COMMENT: Information in the story you are about to read comes from behind The Times newspaper’s paywall which we re-report here because of its significance to our readership. Paywalls are a necessary means of funding newspapers but sometimes interfere with the public’s right to know. A recent wide-ranging interview by the Prime Minister, for instance, was given only to the Daily Telegraph, which operates a paywall. Arguably, our Prime Minister should speak through parliament to the whole nation.
AN ABIDING ROMANTIC FICTION that the town of Berwick upon Tweed remains at war with Russia following the Crimean conflict can be put to bed once and for all: far from being at loggerheads with the Russian bear, Berwick appears to have returned an MP thanks in no small part to £20,000 worth of ‘Russian money’.
The names Mrs Lubov Chernukhin and Alexander Temerko might not sound particularly British belonging, respectively, to the banker wife of Vladimir Putin’s former deputy finance minister and to the former chief of a Russian arms company. But they are bona fide British citizens, having legitimately bought their passports with multi-million pound investments in ‘approved’ British institutions. HOW THEY DO IT: CLICK HERE
As a result, Britain’s Conservative Party has benefited to the tune of £3million from these two oligarchs alone. In all, fourteen Conservative ministers – six of them Cabinet ministers, including Berwick’s Overseas Development Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan – have accepted tens of thousands of pounds in donations from a number of ‘born-again-Tory’ oligarchs.
Ms Trevelyan and the Berwick Conservative Association appear to have been relatively minor recipients: £2,500 for our MP and £17,000 for the constituency party, all from Alexander Temerko. According to The Times revelations, the cash donations from Russian-born British citizens goes much deeper.
The Clarion has no independent means of confirming the report published by the UK’s ‘paper of record’ but has no reason to doubt the following account, plucked from behind the paywall:
The Conservative Party’s finances came under renewed scrutiny last night as it emerged that two of its MPs on the intelligence watchdog committee and 14 ministers had accepted donations linked to Russia.
Electoral Commission records show that six members of the cabinet and eight junior ministers received tens of thousands of pounds from individuals or businesses with links to Russia. The donations were made either to them or their constituency parties.
The disclosures came 24 hours after the intelligence and security committee (ISC) published its long-delayed Russia report and questioned whether the government “took its eye off the ball” by allowing oligarchs to invest billions of pounds in Britain and make high-level political connections.
Theresa Villiers and Mark Pritchard faced calls last night to return the money that they had accepted in donations to their constituency parties or resign from the committee.
The donations analysed by The Times came from Lubov Chernukhin and Alexander Temerko, or companies in which Mr Temerko is involved.
Mrs Villiers, the former environment secretary, received £2,000 through her local Chipping Barnet party in October last year from Mrs Chernukhin, who has given more than £1.7 million to the Conservatives since 2012. Mr Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, received £5,000 from the energy firm Aquind for his constituency in June last year. Mr Temerko, the former chief of a Russian state arms company, is a director of the energy company.
Both MPs received the money before they became members of the committee this month. Neither Mrs Villiers nor Mr Pritchard was involved in the evidence sessions for the report, held during the previous parliament.
This morning Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, defended the right of Tory MPs to accept donations from Russian individuals.
He suggested on Times Radio it would be “racist” to refuse donations because of a person’s nationality.
He earlier told Sky News: “The reason you know who I’ve had donations from is they are published as part of the register of declarations. They are British citizens and have the right to play a full part in the democratic process.
“My personal experience as [former] chairman of the party and as an MP who’s received donations is that they’ve never asked for anything. They’ve done it because they support the Conservative Party.”
Mr Temerko, 53, and Mrs Chernukhin, 48, are British citizens although both were born in the former Soviet Union. Their donations are legal and were properly declared. In 2007 they overlapped briefly as directors of an engineering company, part of which later became Aquind. The new company, which is planning to build a subsea power cable from Britain to France, has close links to the Tory party.
Alok Sharma, the business secretary, received £10,000 from Aquind in January via his constituency party. Mr Sharma has recused himself from determining whether the Aquind interconnector should get the go-ahead. Stewart McDonald, the SNP defence spokesman, said that Mrs Villiers and Mr Pritchard should return the donations or stand down from the committee.
Mr Pritchard said: “All donations to the Conservative Party and its MPs are received in good faith, after appropriate due diligence, from permissible sources. Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and parliament, and comply fully with the law”.
Mrs Villiers was approached for comment. Mrs Chernukhin did not respond to a request for comment.
A representative for Mr Temerko said: “As a businessman, Mr Temerko supports the Conservative Party for its pro-business stance. Ukraine is his motherland, and he is thankful to the Conservatives for supporting the country against Russia’s aggression.”
By way of response, Ms Trevelyan said: “Alexander Temerko is not a Russian national, he was born in what is now Ukraine and has been a British citizen for a long time. He has made his home here in the north east and has spent many years investing in our region, creating jobs and being part of our society.
“I firmly believe that immigrants to the UK should be welcomed to our nation and their contributions to our country valued. The idea that Mr Temerko – who fled Putin’s Russia and is a vocal critic of Mr Putin’s regime – should not be permitted to contribute to British society because he was born in another country is wrong and hints at xenophobia.
“Mr Temerko has donated to my own campaign and to Northumberland Conservatives as is his right as a British citizen. All donations were declared properly and transparently according to UK electoral law.”