000 refurb of the flat above No.11 occupied by Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds.

But as the government prepared to publish a major foreign policy review that is expected to describe Russia as the biggest threat to UK security, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the media refit contract provided “value for money” and said he was not worried about security “for a second”. 

HuffPost UK revealed on Monday that Megahertz had carried out crucial work, including installing computers, cameras, microphones and a control desk, to get the building ready for White House-style briefings from Boris Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton.

Megahertz was bought in 2013 by the UK arm of Okno-TV – a Moscow-based firm that has carried out technical work for state-controlled broadcasters Russia Today, Channel One, and Public Television of Russia.

Most of Megahertz’s current shareholders are either current or former workers at the Russian firm, according to Companies House.

To use a Russian [owned] company in a highly sensitive security area seems incredible, really

Commenting on the revelations, Graham told LBC: “I couldn’t quite believe it, really, because the two refurbishments we’ve had in Downing Street recently have been very bizarre.

“To use a Russian [owned] company in a highly sensitive security area seems incredible, really.

“I don’t think the government [has] explained yet whether this contract went out for competitive tender and it seems to be one of a whole series of very expensive projects that haven’t gone out to competitive tender.

“So I think there are some serious questions to be answered.”

He added: “To find you’ve got a Russian-owned company doing sort of sensitive work really does raise very serious questions and I’ll be surprised if the story dies very quickly, and it will be pursued in parliament.”

Raab defended the contract on the day the government prepared to publish its integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy.

He told LBC: “We’re not saying that we’ve got a problem with the Russian people or the Chinese people.

“Indeed if you look at, for example, on the Chinese front, the British Chinese community make an incredible contribution here.

“And we’re not saying all businesses from either of those two countries are bad – far from it, we welcome [them]. We want to be an outward, open-looking country.

“And of course in relation to any government contracts we want to get the best value for money.

“Of course [there is] a big emphasis on buying British but we want to get the best value for taxpayers’ money.”

Asked, however, if it looked like a strange decision given Okno-TV’s involvement with state-controlled broadcasters like Russia Today, Raab said: “No. I think if they are engaged in interior design...”

Asked about Megahertz installing audiovisual equipment, Raab said: “Any of that stuff as you’d expect would be very carefully checked by our own authorities, so I’m not worried about that for a second.”

Raab added: “We’re an open, outward-looking country. We want foreign direct investment where it’s safe, where it can be done without risk to our own country or dirty money making its way into this country.

“But that is part of our schtick, our USP as global Britain.”