Russia has dropped off the agenda in Westminster somewhat, amid more pressing rows about curries, cake and cannabis. For as the conflict in Ukraine enters its third month of fighting, attention in London has drifted elsewhere – much to the relief of some top Tories facing question about the party's links to Russia. Now though, an investigation by the New York Times (of all papers) threatens to reignite rows about whether proper checks are being conducted on those bankrolling Boris Johnson's party.
The NYT reports that one of the Tories' biggest donors is suspected of secretly funnelling hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party from a Russian account, according to a bank alert filed to 'Britain's FBI', the National Crime Agency. In February 2018 a donation of $630,225 was made in the name of Ehud Sheleg, a wealthy London art dealer who served as the Conservative party's treasurer between July 2019 to September 2021. That $630,225 no doubt came in useful in the Tory triumph at the 2019 election.
But documents filed with the authorities last year and seen by the New York Times say that the money originated in a Russian account of Sheleg’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, a onetime senior politician in the previous pro-Kremlin government of Ukraine. Kopytov currently owns real estate and hotel businesses in Crimea and Russia. 'We are able to trace a clear line back from this donation to its ultimate source,' Barclays bank wrote in a January 2021 alert to the National Crime Agency. The bank, which maintained some of the accounts used in the transaction, 'flagged the donation as both suspected money laundering and a potentially illegal campaign donation.'
Steerpike is sure that Tory party boss Oliver Dowden and his co-chair Ben Elliot will be on the case straight away...