Political parties in India, Malaysia disavow links with controversial firm Cambridge Analytica

A man putting up posters depicting now suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix behind bars, at the entrance of the company's offices in central London on Tuesday.
A man putting up posters depicting now suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix behind bars, at the entrance of the company's offices in central London on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Politicians in India, Malaysia and Britain caught up in Cambridge Analytica scandal

LONDON • Political parties in countries named in the latest revelations on Cambridge Analytica are scrambling to disavow any links with the British-based political consultancy firm as the scandal over the misuse of Facebook data continues to roil.

India's main opposition Congress party said yesterday that neither the party nor party president Rahul Gandhi has ever hired the services of the beleaguered company.

The Indian National Congress and its president have never used or hired the services of a firm called Cambridge Analytica, said party spokesman Randeep Surjewala.

"It is a fake agenda and white lie being dished out by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad," he said.

Mr Prasad had questioned links between Congress and the company following media reports about the party's plans to use the firm's services for next year's Lok Sabha, or Lower House, elections.

The lawmaker, who is from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, said Mr Gandhi's Twitter following had shot up recently, and wondered if it was due to the services of the firm, reported The Indian Express newspaper.

Mr Prasad, who is also India's Information Technology Minister, yesterday warned against any abuse of social media to sway upcoming elections in the country.

India is due to hold a national election next year, and there are several states electing new legislative assemblies this year and the next, reported Reuters.

"Abuse of social media, including Facebook, cannot be allowed to impact the fairness of elections," Mr Prasad told reporters.

"In the wake of recent data theft from Facebook, let my stern warning be heard across the Atlantic, far away in California.

"Any covert or overt attempt to misuse social media, including Facebook, to influence India's electoral process through undesirable means will neither be tolerated nor be permitted," he said.

Pressure has mounted on Cambridge Analytica and its clients after Britain's Channel 4 broadcast footage of its executives, including now suspended chief executive Alexander Nix, boasting to an undercover reporter about underhand tactics to sway public opinion and win elections.

In suspending him, Cambridge Analytica said his comments "do not represent the values or operations of the firm".

It has also denied various allegations made about its business practices in recent media reports.

Kenya's opposition party has demanded a probe after Channel 4's disclosure that Cambridge Analytica spread propaganda amid election-related clashes that left 92 people dead last year .

The firm's website says it has offices in New York, Washington, London, Brazil and Malaysia.

Cambridge Analytica stated on its website that it had supported Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in Kedah with a targeted messaging campaign highlighting their school improvements since 2008.

 

It said the campaign resulted in the BN coalition wresting Kedah back from then opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat in 2013.

The Najib Razak administration said on Tuesday that Cambridge Analytica had not been contracted, employed or paid in any way by BN, the Prime Minister's Office or any part of the government of Malaysia.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said any services were provided personally to former BN leader turned opposition politician Mukhriz Mahathir.

A former media officer to Mr Mukhriz backed the claim.

"The 2013 election advice for Kedah was provided to Mukhriz personally," Mr Azrin Zizal said in a statement yesterday.

Mr Azrin, the South-East Asia head of SCL group, Cambridge Analytica's parent company, claimed that he had worked with Mr Mukhriz personally and provided communications and strategy advice for him until 2015, reported The Star newspaper.

Mr Mukhriz, a former menteri besar of Kedah who is now vice-president of Malay nationalist party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, denies ever working with Cambridge Analytica.

In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party was approached by Cambridge Analytica, but did not take the proposal forward, a spokesman for Mrs May said yesterday.

She called on the companies to "comply fully" with a probe being conducted by British Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, and said laws are being tightened to give the commission more powers, reported Bloomberg.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Political parties disavow links with controversial firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe