- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has received a surge in donations from Russians in recent months.
- Donors with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin have donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the party.
- They have previously paid for meetings with senior government figures including Johnson.
- The figures come with Johnson blocking publication of a report into any influence Russia had over recent UK elections.
- Johnson’s senior strategist Dominic Cummings is also under the spotlight following reports about time he spent in Russia in the 1990s.
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A new investigation reveals that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has received a surge in cash from Russian donors over the past year, news that comes as his government continues to block publication of a report into Russian influence over recent elections.
An OpenDemocracy investigation found that the UK Conservative Party received at least £498,850, or about $642,000, from Russian business executives and their associates between November 2018 and last month.
This was a significant increase from the previous year, when such donations amounted to less than £350,000.
The increase came despite increased pressure on the party to cut its ties to Russian oligarchs since the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury last year.
The news also comes with Johnson’s chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, under the spotlight after the Sunday Times reported claims from a whistleblower about “serious concerns” about the time he spent in Russia in the 1990s.
Donors dinners and tennis games
Major donors to the Conservative Party in recent months included Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband, Vladimir, served as a finance minister under Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early 2000s, OpenDemocracy found.
She donated £450,000 over the past year. In 2014 she paid £160,000 for a game of tennis with Johnson and former Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as a further £30,000 for dinner with the current education secretary, Gavin Williamson.
Chernukhin earlier this year dined with ex-Prime Minister Theresa May and numerous female members of the Cabinet at the time, after donating £135,000 to a Conservative party fundraising event.
The London-based public-relations firm New Century Media donated £20,000 to the Conservatives in May of this year.
The company has a series of links to Russia. In 2013, the Russian government paid the firm to portray a “positive image” of the country in the UK, OpenDemocracy found.
New Century Media also reportedly played a role in helping Vasily Shestakov, Putin’s judo partner, meet Cameron at a Conservative fund-raising dinner in 2014.
Other donors include the Russian-born banker Lev Mikheev and the energy tycoon Alexander Temerko.
Temerko once said he and his “friend” Johnson would “plot” and drink wine together at Johnson’s parliamentary office, when Johnson was the UK’s foreign secretary, Reuters reported.
A Conservative Party representative said: “The Conservative Party does not accept foreign donations – as they are illegal.”
The person said the donors reported by OpenDemocracy “have lived in Britain for many years and are British citizens, which gives them the democratic right to donate to a political party.”
Johnson blocks report on Russian interference
The new figures emerged with Johnson under increasing scrutiny for his government’s refusal to publish the report into possible Russian interference in the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum.
The UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee sent Johnson its report weeks ago, but the prime minister is yet to sign it off and make it public, according to committee chair, MP Dominic Grieve.
The 50-page report’s publication is not expected until after the general election on December 12.
The Foreign Office minister, Christopher Pincher, told lawmakers on Tuesday that it would be “some time” before the report was published, adding: “When the prime minister has concluded that the report is publishable he will publish it.”
British members of the European Parliament on Wednesday piled more pressure on Johnson to publish the report.
A group of 16 of them from multiple political parties, led by Labour’s Julie Ward, signed a letter calling for its “immediate publication.”
It said: “We believe for our constituents and the country that this is a matter of grave urgency; the country must go into the upcoming General Election knowing that it is free and fair from outside meddling.
“If the publication cannot be made available due to the sensitive nature of the matter, the government should respond accordingly outlining what is preventing it from being made public.
“As this cross-party letter shows, this is not about political ideology – it is about the foundation and fundamentals of our democracy. We must have transparency and we must have scrutiny across all levels of government.”