Former Tory chairman defends ‘right’ for party to take money from Russian donors with links to Putin

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis on Sky News; Sky News, Twitter

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis on Sky News; Sky News, Twitter - Credit: Archant

Former Tory party chairman and cabinet minister Brandon Lewis has defended taking money from Russian donors, and supported 14 of his colleagues for doing so, despite a number having links to Vladimir Putin.

According to the Russia report, the Commons intelligence and security committee (ISC) found Russian involvement ran to the heart of the Tory party in the form of donations from wealthy Russia businessmen linked to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Cabinet ministers said to have accepted money - either personally or to their constituency branch - from two Russia-linked individuals include chancellor Rishi Sunak, business secretary Alok Sharma and justice secretary Robert Buckland.

One donor, Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of one of Putin's former finance minister, paid £160,000 to the party in exchange for a game of tennis against prime minister Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London.

Alexander Temerko, who was the former chief executive of a state run arms company in Russia, has donated £1.3 million to the Tories and recently stumped up £12,000 to sit next to Sharma at a Tory party fundraiser this year.

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Sharma's department was responsible for reviewing a major infrastructure project brought forward by Temerko's company, Aquind.

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Two members of the ISC - Tory MPs Theresa Villiers and Mark Pritchard - were also flagged as having received donations to their constituency branches from Chernukhin and Temerko.

Brandon Lewis, who is the MP for Great Yarmouth, defended personally taking donations amounting to £58,000 from Russian donors.

Among the donations listed is records £25,000 from Chernukhin and £23,000 from Temerko.

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He told Sky News: 'Let's be very clear. The reason you know who I've received donations from is because these are published as part of the publication of the declaration of interest.

'These are British citizens... Like any other British citizen they have every right to donate to a political party and it's absolutely right they have that right.

'They never asked anything of it, they've done it because they want to support a Conservative party in government.'

He promised to 'defend' any Briton looking to donate to the party before encouraging more people to give to the party.

The ISC report warned that unnamed Kremlin-linked figures had given money to UK political parties in a move that could see them deployed to 'assist' Moscow.

During an urgent question about the Russia report in the Commons, Labour former minister Chris Bryant accused the government of continuing to hand out 'golden visas' to 'dodgy Russian oligarchs'.

He said: 'What mystifies me is that government ministers are still giving out golden visas to dodgy Russian oligarchs, that government ministers are still granting exemptions to dodgy Russian oligarchs so that they can hide their ownership of businesses in this country, and I am mystified that government ministers are still taking millions of pounds from dodgy Russian oligarchs.

'We have to clean up our act and it has to start with the government.'

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