Russian oligarchs who bankrolled Tories wanted to stop Jeremy Corbyn getting to power, minister claims

James Cleverly denies that funding ‘smells a bit iffy’ – or that any came from ‘Putin’s friends’

James Cleverly says Russian oligarchs funded Tories to stop Jeremy Corbyn government

Russian oligarchs who have helped bankroll the Tory party were trying to stop Jeremy Corbyn coming to power, a government minister has claimed.

James Cleverly insisted there is no need to return the cash – estimated to be nearly £2m from donors who are either Russians, or made fortunes in Russia – despite the invasion of Ukraine.

Rejecting the accusation that the funding “smells a bit iffy”, the Foreign Office minister denied that any of it had come to the Conservatives from “Putin’s friends”.

Instead, he said: “I imagine some of the people who have fled the oppressive regime of Vladimir Putin wanted to support a political party that, at the time, was trying to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from being prime minister.”

The Labour leader at the 2019 general election had been “an apologist for the Putin regime, who had refused to accept the reality of the poisoning of British nationals by Russian agents only a few years ago”, Mr Cleverly told LBC Radio.

He insisted it was no surprise that Russians, or anyone else chose to back “a political party that stood firm on the rule of law stood firm, stood firm on holding Putin into account”.

And, asked if the money would now be returned, as Labour has demanded, the minister said: “There’s no reason to – the money was completely legitimate.”

Boris Johnson provoked laughter in the Commons this week, when he told MPs: “It’s very important that the House understands: we do not raise money from Russian oligarchs.”

Critics say this is true only in the sense that no-one with Russian nationality can be a legal donor – but the super-rich with dual UK-Russian nationality, or with significant business links in the country, have given huge sums to the Tories.

The biggest donor is believed to be the financier Lubov Chernukhin, who is married to Vladimir Chernukhin, a former deputy finance minister under Putin who has given £700,000.

Famously, at the Conservative Party’s winter ball two years ago, she paid £45,000 in an auction for the right to play a tennis match with Mr Johnson.

Earlier, Mr Cleverly insisted “unprecedented” sanctions, about to be announced, can still reverse Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine – dismissing fears that Putin will brush them off.

He argued the rouble currency is already collapsing in value, which will also have “a meaningful impact”.

On sanctions, Mr Cleverly said they would “hopefully persuade people around Vladimir Putin that this is completely the wrong thing to do and he should reverse this attack”.

“Even if Vladimir Putin doesn’t care, the people around him will feel this - and they absolutely do care,” the minister argued.

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