The husband of one of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors was secretly funded by a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Putin.
Lubov Chernukhin donated £ 1.7 million to the Conservatives, including payment to spend time with the last three prime ministers.
The leaked files show that her husband received $ 8 million (£ 6.1 million). Initially, the money came from a politician who suffered US sanctions due to his proximity to the Kremlin.
His lawyers say the donations are not marred by the Kremlin’s influence.
A leak of “suspicious activity reports” by banks – called FinCEN Files and seen by BBC Panorama – shows that Vladimir Chernukhin was sent the money in 2016 by a British Virgin Islands company linked to Suleyman Kerimov.
- Everything you need to know about FinCEN leak
Officials from Deutsche Bank of New York reported that it is about $ 278.5 million in transactions involving the offshore company.
In recent years there has been a growing focus on donations to political parties by wealthy UK-based Russians, with the July parliamentary report from the Intelligence and Security Committee referring to the possibility that they can allow people to ” assisting Russian-influenced operations “.
“Unsuitable and adequate donors”
Billionaire Kerimov is the owner of Russia’s largest gold mine and a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament. He has been under investigation in France on charges of tax fraud since 2016.
In 2018 it was sanctioned by the US authorities, who targeted those who, according to them, “play a key role in promoting Russia’s malicious activities”.
Mr. Chernukhin, 52, is a former Deputy Finance Minister under Vladimir Putin, who left Russia for London in 2004 after being fired by the president.
The Chernukhin, one of the UK’s most prominent Russian-born couples, are now both British citizens and live in London.
Ms. Chernukhin’s donations to the Conservative Party began in 2012.
Most – more than £ 1.5 million – came after the $ 8 million bonded payment to Mr. Kerimov was made to her husband on April 29, 2016, although it is unclear whether any of that money is went to the conservatives.
Russian journalist and expert Ed Lucas, who provided evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into Russian influence, told Panorama: “The Chernukhin, nice people who might be … are not fit and suitable people to donate to a party. British politician “.
Lucas said he was “deeply concerned about the access that not only Lubov Chernukhin but also other wealthy Russians have to the heights of the Conservative Party and the government”.
Ms Chernukhin’s donations to the Conservatives gave her access to figures at the top of the British government.
In exchange for £ 135,000, she was invited to a women’s evening dinner in a luxury hotel with Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet in April 2019. She is pictured above, fourth from right.
And the 47-year-old has twice made winning bids at auction for tennis matches with Boris Johnson. The last one, in February of this year, cost her 45,000 pounds.
In 2014 he paid £ 160,000 to play tennis with Prime Minister David Cameron and then with London Mayor Mr. Johnson.
As of this year, she is the largest female donor in British history for the Tories. According to data from the Electoral Commission, in the last eight years he has donated around 1.7 million pounds, of which 335,000 pounds between last January and July.
When Boris Johnson, then foreign minister, was asked about Chernukhin and the donation of £ 160,000 for the tennis match in 2018, he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “If there is evidence of gross corruption in the way that gentleman … he got his wealth … then it is possible that our police forces will deprive him of his wealth “.
But he added “all possible checks have been carried out and … will continue to be carried out” on donations.
‘Loan for real estate projects’
The $ 8 million payment to Mr. Chernukhin was made by an offshore company called Definition Services, controlled by Mr. Kerimov’s children. Documents show that their funding comes from their father and it is Mr. Kerimov who has the personal relationship with Mr. Chernukhin.
While Deutsche Bank was processing the money, it sent questions to officials at another bank involved in the transaction.
They said it was a “loan between the two parties to support the borrower’s further real estate projects” and that Definition was involved in real estate investments.
Despite the response, Deutsche Bank filed a suspicious activity report (SAR), noting the link to Mr. Kerimov and the payment to Mr. Chernukhin.
Deutsche said the definition was “registered and banking out of high-risk jurisdictions and the business purpose of the transactions and the relationship between the parties could not be determined.”
What do we know about Chernukhin’s finances?
Some of Chernukhin’s financial affairs were made public as part of a lengthy legal battle with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska over ownership of a former industrial site in Moscow.
The proceedings in the High Court in London revealed that he set up a trust for his wife and another trust for the couple’s benefit together.
Ms. Chernukhin has been described as a former banker.
She is listed as a director of four UK companies. One of them shares the same London correspondence address described in a bank document relating to paying her husband $ 8 million from Definition Services.
The Chernukhin’s lawyers refused to say whether Mr. Chernukhin received the $ 8 million.
But they said that “Ms. Chernukhin never received money from Mr. Kerimov or any other company related to him” and her “donations to the Conservative party were never tainted by the Kremlin or any other influence”.
They added that all of his donations were declared in accordance with the rules of the Electoral Commission.
Suleyman Kerimov’s lawyers said he denies all allegations made by Panorama, and “had no relationship with Ms. Chernukhin.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “There are people in this country of Russian origin who are British citizens and have the democratic right to donate to a political party. Many have criticized Putin and it is completely wrong and discriminatory to defame them all. With the same. brush. “
FinCen Files is a leak of secret documents that reveal how major banks have allowed “dirty money” to be moved around the world. They also expose how US intelligence views the UK as a “high risk jurisdiction” and show that it is filled with Russian money from unexplained sources.
The files were obtained from BuzzFeed News which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 400 journalists worldwide. Panorama led the research for the BBC.
FinCEN file: full coverage; follow the reaction on Twitter using #FinCENFiles; In the BBC News app, follow the tag “FinCEN Files; Watch Panorama on BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only).