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Actor Richard Gere made a guest appearance on Tuesday at a star-studded yet secretive business forum in Moscow that provoked controversy after twin female business assistants were offered as a contest prize.

Organisers of the Synergy business school warned The Daily Telegraph that “there should not be any information about Richard Gere” in its coverage because of a condition in his contract allowing them to “invite only Russian press”. Gere, 69, was headline speaker at the Synergy Global Forum, which also hosted Malcolm Gladwell, the author, and Steven Seagal, the actor. Tickets ranged from £175 (Dh820) to more than £5,000 for VIP access.

The Hollywood leading man told the crowd at the Olympic stadium that Moscow, once dark and repressive, was now a “city of light” that “feels like it’s a part of Europe”. But Russians should remember that “we’re all in the same boat,” rather than try to be the strongest or most important, he said.

Organisers would not disclose how much Gere had been paid, but denied the actor had tried to keep his appearance secret from English-language newspapers. Agents for Gere did not respond to requests for comment.

The forum also awarded prizes for entrepreneurship, with third place advertised as “twin business assistants for a year”, with a photo of two blonde females in red blazers and low-cut tops.

Grigory Avetov, Synergy director, said it had been “included as a joke”. He said: “There can only be sexism against men because [women] are more beautiful, dress better and are better in all parameters.” The prize was withdrawn.