Minister defends accepting political cash from Russian-born donors

PUBLISHED: 10:47 14 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:47 14 November 2019

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis has backed the East while at party conference
Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis has backed the East while at party conference Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

PA Archive/PA Images

Security minister Brandon Lewis has said wealthy Russian businesspeople have "the absolute right" to donate to the Conservative Party if they are British citizens.

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Lewis, who himself has received donations from two wealthy Russian-born British citizens, said it is "wrong to accuse them of anything else".

His comments come as the government faces continuing pressure to publish a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee into alleged Russian interference in British politics.

Lewis said Number 10 intends to publish the report "once the election is out of the way", saying that rules of purdah prevent the report from being published during an election period.

He also admitted that both he and the Conservative Party have received donations from prominent Russians Lubov Chernukhin and Alexander Temerko.

Temerko has been a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin and has held varying positions on Brexit, but most recently has applauded Boris Johnson's efforts. Meanwhile, Chernukhin's husband previously served as Putin's deputy finance minister, but the Conservative say he has fallen out of favour with the Russian premier.

According to OpenDemocracy, banker Chernukhin has donated £450,000 to the party in the last year.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Lewis said: "They are British citizens, they are prominent British business people as well - Alexander [Temerko] himself has invested in the renewable energy industry in the East of England.

"So British citizens have the absolute right, as any other British citizen does, to invest in and be part of the British political scene, and I think it's wrong to accuse them of anything else."

While ISC chair and former attorney general Dominic Grieve has repeatedly called the report's publication before the election, an independent news organisation is planning a legal challenge to the government on the matter.

Government could end up in court over refusal to publish 'Russian interference' report

In the last few days, pressure has mounted for No. 10 to release the report after the Sunday Times claimed nine Russian business people who have donated money to the Conservative Party were named in the document.

However, Lewis backed chancellor Sajid Javid's comments that the timescale for the publication of the report from parliament's ISC was "perfectly normal".

Lewis said: "We're now in purdah, which will delay that a little bit, but once the election is out of the way, we will publish that report."

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