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Theresa May condemned for 'business as usual' after Conservatives accept £100,000 from former Putin ally's wife

'Theresa May needs to explain what checks have taken place, and why her party has accepted money from individuals with links to Putin’s regime, despite her promises'

Mattha Busby
Thursday 31 May 2018 07:22 BST
Mr Putin with Mrs May on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on September 4, 2016
Mr Putin with Mrs May on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on September 4, 2016 (AFP/Getty)

The Labour Party has accused Theresa May of breaking her promises and continuing “business as usual” with Russia after the Conservative Party accepted another £100,000 donation from the wife of a former minister in Vladimir Putin’s government.

Lubov Chernukhin, whose ex-deputy finance minister husband Vladimir has been described in the past as a “Putin crony”, donated £112,500 to the Conservative Party during the past three months, bringing the total amount to £626,500 since 2012.

The Tories amassed £4.7m in the first quarter of 2018, three times as much as Labour received, according to new Electoral Commission data published on Wednesday.

The Chernukhins hit the headlines in 2014 when Ms Chernukhin paid £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

News of the donation will fuel fears of Russian influence in the Tory party, following calls for greater scrutiny on the origins of foreign wealth following the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skirpal.

“Russia-related donations to the Tory party is the gift that keeps on giving, but there are serious questions to ask,” said Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office.

“Despite repeated promises that the prime minister doesn’t want ‘business as usual’ with Russia, the Conservatives have accepted another £100,000 from the wife of a former minister in Putin’s government.

“After Boris Johnson was forced to admit he played in a tennis match with Lubov Chernukhin, he promised that checks on such donations would take place,” he added.

“Theresa May needs to explain what checks have taken place, and why her party has accepted money from individuals with links to Putin’s regime, despite her promises.”

The Conservatives have received £3m from Russian-linked oligarchs since 2010, including £820,000 in the 20 months prior to March 2018.

During the last quarter of 2018, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour was given £1.49m in donations, while the Liberal Democrats reported gifts of £564,135.

The Unite union was Labour’s biggest donor with £450,027, followed by the GMB with £318,673.

Renew, the newly established centrist party aiming to stop Brexit, collected £111,671 – while the Women’s Equality Party received £10,000 and the Green Party £1,800.

Ukip did not register any donations.

The data shows Ms May’s party received the lion’s share of donations reported by all political parties.

The Tories’ biggest donor was a £582,358 bequest from Gerda Winder, followed by £500,000 from businessman Ehud Sheleg.

A woman of the same name as Ms Winder died aged 86 in Colchester in April last year.

Mr Sheleg is an Israeli-born businessman who reportedly could soon become the party’s new treasurer. He is the owner of the Halcyon art gallery in London and has recently become a major Tory benefactor. He gave the party £250,000 ahead of last year’s snap election.

Ms Chernukhin’s donations are also among the largest. The lavish lifestyle she and her husband led was illustrated during a legal dispute, when it emerged Mr Chernukhin had asked a wealth management firm to buy a £13.5m private jet that was never delivered.

Mr Chernukhin was on good terms with Mr Putin in the early years of his presidency, according to reports.

He was on the soviet ministry of foreign trade and then served as deputy finance minister from 2000 to 2002.

In 2004 he was appointed chairman of a state-owned bank by presidential decree and awarded an order of honour from Mr Putin in 2004.

However, he was then dismissed from the role for for his loyalty to Mikhail Kasyanov, a vocal critic of Mr. Putin, and moved to the UK with his family some time later.

Mr Johnson told the Andrew Marr Show earlier this year that Ms Chernukhin, as a British citizen, had every right to exercise her democratic rights and donate to a political party.

When Marr cited fears that the Conservative Party have been “taking far too much Russian money”, Mr Johnson said: “If there is evidence of gross corruption in the way the gentleman obtained his wealth ... then it is possible for our law enforcement to deprive him of his wealth.”

Chris Bryant, Labour MP and vice-chairman of parliament’s all-party group on Russia, said at the time: “The prime minister said quite categorically this week that we should be tackling Putin’s cronies. What could be more of a crony that Putin’s former deputy finance minister?”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “All donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

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