Finsbury edited Alisher Usmanov's Wikipedia page

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A British PR firm has deleted details of a Soviet-era criminal conviction and freedom of speech row from the Wikipedia entry of Alisher Usmanov, Britain's second-richest man, according to reports.

The Russian billionaire is preparing a £1.25bn London flotation of between 15pc and 20pc of mobile phone Megafon. Mr Usmanov, who is also Arsenal Football Club’s second-biggest shareholder, owns just over 50pc of the company.

According to The Times , PR company RLM Finsbury edited Mr Usmanov's Wikipedia entry to remove mention of a freedom of speech row, where the Russian billionaire had allegedly threatened bloggers who repeated allegations that he was a "gangster and rackateer", first made by Britain's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, with legal action.

Details were also removed of a Soviet-era criminal conviction that was later overturned by the Uzbekistan Supreme Court and a description of the disappearance of a former Megafon shareholder, reports the newspaper.

The PR business replaced those sections with text outlining Mr Usmanov's philanthropy and art collection. Mr Usmanov had hired the PR firm to neautralise reports of his colourful past.

The company apologised for the edits after being approached by The Times . It said: “This was not done in the proper manner nor was this approach authorised by Mr Usmanov. We apologise for this and it will not happen again.”

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told the newspaper: “It is a disappointment that PR firms or lobbyists think that this is what they have to do when we’re here, we’re free, we’re open. We have a community very keen to correct errors.”

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) worked with Wikimedia UK, the company behind the online encyclopedia, to develop a set of guidelines for PR professionals for making edits to pages relating to clients.

Jane Wilson, CIPR's chief executive, said: “Wikipedia’s rules on conflict of interest editing are clear. Public relations professionals should not directly edit Wikipedia for a client or employer, and should instead suggest amendments for consideration by Wikipedia’s community of editors a point which today has been clarified by Jimmy Wales, and also recognised by the team at Finsbury.

"Importantly, this isn’t a special rule, only applicable to those who work in public relations. This applies because they, like any other employee or consultant, would have a conflict of interest. The same Wikipedia rules would apply if you worked in finance, strategy or HR for an organisation. The difference is that reputation is our business."

"I’d urge those who haven’t read our latest guidance on how PR professionals can work with Wikipedia , to do so today."