On 12 March 2018, Theresa May made a statement to parliament about the Salisbury poisonings. In it, she promised:
We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.
But on the same day, May’s government accepted £50,000 of donations from Lubov Chernukhin. Chernukhin is a banker who has been described [paywall] as a “Putin crony”. And Chernukhin’s husband previously served as a minister under Putin.
When May became prime minister, her allies promised she would “sup with a long spoon” and it would not be “business-as-usual” when it came to accepting Russian donations. But this promise appears to be in tatters after the publication of electoral donations from the first quarter of 2018.
On 15 March 2018, May received positive press coverage after ‘fist bumping’ a supporter during a visit to Salisbury. Five days later, her party accepted a further £50,000 from Chernukhin.
In total, the party has accepted £112,500 of donations so far this year from Chernukhin.
The Conservative Party has faced criticism in the past over donations from Chernukhin, who has donated £626,500 since 2012.
In 2014, Chernukhin (who is now a UK citizen) paid £160,000 for a tennis match with foreign secretary Boris Johnson and then PM David Cameron. As Andrew Marr pointed out when he questioned Johnson on this donation:
This lady’s husband was a minister of Vladimir Putin, and was given an award by Vladimir Putin, so he was close to the regime. And you, as a party, were prepared to take £160,000 from her, so she could have a game of tennis with Boris Johnson.
Other donations from Chernukhin included £30,000 for dinner with defence secretary Gavin Williamson in 2017.
Despite calls to pay back the money, the Conservative Party refused.
The Labour Party criticised the donation. Shadow minister for the cabinet office Jon Trickett said the donations raised “serious questions”. He continued:
Despite repeated promises that the prime minister doesn’t want ‘business as usual’ with Russia, the Conservatives have accepted another £100,000 from the wife of a former minister in Putin’s government.
And Trickett believes May owes an explanation:
Theresa May needs to explain what checks have taken place, and why her party has accepted money from individuals with links to Putin’s regime, despite her promises.
Nothing to see here
Despite May’s promises, the Conservative Party does not see a problem with Chernukhin’s latest £100k donation. A spokesperson said:
All donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and published by them, and comply fully with the law.
The Conservative Party also denies [paywall] that the Chernukhin is a “Putin crony”.
Regardless of legality, there’s an issue of morality. And then there’s the issue of hypocrisy. But these are hardly areas where the Conservative Party excels. It does indeed seem to be “business-as-usual”.
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