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As questions swirl around the extent of Russian influence on our democracy, we believe it is important to examine these extremely questionable financial links.
Evolve initiated this investigation after discovering that Ms Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Putin’s former deputy finance Minister – Vladimir Chernukhin, donated a further £160,000 to the Conservatives in the last quarter.
This donation came despite the Tories having come under fire for their connections to the Chernukhins in the past. Ms Chernukhin was ruled impermissible as a donor in 2012, but, presumably, circumstances have now changed.
Chernukhin and her husband made their money in the early years of the Putin Presidency. Vladimir Chernukhin served as a deputy finance minister, and was made Chairman of a state-owned bank by presidential decree.
They previously stirred headlines after paying for a £160,000 tennis match with the Prime Minister David Cameron and Boris Johnson in 2014.
Since 2010 the Chenukhins have donated a staggering £514,382.40 to the Tory party.
Gerard Lopez is the Chairman of the Board of Rise Capital. Rise is an investment firm that has recently invested in a series of Russian infrastructure projects. These sorts of projects are famously hard to secure without support from the Russian Government. Rise’s managing partner, Sergei Romashov, is understood to be a close ally of Vladimir Putin.
Lopez made a donation of £400,000 to the Conservatives in April of 2016.
Alexander Knaster is a wealthy banker who worked as the chief executive of Russia’s Alfa bank. Knaster was appointed by Mikhail Fridman who was very close to Putin and the Kremlin. Knaster has since maintained his connections with Alfa Bank. His new company Pamplona manages a $1.5billion investment on their behalf.
Lev Mikheev is a billionaire Russian financier with an office next door to the Kremlin. He now makes his money investing around $1billion on behalf of a number of wealthy friends of Vladimir Putin. He has donated £197,000 to the Tories since 2010.
New Century Media
New Century Media (NCM) is a British Lobbying firm that has a history of Russian connections. NCM have previously arranged for Putin’s judo partner to meet David Cameron at a Tory event. They have also assisted with purchases by the Russian state-controlled energy company, Rosneft.
New Century Media have donated £123,850 to the Tories since 2010.
Access Industries is an American holding company founded by Leonard Blavatnik. Blavatnik has previously seen criticism from Oxford Academics who accused the university of “selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates.”
Blavatnik’s Access Industries has donated £94,450 to the Tory party since 2010.
Other questions the Tories may have to face revolve around two permitted participants. The Bruges group, which was founded by Margaret Thatcher, and the Bow Group faced scrutiny in the Times last year over connections to Putin’s Russia.
Whilst both are allowed to participate in UK elections, they have both published documents written by Russian Diplomats and Writers.
The Bruges Group has spent around £89,426.43 in UK elections.
All of the aforementioned are figures whose links to Putin Evolve could reasonably confirm. Our preliminary investigation revealed that UK-based Russians have donated at least £3million to the Tories since 2010.
Evolve were unable to prove connections with the Russian government in a number of these cases, and also struggled to track money that had been donated through companies.
Our investigation focuses on reported donations and spending. We did not investigate the spread of dark money throughout British politics, however this will be the focus of a further investigation.
It is also important to note that Evolve are not alleging any illegal behaviour. These donations were legal and were reported. However, they may also represent how politics is traditionally done in Putin’s Russia.
Mark Hollingsworth, author of Londongrad – a book on Russian influence in the UK – points out that exchanging donations for favours was the accepted way in post-USSR Russia – a point which does raise the significant question of what may be expected in exchange for these huge individual donations.
As London increasingly becomes a playground for the super-rich, Russian oligarchs have become notoriously widespread property owners in the capital. Such foreign investments are an easy way of safely protecting ill-gotten financial gains.
However, as allegations of Russian interference in the US and the EU referendum gain traction, the donations noted in this preliminary investigation need to be scrutinised in depth.
If Putin is using companies and cronies to directly influence our democracy, Britain needs to know.
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