Labour challenges Tories over checks on Russia-linked donations

Labour has asked the Conservatives what checks the party has made on donations received from Russian-linked individuals – and if it could be sure that no cash received came from the Kremlin or others hostile to the UK.

Dan Sabbagh www.theguardian.com

The questions follow revelations about a group of wealthy donors who have given money to the Conservatives and have business links to Russia or other wealthy Russians.

Labour’s Conor McGinn, the shadow security minister, said it was “deeply worrying to see revealed potential financial links between senior donors and Putin’s Russia” and asked about “the adequacy of the processes” by which donors are vetted.

Donors who have made money from Russia or Russians have given £1.93m to either the Conservative party or individual constituency associations since Boris Johnson took power in July 2019, according to calculations made by Labour based on disclosures to the Electoral Commission.

Their ranks include the financier Lubov Chernukhin, the industrialist Alexander Temerko and an energy company he part-owns, Aquind, plus the businessman Mohamed Amersi.

They have donated £700,000, £357,000 and £258,000 respectively, either directly or through linked companies, since Johnson became prime minister, a total of £1.3m. Other donors with business interests in Russia take the total to £1.93m.

Both the Pandora papers, based on leaked documents from offshore financial institutions, published by the Guardian and others last month, and other reporting over the past 12 months have revealed greater Russian links than previously known.

“What checks have been completed on the financial origins of the donations themselves and were any links to hostile state actors discovered?” McGinn asked in a letter addressed to his opposite number, the security minister, Damian Hinds.

The Labour MP also asked whether MI5 had raised any concerns. “Have officials in the Home Office at any point issued internal concerns about the potential implications for the UK’s national security?”

Chernukhin, a Briton since 2011, has donated £700,000 to the Conservative party and is married to Vladimir Chernukhin, a former deputy finance minister under Putin. Documents published in the Pandora papers in October suggest he was allowed to leave Russia in 2004 with assets worth about $500m (£366m) and retain Russian business connections.

The Chernukhins’ lawyers said it was not accepted that any of Lubov Chernukhin’s political donations had been funded by improper means or affected by the influence of anyone else. Vladimir had not accumulated any of his wealth in a corrupt manner, they added.

Amersi advised on a lucrative telecom deal in Russia in 2005 with a company that a Swiss tribunal subsequently found to be controlled by an associate of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Amersi told the Financial Times in July he had made $7m in the country, but only prior to 2008. “Not a penny that I earned in Russia …  has even remotely come close to being invested in the UK political system,” he said.

Temerko is a minority shareholder and co-owner of Aquind, a company that wants to build an electricity interconnector to France. Its majority investor, the Russian-born oil tycoon Viktor Fedotov, secretly co-owned a company once accused of participating in a massive corruption scheme relating to a Russian pipeline.

Lawyers for Fedotov have denied the accusations, while Aquind’s lawyers said the allegations against the Russian company co-owned by Fedotov came from a wholly unreliable report and were completely false.

Aquind has also stressed that Fedotov did not personally donate to the Conservative party, was not involved in the management of the company and had “no influence” over the company’s donations. No accusations were made against Temerko.

In the run-up to the last general election, Downing Street refused to release the Russia report compiled by parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC), taking advantage of a procedural loophole to prevent it being released.

When it was finally published, seven months after Johnson’s landslide win, it concluded that Britain’s intelligence agencies had taken their “eye off the ball” when it came to Russia and had made no serious attempt to examine whether the Kremlin had sought to interfere with the Brexit referendum result.

“Fifteen months after the ISC’s report was published, the government’s continued complacency and inaction on the need to face down hostile state threats is simply staggering,” McGinn wrote.

The Conservative party said: “If a British citizen is able to vote in an election for a political party, they also have the democratic right to donate to a political party.

“All donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law. It would be wrong to suggest malign motive on behalf of individuals simply because of the country of their birth.”

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