Much has been made of Sophie Raworth's interview with Peter Mandelson last Sunday. The bit that caught my eyes was this...
PETER MANDELSON: Well thank you very much. You've said I've done nothing wrong. Therefore what do I have to answer for?
SOPHIE RAWORTH: A lack of judgement. Appearing, socialising with somebody who could benefit from you and your position as European Trade Commissioner.
PETER MANDELSON: Sophie, Sophie, you cannot do business as a European Trade Commissioner in Russia, India, China, South Africa, Brazil, all the big emerging economies of the world without having contact with the big business and economic figures in those countries as well as the political figures.
I make a very clear distinction indeed. I do not allow any conflict of interest to arise between the contacts I have with these individuals and how I do my day job. I've now come back to British politics, I'm now a British minister, I'm governed by the ministerial code. I've signed up to the ministerial code and I will abide by the ministerial code...
As Nick Robinson made clear earlier in the week...
So far, no evidence has been produced that he broke any rules but there's little doubt that had he behaved this way as a cabinet minister he would have been in breach of the ministerial code which advises against perceived conflicts of interest.
But leaving that aside (and we shouldn't) just look again at the bit I have highlighted in bold above. This is the question Sophie Raworth should have followed up with...
SOPHIE RAWORTH: Yes, Mr Mandelson, but do you really need to stay on his yacht to "have contact" with a Russian businessman?
Robert Winnett now reveals on the Telegraph website that Mandelson had five separate meetings with Mr Deripaska. He has so far failed to give any details as to why, and what was discussed. Guido says there are rumours of tapes. Robert Winnett writes...
The Russian oligarch stands to benefit from three decisions made at the time Lord Mandelson was a European trade commissioner. Mr Deripaska also owns a British manufacturing company which could benefit from decisions taken by Lord Mandelson's new Whitehall department.
George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, was forced to issue a detailed statement revealing his contacts with Mr Deripaska and Nat Rothschild, a financier who works with the billionaire, during a holiday in Corfu. Mr Osborne was accused of soliciting funds for the Conservative Party during the meetings.
However, attention is now turning to the closeness of the relationship between Lord Mandelson and Mr Deripaska. When it first emerged that the two men had been in Corfu, sources close to the new Business Secretary, insisted that he had simply seen Mr Deripaska at a cocktail party.
However, when it later emerged that Lord Mandelson had been staying on Mr Deripaska's £80 million yacht, it was then claimed that this was because he was unable to stay at the Rothschild's villa on the Greek Island.
However, according to an account given by Mr Osborne, Lord Mandelson was regularly present alongside Mr Deripaska. During the course of one weekend, the shadow Chancellor claims that he saw Mr Deripaska and Lord Mandelson together at a party, a dinner and a lunch.
Mr Osborne also says that when he first met the Russian businessman at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last January, Lord Mandelson was also present. It has also been alleged that Lord Mandelson and Mr Deripaska have enjoyed at least three dinners together in Moscow since October 2004.
The Russian appears to have benefited from decisions made during Lord Mandelson's tenure as European trade commissioner. Mr Deripaska runs Russia's biggest aluminium company, Rusal. In December 2005, Lord Mandelson signed off a decision to remove a tariff of 14.9 per cent which had been imposed on some aluminium products being imported into Europe by Rusal.
Mr Deripaska and Mr Rothschild are also investing large sums of money in Montenegro. Lord Mandelson has led EU support for the Adriatic nation to join global trade agreements.
The former European trade Commissioner has also been criticised for his role in a controversial dispute involving a Russian insurance company in which Mr Deripaska is a major shareholder. European shareholders claim they have lost out as a result of a restructuring of the firm ordered by Mr Deripaska. They appealed to Lord Mandelson for assistance. He raised the issue with the Russian Trade Minister but the European shareholders were disappointed he did not do more.
On Tuesday George Osborne made full disclosure of his meetings with Mr Deripaska. Many journalists now privately admit that they went totally OTT over the story. Perhaps now they may be turning their attention back to where it should have been in the first place - examining the links between the EU Trade Commissioner and the man who benefited from so many of his decisions. I am sure it is all complete coincidence, but should we not be holding Mr Mandelson to account for his actions in the same way that the media has held George Osborne to account?