Boris Johnson defends playing tennis with wife of Putin's ex-minister in return for £160,000 Tory donation

Lubov Chernukhin also paid £30,000 to have dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 18 March 2018 12:55 GMT
Boris Johnson admits to playing a game of tennis with the wife of a Putin minister who paid £160,000 to do so

Boris Johnson has defended playing a game of tennis with the wife of one of Vladimir Putin’s ex-ministers in return for a £160,000 donation to the Conservatives.

Mr Johnson confirmed that the game, paid for by Lubov Chernukhin at a Tory fundraiser last year, has now taken place.

Ms Chernukhin has also since paid £30,000 to have dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who made waves last week when he told Russia to “go away and shut up” in the wake of the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

The incident, involving the release of a “military grade” Russian-made Novichok nerve agent, left ex-spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a British police officer in hospital and has led to a collapse in relations between London and Moscow.

Ms Chernukhin, now a British citizen, is married to former Russian deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin, who the family says has fallen out of favour with Mr Putin.

Asked whether the tennis game with Ms Chernukhin had taken place, Mr Johnson told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show: “It did.”

He went on: “Unless and until evidence is produced against individual Russians, I do not think that the entire nation should be calumnified.”

Boris Johnson says it is 'overwhelmingly clear' nerve agent attack was directed by the Russians

Ms Chernukhin also made a successful £30,000 bid, at the Conservative fundraiser Black and White Ball, for a private tour of Churchill’s War Rooms in Whitehall with Mr Williamson, who will also host a dinner for her.

According to Electoral Commission records, she also made four other donations in addition to the one for the tennis game in 2017, amounting to an additional £87,250 given to the party.

In 2016 there were five donations to the party from Ms Chernukhin altogether, totalling £77,912.

Asked about the donations, Mr Lewis told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “All of the donations, first of all, they have to go through due diligence and comply by the law, and they are from British citizens.

“As the Prime Minister herself has said, there is an issue with what we believe is being done by the Russian State, but it’s not the Russian people and it’s certainly not people who have left Russia and made their home and their life here in Britain.

“They should have the right to take part in British society, and that includes politics.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has attacked the Conservatives for taking money from Russians who have come to the UK.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, he said: “We’re all familiar with the way huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics.

“Meddling in elections, as the Prime Minister put it, and there has been over £800,000 worth of donations to the Conservative Party from Russian oligarchs and their associates.”

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