‘Tennis with Cameron and Johnson’ sells for £160000 at Tory fundraiser
Sale draws fresh anger over Conservatives’ reliance on wealthy private donors and lack of transparency at lucrative events.
A game of tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson has been sold off by the Conservative party for £160,000 to the banker wife of a former minister in Vladimir Putin’s government.
The extraordinary prize was the star lot at the Conservative party’s summer fundraising ball on Wednesday at the Hurlingham Club, Fulham, west London, and was billed as giving the successful bidder the chance to play “the ultimate tennis match”. The auction winner was Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, who was Russia’s deputy finance minister during Putin’s first term in office.
She is a banker, and according to Electoral Commission records had once been declared an “impermissible donor” in April 2012 when she attempted to give £10,000 to the party. However, since then Lubov Chernukhin – who is British – has made a further three donations worth a total of £5,500, which have all been accepted.
The sale of the tennis match to the spouse of a senior ex-minister from Putin’s government is likely to raise further questions about the Tory party’s reliance on secretive donations. Labour called for the Tories to reveal the guest list to the event.
The Conservative party refused all day to name the successful bidder for the tennis lot. The party’s headquarters went on to issue a clear denial that the winner was Vladimir Chernukhin, who also attended Wednesday night’s party, which was strictly correct. The fact that his wife was the successful bidder was only confirmed on Thursday night by her law firm, Carter Ruck.
“Mr Chernukhin attended the Hurlingham Club event with his wife, Lubov Chernukhin,” Carter Ruck said. “Mrs Chernukin is a Conservative party member and supporter. Mrs Chernukhin bid on the lot to which you refer. Mrs Chernukhin’s bid was successful.”
A spokesman for Johnson, the mayor of London, said the sale of the match was “a party matter” and referred inquiries to Conservative headquarters, as did Downing Street.
Earlier this week the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that guests with a total wealth of £11bn attended last year’s Conservative summer fundraising event, prompting Labour calls for discussions between ministers and lobbyists to be revealed.
Among the guests at the 2013 dinner was Putin’s judo partner, Vasily Shestakov, who has the job of improving Russia’s reputation in the UK. He was introduced to David Cameron.
Organisers said Wednesday night’s auction raised around £500,000 and hundreds of thousands more are likely to have been raised through table sales. Donors bought tables for up to £12,000 each and invited cabinet ministers to join them, with the proceeds going to the party’s general election fighting fund.
Attendees included the prime minister; the chancellor, George Osborne; the education secretary, Michael Gove; the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt; the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, and the justice secretary, Chris Grayling. The culture secretary, Sajid Javid, was entertained on a table sponsored by the hedge fund billionaire Sir Michael Hintze, while the Tories’ chief election planner, Lynton Crosby, was placed on a table sponsored by JMH Group, a property company operating in the south-east.
On Thursday the government faced calls in the Commons to reveal the guest list for the event, but it refused to do so. Labour said the Tories were living in a “parallel universe”.
A bottle of champagne signed by Margaret Thatcher sold for £45,000. Other prizes at the auction included a “fantastic eight-gun pheasant shoot” at Tusmore, the Oxfordshire estate of the Syrian-born billionaire, Wafic Said, which one guest told the Guardian sold for £80,000. The source added that the auctioneer, foreign office minister Hugo Swire, put up a jar of honey made by his own bees, saying he wanted it to become the most expensive pot of honey ever sold. It went for £15,000, the source said.
- The Guardian,