Lobbying's Hidden Influence

Lover and aide claims MP Mike Hancock urged lobby group to pay her

Katia Zatuliveter - PA

Ekaterina Zatuliveter arrives at court

Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock solicited cash from a controversial organisation for his parliamentary aide and lover Katerina Zatuliveter, according to allegations in papers filed at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

Ms Zatuliveter, who has been accused – and subsequently found not guilty – of being a Russian spy while having an affair with the MP, said Mr Hancock approached The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) on her behalf in the middle of 2009, when he was a member of the hugely important defence select committee.

Mr Hancock has not denied the claim but he refuted a suggestion Ms Zatuliveter was lobbying for TEAS while simultaneously acting as his researcher.

Ms Zatuliveter’s statement, made in her appeal against deportation for suspected espionage on behalf of  Russia, says she had spent £2000 on legal fees relating to her visa and was running into financial problems.

She added: ‘Mike was also very worried about my financial situation and what would happen to me. He suggested to The European Azerbaijan Society that they might pay me for the lobbying and consultancy work that I had done for them as his parliamentary researcher over a number of months. They very kindly made a payment of £3,000 to me on the 22 June which is referenced in my bank accounts’.

As the Bureau has previously revealed, TEAS is a lobby group whose funding sources are unclear and which is run by the sons of a powerful Azeri minister.

Around a month before the payment Mr Hancock hosted a discussion for TEAS at Portcullis House on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. He was also a speaker at a TEAS reception in September 2009.

The Bureau asked Mr Hancock, who was a member of the defence select committee at the time of the payment but has since resigned from this position, whether he had asked TEAS to pay Ms Zatuliveter.

A spokesman for the MP replied: ‘Mike is aware that Ms Zatuliveter assisted on a project for The European Azerbaijan Society. She had friends in Azerbaijan and got in contact with the society while working in Parliament. Any work she did was in her own spare time and was of her own volition. He was never informed of how much Ms Zatuliveter was paid and he does not know when they paid her for the work she did.’

Ms Zatuliveter told the Commission her work for TEAS included organising a photographic exhibition in Parliament on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Neither the work for TEAS or the payment appears in the Commons register of interests of members’ secretaries and research assistants for 2009-10. The spokesman for Mr Hancock said: ‘All staff working in Parliament and in Mike’s office are informed of the requirements to register interests.’

A spokesman for TEAS said: ‘It is a matter of public record that Ms Zatuliveter assisted us with a photographic exhibition highlighting the plight of the 865,000 refugees and internally displaced persons, together with an event for the Azerbaijani community, for which her fee was £3,000. She had attended some of our previous events, and offered her assistance in a private capacity. We used her because at the time TEAS was quite small and new to the UK, and did not have sufficient internal resources.’

In February 2009 Mr Hancock also tabled an Early Day Motion calling for the conflict to be resolved and highlighting the UK’s position as the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan. His spokesman said: ‘EDM 893 stemmed from Mike’s work on the British delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and had nothing to do with The European Azerbaijan Society. He has a longstanding interest in the region going back to the breakup of the USSR in the late 1980s and early 1990s.’

Earlier this year the Guardian reported that Conservative MP Mark Field was a paid member of the TEAS advisory board while also sitting on the intelligence and security committee, which scrutinises the security services. The newspaper suggested Mr Field’s position with TEAS created a conflict of interest, which was denied by Mr Field.