Boris Johnson may pull out of tennis match with Russian ex-minister’s wife
Lubov Chernukhin made winning bid of £160,000 at Tory fundraising auction for match with mayor and David Cameron.
Boris Johnson has indicated he could pull out of a tennis match that was bought at a Tory fundraising auction for £160,000 by the wife of a former minister in Vladimir Putin’s government.
The London mayor is due to play a match with David Cameron and Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, who was deputy finance minister under Putin in 2000. She won the right to play the match last month when it was auctioned off as the star lot at the Conservative summer party at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, west London.
Johnson said on Wednesday he wanted the winning bidder to be vetted to ensure they were not a Putin crony. “I know about this tennis match,” he told Sky News. “They volunteered me for it with some geezer. It is very important full checks are carried out to make sure this is not someone who is an intimate or a crony.”
There have been calls for the match to be called off and for the Conservative party to return the money. On Tuesday, Conservative Central Office defended the donation, saying “all donations are transparent, permissible and done under the rules set out by the Electoral Commission”.
A senior Tory source said the kind of vetting to which Johnson referred was routinely carried out prior to accepting donations. “She has been a British citizen for more than five years and she has no links [to Putin] and if anyone has evidence let us see it,” the source said. “Her husband was removed by Putin more than 10 years ago. That is a matter of public record.”
On Monday the former party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft tweeted: “Should the Tory party suspend taking donations from companies owned by Russians.”
The Labour MP Chris Bryant said: “President Putin will just laugh at David Cameron if he is taking £160,000 from one of his old mates while trying to pretend he is being robust on Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and almost certain criminal involvement in the bringing down of MH17.”
Electoral Commission records show that Chernukhin, a banker, was declared an “impermissible donor” in April 2012 when she attempted to give £10,000 to the Conservative party. Since then, however, she has made a three donations worth a total of £5,500, which have all been accepted.
The Conservatives have received substantial donations while in government from individuals and companies linked to Russia. Several Russians attended last year’s fundraiser, including Putin’s judo partner Vasily Shestakov, who has the job of improving Russia’s reputation in the UK. He was introduced to Cameron.