A Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin has secretly funded the husband of Lubov Chernukhin, a Russian-born donor to the Conservative party, according to the BBC’s Panorama programme.
Chernukhin has given £1.7m to the Conservatives over the past eight years. In February, she bid £45,000 at a charity auction to play tennis with Boris Johnson, and previously spent £165,000 for another tennis game with Johnson – the then mayor of London – and David Cameron.
Leaked files show that Chernukhin’s husband Vladimir – a former deputy economics minister in Vladimir Putin’s government – received $8m (£6.1m). The money came from Suleiman Kerimov, a Russian billionaire sanctioned in 2018 by the US Treasury.
Chernukhin’s lawyers say her donations to the Tories are not tainted by Kremlin influence.
The $8m transaction emerged in a leak of banking “suspicious activity reports” called the FinCEN files and seen by Panorama. It shows that Vladimir Chernukhin received the money in 2016 from a British Virgin Islands company linked to Kerimov and his family.
The transfer took place on 29 April 2016, two months before the EU referendum vote that led to Brexit. The majority of Chernukhin’s donations to the Conservatives – more than £1.5m – took place after this date. It is not clear if any of that cash went to the Tories, Panorama reported.
Officials at Deutsche Bank in New York raised concerns about the payment, which was among $278.5m of transactions involving the offshore company. It was made by Definition Services Inc, a firm controlled by Kerimov’s children. The BBC cited documents that show the company’s funding comes from Kerimov himself.
Deutsche said Definition operated in a “high-risk jurisdiction” and said one of its “large transactions” was sent to Vladimir Chernukhin. According to Panorama, it said “the commercial purpose of the transactions and the relationship between the parties could not be determined”.
Kerimov is one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals with a fortune put at $22bn. His rise has been fuelled by loans from Russian state banks and his investments included Polyus Gold, Russia’s biggest gold producer, now owned by Kerimov’s son Said. In 2013, Vladimir Chernukhin sat on the company’s board.
The US Treasury sanctioned Kerimov together with other oligarchs linked to Putin. It said the Russian government operated “for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites” and engaged in “a range of malign activity around the globe”.
Lawyers for Vladimir Chernukhin declined to say whether he received $8m from Kerimov, with the money designated in the leaked files for “property projects”.
They said Lubov Chernukhin had never received cash from Kerimov or “any company related to him”. Her donations to the Conservatives were not “tainted by Kremlin or any other influence”, they added, and were in line with electoral commission rules.
“None of the money donated to the Conservative party by Mrs Chernukhin came, or was in any way derived from, Mr Kerimov,” they said.
Kerimov’s lawyer denied Panorama’s allegations and said they had “no dealings with Ms Chernukhin whatsoever”.
Labour politicians called on Monday for the Conservative party to return Lubov Chernukhin’s money. A former banker, she is the biggest female donor in British political history. Chris Bryant – a one-time Europe minister – said the party was “utterly complacent and naive” about accepting Russian-linked cash.