A Cabinet Minister has defended accepting thousands of pounds from Russian-linked donors as the benefactors were British citizens entitled to “play their full part in our democracy”.
Top Tory Brandon Lewis dismissed concerns about receiving some £48,000 from donors linked to the country – and said he was proud that they were allowed to be involved in politics.
It emerged that 14 Tory ministers and two members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which published a long-delayed report into Russian interference in British democracy, had taken money from figures linked to Russia.
The donations, which are legal and had been properly declared, emerged as the ISC’s Russia report raised concerns about an influx of Russian money into the UK since the 1990s,
Mr Lewis was listed as receiving £25,000 from long-time Tory donor Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of one of Vladimir Putin’s former ministers, and £23,000 from Alexander Temerko, a former chief of a Russian arms company, The Times reported.
Other senior Tories who received personal donations or money for their local constituencies from the two donors include Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.
Mrs Chernukhin famously bid £160,000 at a lavish Tory fundraiser to win a game of tennis with Boris Johnson.
Mr Lewis, a former Tory chairman, defended the donations, saying they had been properly declared.
He told the Today programme: “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.”
Asked if the donors gave vast sums out of “love of the Conservative Party and admiration of individual ministers”, he said: “I think they do it because they see that the Conservative Party and a Conservative prime minister is the party that delivers for the UK.”
Tory MPs Theresa Villiers and Mark Pritchard- both members of the ISC – also received donations to their constituency branches from Mrs Chernukhin and Mr Temerko.
Neither were members of the committee during the 18-month investigation into possible Russian interference.
Ms Villiers, a former Environment Secretary, reportedly received £2,000 through her local Chipping Barnet party in October last year from Mrs Chernukhin, who has given more than £1.7 million to the Tories since 2012.
Mr Pritchard saw £5,000 donated by energy company Aquind, of which Mr Temerko is director, to his Shropshire constituency in June last year.
A representative for Mr Temerko told The Times: “As a businessman, Mr Temerko supports the Conservative Party for its pro-business stance. Ukraine is his motherland, and he is thankful to the Conservatives for supporting the country against Russia’s aggression.”
The Mirror previously reported that Mr Temerko and his business partner Kirill Glukhovsky sat at a table with Business Secretary Alok Sharma at a Tory fundraiser earlier this year.
Mr Sharma later recused himself from decisions relating a £1.2bn energy scheme linked to both men over fears of a conflict of interest.
There’s no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Aquind Ltd, Mr Temerko or Mr Glukhovskoy.