Cambridge Analytica, the data consulting firm that assisted the Trump campaign with voter targeting, is under fresh scrutiny regarding both its role and data collection methods leading up to the 2016 presidential campaign.
One aspect receiving attention is the firm's link to Russian oil giant, Lukoil -- particularly after Cambridge Analytica's chief executive Alexander Nix told the British Parliament that the firm had no connection to Russia in any way.
Mr. Nix is a director of SCL Group, a British political and defense contractor, and chief executive of its American offshoot, Cambridge Analytica, which advised the Trump campaign. The firms’ employees, who often overlap, had contact in 2014 and 2015 with executives from Lukoil, the Russian oil giant.
Lukoil was interested in how data was used to target American voters, according to two former company insiders who said there were at least three meetings with Lukoil executives in London and Turkey. SCL and Lukoil denied that the talks were political in nature, and SCL also said there were no meetings in London.
In 2014, Cambridge Analytica also was working in the U.S. at this time to generate a list of Republican voters using more than 50 million Facebook accounts to design methods of analyzing voter behavior.
According to the Times, this effort entailed extensive questions regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin.
SCL also included Russia in its client portfolio:
On two promotional documents obtained by The New York Times, SCL said it did business in Russia. In both documents, the country is highlighted on world maps that specify the location of SCL clients, with one of the maps noting that the clients were for the firm’s elections division. In a statement, SCL said an employee had done “commercial work” about 25 years ago “for a private company in Russia.”
A spokesperson for SCL said it was the firm's commercial division that handled the Russian oil company, saying discussions involved "helping Lukoil Turkey better engage with its loyalty-card customers at gas stations”; however, Lukoil Eurasia Petrol chief executive Arash Repac gave a different explanation, indicating the meetings were about a promotional campaign with local soccer teams.
Both confirmed that SCL was not hired in the end.
Though Lukoil is not state-owned, it depends on Kremlin support, and its chief executive, Vagit Alekperov, has met with Mr. Putin on a number of occasions. Reuters reported last year that Lukoil and other companies received instructions from the state energy ministry on providing news stories favorable to Russian leadership.