An unmistakable reek of dishonesty hangs over prime minister Liz Truss’s newly appointed chief of staff, as he moves to silence media coverage over his recent Puerto Rican misadventures by issuing blanket legal threats.
Mark Fullbrook, who managed Truss’ leadership campaign and was rewarded with the post only last week, has hired the ‘top gun‘ defamation law firm Taylor Wessing to send a ‘Private & Confidential‘ legal letter, which it warns must not be published, to “whom it may concern” in newsrooms across Britain.
The letter claims a Sunday Times expose detailing his involvement in an alleged case of foreign interference in a US election campaign “contains factual inaccuracies” and “mischaracterises our client’s involvement in an FBI investigation into bribery allegations”.
The allegations involve Fullbrook’s former client, Julio Herrera Velutini, a Venezuelan billionaire banker who subsequently donated over half a million pounds to the Conservative party. Herrera Velutini has been charged in the United States with having bribed the former Governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vasquez Garced, to end investigations into suspicious financial transactions at his bank.
He allegedly did so by hiring Fullbrook to take charge of her re-election campaign at a charge of $200,ooo a month from February to November 2020.
At the time Fullbrook was a senior partner of the UK-based election strategist and PR/lobbying concern, CT Group, and as Global Projects Officer he was directly responsible for the project according to copious evidence provided by prosecutors. CT Group’s US subsidiary, CT Global, banked $315,000 before the project collapsed after the controversial Governor, a firm supporter of Donald Trump, lost her primary.
The specific claims made by Taylor Wessing are that Fullbrook and his colleagues at CT Group were “not involved in the illegal conduct being alleged” and that the company “did not carry out any work for Vazquez Garced, the politician allegedly being bribed”.
Instead, they assert that the CT Group subsidiary was solely “contracted to provide service to Julio Herrerara Velutini” and that it was all in the open. It was wrong to claim, say the lawyers, “that our client brokered secret payments” from the Venezuelan banker, whose Bancredito International Bank went into liquidation immediately after the charges were filed last month.
The lawyers also imply that their client has only ever acted as a ‘Witness’ (categorised as an innocent by-stander) in the investigation, claiming reports have failed to make sufficiently clear that Fullbrook was “not a suspect” in the investigations.
In fact, Fullbrook and his colleagues at CT Group were initially termed as ‘Subjects‘ of the investigation when they were formally advised by the Metropolitan Police together with the National Crime Agency that they should make themselves available for interview by FBI agents in London in February, as part of international mutual cooperation on the case with the US Department of Justice.
As ‘Subjects’ the UK election strategists were formally being put on notice that while they were not the prime ‘Targets’ of the investigation – these being Julio Herrera Velutini, Wanda Vazquez Garced and Herrera Velutini’s agent, Mark Rossini, a disgraced ex-FBI agent – they were not being automatically accorded the status of an innocent ‘Witness’.
Instead, their actions were of interest to investigators, leaving them potentially liable to prosecution.
For Taylor Wessing to imply that their clients had been falsely categorised and were always “mere witnesses” in the investigation is therefore to mislead.
According to the Sunday Times, Fullbrook opted to fully cooperate through a “proffer agreement” whereby CT Group agreed to supply hundreds of relevant documents which had been subpoenaed on condition these would not later be used against them in a prosecution.
This has effectively turned Fullbrook and other former senior CT Group colleagues into witnesses in the case, although not formally immune. Following that agreement Fullbrook underwent a further interview with the FBI in April before the charges were issued in August against the targets in the United States.
It is the evidence now before the court that spectacularly undermines Fullbrook’s latest attempts to distance himself through these claims issued by his lawyers. As Sarawak Report has already detailed, numerous acts and communications are cited in the indictment which make clear that Fullbrook knew exactly for whom the polling and advisory work was commissioned: it was to help the Governor with her re-election, not the foreign banker who had agreed to pay millions to assist her.
There is no evidence CT Group were made aware that their assistance was being provided as an alleged criminal bribe, in that the Governor had in return agreed to sack the financial regulator who was investigating suspicious transactions amounting to a staggering £10 billion through Herrera Velutini’s bank. She replaced the regulator with the banker’s own nominee.
Nevertheless, as election strategists CT Group would have been well aware that it was illegal for the Venezuelan to contribute as a foreign national to a US election campaign either in cash or kind. Yet they did the work and accepted payment in the full knowledge that the banker and governor were therefore acting outside the law.
Fullbrook personally arranged with Herrera Velutini to be paid by an entity connected to Bancredito, personally owned by the Venezuelan. And the work was kept highly secret, despite later claims by Herrera Velutini that he had widely disseminated the material. He in fact went to considerable lengths to make sure only the Governor received the polling material and advice provided by CT Global.
According to the indictment Fullbrook knew the work was conducted for the Governor. In one email Herrera’s agent Mark Rossini told Fullbrook:
“As an update Julio H., met with the current Governor and her Chief of Staff yesterday. The Governor is very excited about the prospect of utilising [CT Global] for her re-election campaign,” and “[t]he campaign is actively raising funds, and will pay for a portion of [the International Consulting Firm]’s services. The bulk of the payment will be done by Julio H;, and similarly wealthy individuals here whom are creating a super PAC. Julio H. will personally fund anything which is not covered by the campaign or PAC”
Following this Fullbrook and a team from CT Group prepared a presentation entitled ‘Campaign Support Proposal for Governor Wanda Vazquez’ and then flew to meet her in Puerto Rico at a closed event with her advisors together with Herrera Velutini to make their pitch directly to her. So much for the claim that he“did not carry out any work for Vazquez Garced”.
Following that event in February 2020 Fullbrook clinched the contract, organising an initial payment from Herrera Velutini of $315,000 on the written understanding they would then receive $200,000 month from the illegal foreign donor to this campaign up till the November election. CT Group then assisted Herrera Velutini in selecting a US based campaign advisor to directly run the Vazquez campaign day to day in Puerto Rico.
Yet, rather than accept this evidence laid before the court, the Downing Chief of Staff has chosen to threaten to litigate against reporting these allegations by the US prosecutors.
Given that mounds of this and similar evidence are due to be poured over at the eventual trial this decision to deny and double down surely raises questions about the integrity and judgement of Liz Truss’s most senior new advisor?
Will he deny communications allegedly sent by him to arrange invoices and payments from Herrera Velutini or regarding the work provided for the Governor, which Herrera Velutini sent on to the Vazquez team with a note in capitals “This is the report by the London folks PLEASE DO [NOT] PRINT OR SHARE THIS WITH ANYONE”.
And, as Fullbrook digs himself in deeper with such denials, there are further questions over CT Group’s judgement in signing up this shady Venezuelan client in the first place, whom basic due diligence would have exposed as a fugitive from his own country where he was already wanted for alleged financial fraud.
Enquiries about Bancredito International Bank ought soon to have also revealed that Herrera Velutini was vigorously resisting the financial regulator’s enquiries at that time.
Yet, far from being held at bay, the billionaire jet owner, who had set up a London holding company in 2016 named Britannia Financial Group, moved to the UK and from December 2019 (the same month that he connected with CT Group) began to donate heavily to the Conservative party, hiring Hawthorne Associates owned by then Party Chairman, Ben Elliot, as its lobbying/PR advisors.
CT Group has told Sarawak Report it was unconnected with Herrera Velutini’s London or any other activities. However, neither did the company dissuade its close contacts in the Conservative party from accepting over half a million pounds in donations through Britannia Financial Group from this foreign donor, using the controversial loophole of his wholly owned British registered company. Foreigners are not allowed to make donations to political parties in Britain either.
So far, the Conservative party has made no indication that it will return the tainted cash from Herrera Velutini’s suspicious operations, over which he is now charged under the same US indictment for allegedly failing to submit SARS (Suspicious Activity Reports) reports as required by law.
The affair has left both the Conservative party and the new prime minister’s top advisor exposed up to their necks at best for the careless acceptance of suspicious payments and at worst knowingly receiving the proceeds of illicit foreign interference in a United States election.
By recklessly threatening the media in the face of all these facts, using a law firm notorious for conducting so-called SLAPP suits (spurious litigation by the wealthy to censor unwanted exposure) Downing Street’s new top advisor has far from silencing concerns raised even more serious questions over his suitability for this role.
Note: Despite issuing his threatening letter of denial to all newsrooms demanding that media refer to Taylor Wessing before taking up the Sunday Times report, neither CT Group nor Mark Fullbrook have responded to Sarawak Report’s questions on this subject, which were put to Downing Street last week. Nor have they responded to our article at the weekend elaborating on the points made in the Sunday Times article to which we contributed.