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Tory star assisting Russian businessman Add to ...

When Chris Alexander left the diplomatic corps to run for the Conservatives in a Toronto-area riding, he was immediately pegged as a star candidate and his campaign literature highlighted his "lifelong" foreign service career, which includes serving as Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan and work with the United Nations.

There is no mention of Mr. Alexander's current job - heading an energy company controlled by a Russian friend who is trying to expand his business into Canada.

Mr. Alexander became president of Red Mountain Energy Corp. last August, about a year after he won the Conservative nomination in Ajax-Pickering, a riding east of Toronto currently held by Liberal Mark Holland.

Red Mountain is incorporated in Nevada but operates mainly in the former Soviet republics. Its main business is selling equipment for the oil and gas sector, including air compressors and separators. It has a few producing oil wells in Texas and is developing unconventional energy sources such as producing gas from coal. The company has about 250 employees and roughly $200-million in annual sales, according to one official.

Red Mountain was founded about 10 years ago by Denis Smyslov, a Russian entrepreneur. "I was keen that [Mr. Alexander]join Red Mountain because he has a brilliant head," Mr. Smyslov said in an interview from Moscow. "We've been friends for over 15 years now."

The two met in the early 1990s when Mr. Alexander was stationed at the Canadian embassy in Moscow. They kept in contact after Mr. Alexander left for other posts, and Mr. Smyslov attended Mr. Alexander's wedding in 2008.

Mr. Smyslov said Mr. Alexander's job is to develop contacts with Canadian engineering firms and drum up investors. "We have experience working in the U.S. but zero contacts in Canada," Mr. Smyslov explained. "He is Canadian and he has contacts there."

He noted that Mr. Alexander has told the company he will resign if he is elected on Monday. He has been on an unpaid leave since March. "I think it was natural for him to run," Mr. Smyslov said. "I also think he has great potential in business."

Mr. Smyslov isn't following the election and hasn't been to Canada in years. But even if Mr. Alexander wins and leaves Red Mountain, the two plan to keep in touch. "Sure. We'll continue to be friends."

It isn't clear what impact Mr. Alexander has had on Red Mountain just yet. One company director was stumped when asked about him. "I don't know him," said Tom Blair, who runs a related business in New Mexico that is also controlled by Mr. Smyslov. "I'm on the board of directors but I haven't met him."

In an interview, Mr. Alexander said his campaign biography includes a paragraph about his diplomatic career, but doesn't mention Red Mountain or his other current work, writing a book on Afghanistan.

"Those have been my two livelihoods in the past year, and they haven't been hidden," he said, referring to Red Mountain and the book. "But when you're campaigning, when you're putting yourself forward as a candidate, you have to put forward the things that are most pertinent to the people you are trying to reach, which are the voters of Ajax-Pickering. And I think they're happy that I'm earning a livelihood, but I don't think they're interested in Red Mountain Energy."

He said he mentions it to voters when he canvasses in Ajax-Pickering, but none have ever asked him more about it.

"It's not such a high-profile company. And it's not a full-time job. It's a developmental company," he said. "We have meetings occasionally. I review documents often. But I don't spend 60 hours a day working on this job. That's one of the reasons why it suited me, because I'm trying to be a candidate in Ajax."

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