Fresh ‘cash for favour’ accusations as Tory minister dined with influential Russian donors

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Alok Sharma arrives at 10 Downing Street; Aaron C

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Alok Sharma arrives at 10 Downing Street; Aaron Chown - Credit: PA

The business secretary has faced a new 'cash for favour' accusation after he met influential Tory donors whose planning application needed the minister's consent.

Alok Sharma sat next to two Russian businessmen at a Tory fundraising dinner this year where it is understood the pair discussed a plan to build a £1.2 billion pipeline under the English Channel.

Alexander Temerko - who has donated £1.3 million to the Conservatives - and business partner Kirill Glukhovskoy paid £12,000 each to share at table with the business secretary at the Black and White Ball fundraiser in February.

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They are both director of Aquind, a company looking to run a giant power cable from Portsmouth into France to link the two countries' power grids.

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As business secretary, Sharma would be responsible for approving the scheme but has recused himself from a decision over fears of a conflict of interest.

But when the Mirror approached the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) last week, where Sharma is head minister, there had been no indication anyone else would make the decision.

A spokesman for Sharma said: 'Alok formally recused himself from the process months ago, and has not and will not have any involvement in the decision on this proposal.'

It now understood energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng will make a ruling next year.

The leader of Portsmouth council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has written to communities minister Robert Jenrick requesting for any approval of the project to be made locally.

Two weeks on and Vernon-Jackson has still not received a response.

He said: 'Government ministers have said we're locally not allowed to make this decision and I'm concerned that one of the two directors of the company has donated over £1m to the Conservatives and that I think it's now necessary for ministers to step away from being involved in this decision.

'It's a hugely controversial decision to bring this power line in to the second most densely populated city in the country and dig this trench all the way through the city.'

He added: 'Ministers need to be really careful that there is no impression that planning permission can be bought.'

This comes as a third Aquind director was granted anonymity on Companies House - an online government business directory. Typically, the names of people with a significant holding in a British company must have their named published on the site under anti-corruption rules.

It is reported the director had successfully applied to conceal his identity on the grounds exposing it would risk 'serious violence or intimidation' towards them.

Temerko was the chief executive of a government-owned arms firm in Russia before moving to the UK. Glukhovskoy, his business partner, worked at a Russian state oil company as a legal advisor, according to a LinkedIn page under his name.

Temerko is believed to be part of the 'leader's group' - an elite club of high-value donors frequently given direct access to the PM and senior ministers.

Since 2018 Aquind has donated £242,000 to the Tories, including £67,000 during the general election campaign last year. It also gave £10,000 directly to Sharma in January this year, shortly before he became the minister for business.

A spokesperson for Temerko and Aquind Ltd said: 'Aquind has complied with all its legal and regulatory obligations including those specifically applicable to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

'The Development Consent Order process has been introduced to enable the development of nationally important infrastructure, the scale and significance of which is not addressed by standard planning procedures. An independent Examining Authority will undertake a comprehensive Examination of the project which is in fact even more rigorous than any other planning regime in this country.'

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Aquind Ltd or its directors.

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