During his five decades in public life, Lord Mandelson has delighted in the company of many rich men.
Indeed, it was after being bewitched by his wealthy colleague Geoffrey Robinson that he had to resign from the Cabinet — on the first of two occasions he was forced to leave government.
It was no surprise, either, that as a man who was castigated by Labour colleagues when he once said he was ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes’, he has happily mixed socially with financier Nat Rothschild, who arranged for him to spend a lavish weekend in the company of the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Peter Mandelson pictured shopping with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein in St Barts in 2005
In his post-political business career, the good lord’s dealings have been with wealthy contacts in Russia, China, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia.
This week, Peter Mandelson’s moth-like attraction to the super-rich is once more under the spotlight after a photograph emerged showing him helping Jeffrey Epstein celebrate his 54th birthday.
Grinning as the now-dead paedophile blew out the candles on a giant cake, the politician had joined Epstein at his £10 million Paris apartment. The dinner celebration took place in January 2007.
The previous year, police had charged Epstein with multiple counts of unlawful sex acts with a minor — and a grand jury in Florida, returned an indictment of one count of solicitation of prostitution.
Soon after, the FBI opened an investigation into Epstein that involved multiple accusers in Florida, New York and elsewhere in the U.S.
There is no suggestion that Mandelson, then on a taxpayer-funded £200,000 salary as an EU Commissioner, knew of the court case or any of the allegations about Epstein at the time the photograph was taken.
Neither is it clear who took the picture, or how many other people were present.
Since the photo was published in a red-top tabloid on Sunday, the 68-year-old peer has so far refused to answer questions about that night in Paris.
Plus ca change, as they say in the French capital. For the man nicknamed Prince of Darkness for his canny behind-the-scenes political skills was also quiet in 2019, when I came into possession of previously unseen photographs of him shopping with Epstein in the Caribbean.
Grinning as the now-dead paedophile blew out the candles on a giant cake, the politician had joined Epstein at his £10 million Paris apartment in January 2007
Taken on December 27, 2005, and reprinted on these pages today, the most striking image showed Mandelson, wearing a Patek Philippe watch worth £21,000, accompanied by the financier, who then managed money for clients with wealth in excess of $1 billion.
Earlier that year, the first allegations of sexual abuse against Epstein were made when a woman contacted Palm Beach police, claiming her 14-year-old stepdaughter had been taken to Epstein’s mansion by an older girl.
The 14-year-old was allegedly paid $300 to take her clothes off and massage Epstein.
In the photos, Epstein looks at Mandelson with a kind of proprietorial glee. In fact, the Brooklyn-born wealth manager had devoted his career to building cosy relationships with powerful men.
His friends and acquaintances included Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew and many other prominent names in entertainment, the law and politics.
As EU Trade Commissioner based in Brussels, Mandelson had huge influence. One of his responsibilities was to minimise the impact of EU-U.S. trade disputes.
I established via a close friend at the time that the shopping trip was orchestrated by Ghislaine Maxwell, whom Mandelson had first met via her father, the crooked one-time Labour MP and newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, and regarded as an old friend.
It is said that at Robert Maxwell’s 65th birthday party, Mandelson danced with the media tycoon’s wife for about 90 minutes and later recalled: ‘We got all hot and sweaty and it was great fun.’
As for the meeting with Epstein in the Caribbean, the friend said: ‘Peter was staying on St Barts that Christmas and it’s pretty close to the U.S. Virgin Islands [where Epstein’s island was], so she [Ghislaine] thought it would be fun to fly Jeffrey [Epstein] out to see him in a helicopter for the day.
In the current climate the picture looks bad, but it’s more poor choreography than anything sinister.’
Today, Ghislaine Maxwell is a convicted sex trafficker and Epstein, who hanged himself in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, is one of the most notorious child sex offenders in recent history.
The relationship between Mandelson and Epstein was not limited to a couple of chummy photos, though.
It spanned more than a decade and continued to blossom not only after the financier had been arrested and charged with soliciting a woman for prostitution, but after he had pleaded guilty, in 2008, to procuring a 14-year-old girl for prostitution.
There is a fourth player in this story — one who counted Mandelson, Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell as friends and who also appeared to turn a blind eye to the financier’s criminal convictions.
Prince Andrew became friendly with Mandelson in the late 1990s, at around the same time both men were drawn into Epstein’s orbit.
Newspapers reported in 1999 that the then Labour MP for Hartlepool had taken to dining regularly at Sunninghill Park, the Prince’s home.
In 2000, both Mandelson and the Prince were witnesses at the wedding of merchant banker Sir Evelyn de Rothschild to Lynn Forester, an American broadcasting entrepreneur who was a longstanding friend of Epstein.
Around the same time, both men enjoyed separate stays at Epstein’s home on Little St James, a Caribbean bolthole now known as ‘Paedo Island’, long before Epstein was accused of any wrongdoing.
In a 2011 interview, the financier’s former housekeeper Cathy Alexander, who worked there during both stays, revealed that Andrew had turned up with a tall, busty, blonde woman who shared his room and claimed to be ‘a brain surgeon’.
She added that during Mandelson’s stay, his Brazilian-born partner, Reinaldo Avila da Silva, who took British citizenship in 2005, got sunburnt and whined about it ‘like a baby’.
The Labour peer has never commented publicly about that free holiday. However, a friend told me: ‘It was Ghislaine, not Epstein, who invited him to Little St James, when he stayed on the island with Reinaldo.
Epstein wasn’t there during that stay and neither were any girls. So however bad it might now look, there was nothing about the visit that could have led him to believe anything untoward went on there.’
In 2001, Prince Andrew was appointed the UK’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment.
At the time, Mandelson was reported to have been a key figure in lobbying for the duke, who had recently left the Royal Navy, to get the job.
Ghislaine Maxwell sits as the guilty verdict in her sex abuse trial is read in a courtroom sketch in New York City last month
In the following years, both men attended social events with Epstein. A 2002 report in New York Magazine described how the ‘disgraced British Cabinet minister’ had been at an intimate dinner party at Epstein’s New York home, alongside guests including Donald Trump, magician David Blaine and Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google. The food was supplied by celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito at a cost to Epstein of $50,000.
Mandelson — then an MP — did not declare the hospitality he had received in the Commons register of interests, though he did register other events he attended during a 2002 visit to New York.
An acquaintance told me in 2019 that Mandelson met Epstein on ‘no more than five or six occasions’ in the years they were known to each other, adding: ‘Peter only knows him because of a friendship with Ghislaine, whom he met in the 1980s and has known ever since.’
But both Mandelson and Andrew were in Epstein’s now-notorious ‘little black book’ of contacts.
Currently in the possession of the FBI, it contains ten numbers for Mandelson, including ones marked ‘home’, ‘country’ and ‘Peter’s direct line’, and 16 for Prince Andrew, including personal contact details at Sandringham and other royal residences.
Only a few of the many people in Epstein’s book, which seems to have been compiled by Ghislaine, are listed with multiple numbers.
Like Andrew, Mandelson also met Virginia Roberts (now Giuffre), a victim of Epstein who was photographed with Prince Andrew and who this week was allowed to press ahead with a case against the Prince, claiming he sexually assaulted her when she was 17 — which he strenuously denies.
‘I never heard of Jeffrey [Epstein] knowing Tony Blair but he did know Peter Mandelson,’ Roberts told an interviewer in 2011.
‘I remember him [Mandelson] being at the house in New York and I was introduced to him at a dinner party. He and Jeffrey talked business together…I was never asked to give him [Mandelson] a massage.’
Unhelpfully for Mandelson, he also cropped up in Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary about this era, called The Prince And The Paedophile.
It claimed that in 2009, when Epstein was on day-release from prison, Mandelson (then Business Secretary in Gordon Brown’s government) phoned the financier to ask for help in securing a meeting with Jamie Dimon, the head of U.S. investment bank J.P. Morgan.
An anonymous friend told the documentary-makers that Epstein had called Mandelson ‘Petie’. ‘I must say I was astonished that a British Cabinet minister at that time, probably the most powerful man other than the Prime Minister, was calling Jeffrey in jail to seek an appointment with a very powerful banker in New York.’
Speaking via lawyers when the documentary was broadcast, Mandelson said he had no memory of the phone call.
They added: ‘Our client would have no need whatsoever to make such a request. As Business Secretary…he met or talked on the phone to bank CEOs on a regular basis, including Mr Dimon. These contacts were all arranged through his government office.’
In fact, the year before, Mandelson’s close friend Tony Blair had joined J.P. Morgan on a salary said to exceed £500,000 a year.
In 2010, Andrew stayed at the paedophile’s New York townhouse, where he hosted a dinner party and was also photographed walking with Epstein in Central Park.
Mandelson met the by then court-certified sex offender a year after that. ‘Peter was invited to a meeting by Ghislaine in 2011,’ a source told me a few years later.
‘She is a very old friend, so he went along. But when he turned up, Epstein was there. It was a complete accident and very unfortunate, but for obvious reasons he is very concerned about how it might now look.’
After Epstein served time in jail for procuring a child for prostitution, he and Ghislaine were no longer seen together publicly and she worked on environmental schemes, setting up the TerraMar Project, a non-profit ocean conservation outfit which had financial support from Epstein.
In 2014, Mandelson agreed to become one of TerraMar’s ‘founding citizens’. In an endorsement on its website, he declared: ‘The oceans and the politics of water generally will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century…that’s why I am supporting the new TerraMar initiative.’
As to whether Mandelson will publicly provide details of his relationship with Epstein, the source told me: ‘There’s nothing legally wrong with what he did and it’s a result of bad luck rather than bad character.
‘And obviously he’s a gay man, so one saving grace is that no one can suspect him of having slept with any of Epstein’s girls.
‘The problem for Peter is that Epstein is so utterly toxic, everyone who had anything to do with him is being caught in the fallout.’
Maybe so. But as the smartest public relations brain the Labour Party ever had, Lord Mandelson must realise his relationship with Epstein is a very bad look — and that headlines such as ‘Mandy and Andy in Epstein’s evil web’ are not helpful in his current role, as chairman of an international ‘strategic advisory business that helps firms manage risk and see opportunities in politics and public policy’.