Bell criticised the paper’s ‘underhand, unethical and improper’ tactics, but insisted he was taking the matter ‘very seriously’ and that ‘it is not acceptable for a leading company like ours to behave at anything other than the highest standards’.
The full statement reads as follows:
'The campaign being mounted against us by The Independent is based on a deception that invited us to pitch our services to a "potential" client who claimed to represent the Government of Uzbekistan. This involved a "sting" operation by journalists posing as members of the fictitious Azimov Group, using, among other falsehoods, phony business cards and a manufactured web portal.
I believe that the methods used by The Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalists are underhand, unethical and improper, and that their reporting of the matter has been partial, not even-handed and deliberately slanted.
Because of this, I will not respond to any other allegations from The Independent as I do not trust them to be fair and balanced. I take this all very seriously, particularly since The Independent is emailing, calling and writing to our clients in order to continue their campaign.
I regret that this fuss has occurred, and I am upset at the damage done to our reputation and the well-being of members of our company.
I am grateful for the large number of supportive comments from clients, industry colleagues, other journalists and friends. I believe our company is united in our view of this situation.
I want you to know that I do not take these allegations lightly. We have instituted an internal review and will take action following that analysis and investigation. If my board thinks it necessary, we will make public the results of our review and the actions we will be taking.
In the meantime, I believe that although the people concerned were indiscreet and careless, I do not think they said anything that resulted in improper actions.
Our people were very clear about needing assurance that the Government of Uzbekistan was committed to positive reform. We said it would be counter-productive to communicate if substantial change was not under way. We said such a campaign would not work.
I acknowledge that many people have negative views about some of the clients that we represent. It is precisely for this reason that when those clients are committed to positive change, we believe it is right to help them to communicate their point of view and changed behaviour.
On the allegations involving Wikipedia, I have spoken to Jimmy Wales, the founder, and we have accepted his offer to come in and advise our people on how to work with the Wikipedia community. We will act on his advice.
On the matter of statutory regulation of lobbyists, we await the Government’s consultation on this, will co-operate fully and will comply with any future regulations. Furthermore, we will co-operate fully with any PRCA inquiry, should one take place. We confirm our agreement and support of the press release issued by the PRCA about their resignation from the UK Public Affairs Council.
Meanwhile, I would like to apologise to any clients, friends of the company and staff who have been distressed or embroiled in this manufactured furore.
It is not acceptable for a leading company like ours to behave at anything other than the highest standards.'