Phil Hogan appointed to business that lobbies European Commission

Digital finance firm Proof of Trust and its spin-off, the Astra Protocol, confirm hire

Phil Hogan: ‘I have had no commercial or professional engagement with Proof of Trust before the 8th of June 2021.’ File photograph:  The Irish Times

Phil Hogan: ‘I have had no commercial or professional engagement with Proof of Trust before the 8th of June 2021.’ File photograph: The Irish Times

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Former EU commissioner Phil Hogan has taken on an advisory role with a business that has been in repeated contact with the cabinet of his successor as Ireland’s European commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, in recent months.

Digital finance company, the Proof of Trust, and its spin-off project, the Astra Protocol, said in separate announcements in June and earlier this month that they had hired Mr Hogan as an executive adviser.

The Proof of Trust has initiated contact repeatedly with the cabinet of the commissioner, holding a virtual meeting with her cabinet in December and sending emails to her team in March, May, and on July 12th, according to the European Commission.

Ms McGuinness is Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. Her team works on EU regulations for the digital finance and cryptocurrency sector.

Contacted by The Irish Times, Mr Hogan said “I have had no commercial or professional engagement with Proof of Trust before the 8th of June 2021.”

A spokeswoman for Proof of Trust said: “Former commissioner Hogan was appointed to the advisory board of the Proof of Trust in June 2021 as one of several external advisers. He is not a board member and is not part of our executive team.”

Lobby group

Proof of Trust is listed on the EU transparency register as among the groups “who carry out activities to influence the EU policy and decision-making process”, with its main interest in digital policy, the blockchain, AI, fraud detection and trade agreement assurance.

Irish entrepreneur Damien O’Brien is the co-founder and executive chairman of both.

European commissioners are subject to certain confidentiality and lobbying restrictions to safeguard against conflicts of interest after they leave their roles, and must seek the permission of the commission to take up new roles for two years. Mr Hogan applied for that permission earlier this year, writing that he intended to establish a consultancy firm called Hogan, Strategic Advisory Services, and that Proof of Trust and Vodafone would be clients.

There is no suggestion that Mr Hogan is in breach of these restrictions.

In the application, Mr Hogan wrote that he would “be mindful” of compliance with the code of conduct for commissioners “and the need to respect confidentiality” on matters related to his former mandates, according to a report by the ethical committee that assessed the application.

Potential risk

The committee flagged a “potential risk that specific information or insights” related to Mr Hogan’s work in the commission, including matters beyond his direct briefs of agriculture and trade, “could be relevant for business decisions of Proof of Trust”.

“The commission authorised the activity with restrictions, notably an obligation not to lobby the commission, its members or its staff, or any of its executive agencies on any matter on behalf of Hogan, Strategic Advisory Company or any of its clients until 26 August 2022,” said a commission spokeswoman for the Commission said in a statement.

When asked about Mr Hogan’s appointment as they unveiled proposals earlier this week for new anti-money laundering regulations, including on the crypto sector, Mr Hogan’s successor as commissioner for trade Valdis Dombrovskis and Ms McGuinness said, to the best of their knowledge, Mr Hogan had not been in touch with their teams regarding the package they were unveiling.

A Commission spokeswoman subsequently confirmed that Mr Hogan had not been in touch regarding the anti-money laundering package.