Major Russian Donor Funds Conservative Member of Intelligence Committee
The wife of a former Russian deputy finance minister has gifted thousands to a member of the committee that investigated Russian interference, reports Sascha Lavin
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A top Tory donor whose husband formerly worked as Russia’s deputy finance minister has given even more money to the Conservatives, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.
Lubov Chernukhin is married to Vladimir Chernukhin, who served as Russia’s deputy finance minister from 2000 to 2002, after which he was appointed by Vladimir Putin as the chair of a state bank. The family claims that it was forced to flee Russia to the UK in 2004 after Vladimir Chernukhin was dismissed from his position and senior Conservative figures have defended Lubov’s contribution to Conservative Party finances.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said “I think it’s very important we don’t conflate people with Russian heritage with people close to the Putin regime”.
However, the Conservatives have been criticised for their open-arms approach to Russian money since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, and the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal that Lubov Chernukhin recently gifted £6,500 to Conservative MP and former minister Theresa Villiers, according to the latest register of member’s interests.
Villiers is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which published a long-delayed report into Russian influence in the UK in July 2020. The so-called ‘Russia Report’ concluded that “Russian influence in the UK is the new normal”, encouraged by donations to political parties. Chernukhin was not named by the Russia Report, nor was any other individual donor.
This is not the first time that Chernukhin has given money to Villiers, who also gave £2,000 to the Chipping Barnet MP in 2019.
Chernukhin’s lawyers have previously said that her “donations to the Conservative Party have never been tainted by Kremlin or any other influence”. She is a British citizen and entitled to donate to UK political parties.
A spokesperson for Villiers told Byline Times that: “This donation has been appropriately and transparently declared and complies with the rules. Mrs Chernukhin is a British citizen who is entitled to donate to political causes if she chooses. She has not lived in Russia since she was a teenager and has spoken out against the Putin regime.”
Hey Big Spender
Chernukhin – the largest female political donor in British history – has given more than £2.2 million to the Conservative Party since 2012, yet the BBC’s Panorama recently uncovered her connection to sanctioned oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.
Soviet-born Chernukhin appears to have a penchant for Conservative Party auctions: in 2014 she paid £160,000 to play tennis with the then-London mayor Boris Johnson and then-prime minister David Cameron, and, five years later she spent £135,000 to attend a dinner with the then Prime Minister Theresa May and numerous female Cabinet members – including Truss.
Although she responded “no comment” when asked if she had won any prizes at the Conservative’s summer party earlier this week, it is now understood that Chernukhin paid £30,000 for a wine tasting.
Byline Times asked the Conservative Party whether and how it vets the donors who purchase auction prizes at these fundraising events – in particular those who pay for meetings with senior ministers. It did not receive a response.
Chernukhin is also one of several donors to have been granted access to Downing Street via a secret ‘advisory board’ – a little-known collective of big money donors given exclusive access to senior Downing Street advisors and even the Prime Minister.
Electoral Commission records show that she has given a further £7,616 to the Conservative Party’s ‘Spring Lunch’ fundraising arm in recent months – and £60,500 to the central party earlier this year.
Chernukhin and her husband’s wealth – much of it believed to be held offshore – is estimated to be in excess of £366 million.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss promised the “toughest sanctions regime against Russia”, while the Prime Minister professed to be “anti-Putin”.
When Johnson was asked by Labour MP Bill Esterson in March whether he would order the Conservative Party to give Russia-linked donations to Ukrainian humanitarian causes, the Prime Minister refused, saying that: “It’s absolutely vital that… we demonstrate that this is not about the Russian people, it is about the Putin regime”.
This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.
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