Major Tory party donor 'gets wealth from ex-Russian minister husband'

Questions for Tories as Pandora Papers reveal woman, 48, who has given £1.9m to the party and played tennis with Boris Johnson is ‘a housewife funded by her Russian ex-minister husband’

  • Lubov Chernukhin, 48, has given nearly £1.9million in donations to Tory party
  • She once played tennis with Boris Johnson and dined with then PM Theresa May
  • A British citizen, she is wife of ex-Russian deputy minister Vladimir Chernukhin
  • According to the BBC, their links to offshore firms revealed in Pandora Papers
  • Mrs Chernukhin, a banker, reportedly referred to as a ‘housewife’ in messages
  • Mr Chernukhin, now a UK citizen, is said to have transferred £4m to her firm  
  • Lawyers for Mrs Chernukhin say she is UK citizen and can spend money freely
  • The Tory party told the BBC that all donations have been properly declared 

The Conservative Party is tonight facing questions after it was reported that one of its donors gets her personal wealth from her Russian ex-minister husband.

Lubov Chernukhin, 48, has given nearly £1.9million in donations to the Tory party since 2012 and once played tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron.

Mrs Chernukhin, a banker who emigrated to the UK in 2002 and who is a British citizen, also once had dinner with Theresa May while she was Prime Minister. 

She is the wife of ex-Russian deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin – who was sacked by Vladimir Putin in 2004 and left for the UK. 

Despite her large contributes to the Conservative party, little has been known about her or her husband’s personal finance.

But, according to the BBC, documents from the Pandora Papers show her personal wealth came from her husband.

One email reportedly describes her as being ‘financially supported by her husband’, and another as ‘a housewife’. 

Lubov Chernukhin, 48, has given nearly £1.9million in donations to the Conservative party since 2012 and once played tennis with Boris Johnson

She is the wife of ex-Russian deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin – who was sacked by Vladimir Putin in 2004 and left for the UK

Another document reportedly shows Mr Chernukhin’s offshore company loaned £4million to his wife’s UK company.

According to Companies House, Mrs Chernukhin is the director of London-based firm Capital Constructions and Development Limited. It is not clear if this is the company the funds were paid into.

The papers, a leak of internal files and messages from offshore financial firms, also show the couple are linked to a network of 32 companies, three trusts and more than £100million in assets. 

Mr Chernukhin is reported to be behind an offshore company that owns a home in London’s Regent’s Park, as well as a £10million country estate in Oxfordshire and a £38million home in Mayfair. 

According to the BBC, Mrs Chernukhin’s lawyers say she is a British citizen and is entitled to do as she wishes with her money. 

Mr Chernukhin, who was once a deputy finance minister in Putin’s government between 2000 and 2002, is a UK citizen

In 2019 at the Black and White ball, the highlight of the Tory fundraising calendar, Ms Chernukhin successfully bid £135,000 to spend an evening with Theresa May, plus £45,000 for tennis games with Boris Johnson (pictured: Boris Johnson at the same event in 2013) and Ben Elliot, the Tory party chairman, and £30,000 for a private meal with Gavin Williamson

Thersa May pictured with ministers, fellow guests and Tory donor Mrs Chernukhin (fourth from right, next to the former PM) during a night out in April last year

Who is Lubov Chernukhin?

Born in 1972 to Russian parents, Lubov Chernukhin appears to have spent a portion of her early years in Kazakhstan, the resource-rich Soviet republic which became independent after the break-up of the USSR. 

Sources in Moscow say her construction engineer father was posted there. His earnings helped provide Lubov with a good education in the U.S. — getting an MBA at the prestigious Stern School in New York.

At some point, she also married and divorced.

Mrs Chernukhin’s professional career — she has described herself variously as a ‘banker’, ‘investment director’ and ‘management consultant’ — is believed to have then included spells at major international banks, including America’s JP Morgan Chase and Holland’s ABN Amro.

When she first established a base in the UK, buying a flat in a converted factory development in the City of London in 2003, she and her then domestic partner, a Swedish businessman, paid £499,999.

Her prospects changed dramatically a few years later when she fell in love with mega-rich Vladimir Chernukhin. Her first donations to the Tory Party (just over £5,000) were made in her maiden name shortly before she married the oligarch in 2007.

Vladimir, a former Putin crony, had quietly become a ‘non-domiciled’ foreign resident of the UK (a status that means he legally avoids paying British tax on earnings that remain outside the country) some time around 2005.

By the time the couple married, he was a fully paid-up member of the ‘Chelski set’ of uber-wealthy Russians based in London.

Yet exactly how he achieved this financial status is hard to unpick. To get even the vaguest idea, we must once more wind the clock back. A humble civil servant during the Soviet era, Chernukhin appears to have made wealthy and influential contacts during the free-for-all that followed the fall of Communism in the early Nineties.

He secured an executive role at Russia’s state-owned development bank, Vnesheconombank, and also seems to have cut deals with such sharp-elbowed young businessmen as Roman Abramovich — whom he described in a later court deposition as a ‘friend’.

When Putin achieved power, in 1999, Chernukhin’s connections saw him appointed deputy finance minister. Just 31, he quickly earned the nickname ‘Putin’s Protégé’.  But he was fired in 2004 and left for the UK, where he is now a British citizen. 

Lubov, also a British citizen,  is listed as a director of just one active UK company: a property firm called Capital Construction And Development Ltd.  

Mr Chernukhin, who was once a deputy finance minister in Putin’s government between 2000 and 2002, is also a UK citizen. 

Mrs Chernukhin, who is the biggest female Tory donor in history, has gained a reputation for making big bids for time with senior Tories at their fundraising black-tie balls. 

In 2019 at the Black and White ball, the highlight of the Tory fundraising calendar, she successfully bid £135,000 to spend an evening with Theresa May.

She also bid £45,000 for tennis games with Boris Johnson and Ben Elliot and £30,000 for a private meal with Gavin Williamson. 

In April 2019, after donating another £135,000 at a separate fund-raiser, she was pictured enjoying a night out with former Prime Minister May and six female Cabinet members at the exclusive Goring Hotel in London’s Belgravia. 

According to an article in the The Times last year, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was listed as having personally received £25,000 from Ms Chernukhin.

Former party chairman Mr Lewis said at the time that the donations given to him were ‘properly declared’.

The Cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in July last year: ‘I think we need to be fairly clear about this so we don’t get the facts wrong – these are British citizens.

‘They are properly declared, we do not accept funds from foreign nationals.

‘These are British citizens and I would absolutely defend the right of any British citizen, including the people you’ve outlined who have donated to myself and others, to play their full part in our democracy.

‘That doesn’t just mean voting, that means supporting, if they want to, political parties and political candidates, and I’m very proud of the fact that, as a country, we allow British citizens to do that.’

MailOnline has contacted the Conservative Party for comment. 

A spokesperson told the BBC that all donations have been properly and lawfully declared and followed all the rules. 

The Pandora Papers leaks comes after it was revealed in September last year that Mr  Chernukhin was handed $8m (£6.1m), which initially came from a gold mining oligarch who was at the time subject to American sanctions because of his close links to the Kremlin.

Mr Chernukhin was sent the money in 2016 from a British Virgin Islands company linked to Suleyman Kerimov, a member of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament.

Kerimov was sanctioned by US officials in 2018 as part of a drive against those who ‘play a key role in advancing Russia’s malign activities’.

He is also under investigation in France over claims of tax fraud.

The findings were revealed in a BBC Panorama report based on a major leak of banks’ ‘suspicious activity reports’, called the FinCen Files.

Mrs Chernukhin’s lawyers denied her donations were tainted with Kremlin interference. 

Rishi Sunak says HMRC will scour huge Pandora Papers trove to see if tax rules have been abused – and denies ever offshoring his own huge fortune 

Rishi Sunak today pledged that UK authorities will scour the huge Pandora Papers data leak for evidence of tax avoidance – as he denied ever using offshore arrangements for his own massive fortune.

The Chancellor said that HM Revenue and Customs would examine the 12 million files released overnight, giving details of the fortunes of the global super-rich. 

The documents show how 35 current and former world leaders – including associates of Vladimir Putin – used accounts in tax havens to accrue huge amounts of wealth and carry out transactions.

The files come from 14 financial services companies in countries including the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Switzerland.

Mr Sunak has a vast fortune of his own. The Richmond MP has been dubbed the ‘Maharajah of the Yorkshire Dales and  is believed to be one of the richest Members of Parliament.

Asked if he has ever benefited from an offshore arrangement, he told Sky News today: ‘No. I haven’t.

‘I’ve seen these things overnight as well and it’s always tough for me to comment on them specifically given they’ve only just emerged, and of course HMRC will look through those to see if there’s anything we can learn.’

The Chancellor said that HM Revenue and Customs would examine the 12 million files released overnight, giving details of the fortunes of the global super-rich.

The documents show how 35 current and former world leaders – including associates of Vladimir Putin – used accounts in tax havens to accrue huge amounts of wealth and carry out transactions.

Mr Sunak alsThe documents show how 35 current and former world leaders – including associates of Vladimir Putin – used accounts in tax havens to accrue huge amounts of wealth and carry out transactions.o insisted the Tory party carries out the required legal checks on donors after it was reported a prominent donor was involved in one of Europe’s biggest corruption scandals.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘My understanding is we carry out compliance checks in line with the referendums and political parties legislation that was put in place by the Labour government.

‘Those are the checks that are required by law, those are the compliance checks that the party carries out.’

And he denied that the City’s role in tax avoidance is a ‘source of shame’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t think it’s a source of shame because actually our track record on this is very strong.

‘As you’ve seen from the papers, it’s a global problem, there’s a global dimension to it and we need other countries to co-operate with us to tackle this, but we’re determined to do that.’

The papers were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) before being studied by more than 650 reporters from BBC Panorama, the Guardian and more than 100 other news outlets.

They reveal that former British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie saved some $434,000 (£321,000) in stamp duty when they bought an office in London by purchasing the offshore company that owned it.

Meanwhile Russian President Mr Putin was linked to secret assets in Monaco, while an offshore company owned by his alleged lover purchased a $4.1million apartment below the principality’s casino.

The luxury fourth-floor flat was purchased by Brockville Development Ltd, which was eventually traced back to Svetlana Krivonogikh, reported the Guardian.

The woman, who was 28 at the time, is said by Russian investigative outlet Proekt to be the mother of Putin’s child, after giving birth to Elizaveta, or Luiza, in March of the same year.

Meanwhile, the King of Jordan was able to secretly add £70million worth of property to his portfolios in the UK and US – mainly in Malibu, California and in London and Ascot, the papers showed.

While many of the transactions leaked in the papers – made by tens of thousands of different offshore firms -feature no legal wrongdoing, they expose how the UK Government has failed in its promise to bring in a register of offshore property owners.

There are concerns that some of the purchases could be the work of money laundering – while some of those named now face allegations of corruption and global tax avoidance.

The release of the documents could not have come at a worse time for Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis – who is facing an election later this week – as they show how he failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase two villas for $16.2million in the south of France.

The papers follow four other huge data leaks in the past seven years – including the FinCen Files, the Paradise Papers, Panama Papers and LuxLeaks.

They also show how some 95,000 offshore firms were legally set up to secretly by property in Britain.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family and close associates snapped up more than $500million (£400million) worth of property in the UK, the papers revealed.

They also appeared to have made a tidy $41.9million (£31million) profit after selling a London property to the Queen’s Crown Estate, which is managed by the Treasury.

The group bought 17 properties, including an office block in London for $44.6million (£33million) for the president’s son Heydar Aliyev, aged 11.

The building, in the exclusive Borough of Mayfair, was bought by a front company owned by a family friend of President Ilham in 2009 before being transferred a month later to young Heydar.

According to the papers, a second nearby office block, also owned by the family, was sold to the Crown Estate for $89.3million (£66million) in 2018.

The Crown Estate is now reportedly looking into the purchase, but said it conducted the sale using all the checks required by the law at the time.

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