The husband of one of the Tory party’s biggest donors has claimed he earned up to £42m a year in Russia and had business dealings with the now-sanctioned oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska.
Vladimir Chernukhin, 53, husband of the Tory donor Lubov Chernukhin, used his position in the Russian elite to cultivate influential business contacts while investing in private ventures, according to court documents.
Chernukhin, who served as deputy finance minister early in Vladimir Putin’s first presidency, transferred assets to the west after falling out of favour with the Russian regime.
Chernukhin’s wife, Lubov, 49, has donated nearly £2.2m to the Conservative party. Labour has called on the Tories to donate any Russian-linked political donations to Ukrainian humanitarian causes.
A 78-page witness statement, written by Russian-born Chernukhin for a 2018 high court case against oligarch Oleg Deripaska, details how he built his fortune and networked with some of his country’s richest oligarchs.
It discloses that he built a personal investment portfolio while working in “official roles”, including chairman of the now-sanctioned Russian state development corporation VEB.RF.
Chernukhin says in the statement: “In the relevant period up to 2004, it was widely accepted that those who held public positions such as mine would also be interested in projects in the private sector. Some discretion was required … but the reality was that I (along with many other people at my level in the Russian Federation) held many private interests…
“My time at VEB and in government elevated me to the inner circles of the Russian establishment, opened up an array of high-level connections for me and deepened my knowledge of the Russian economy.”
He said he invested in projects in a variety of sectors, often as joint shareholder with “prominent members of the Russian economic establishment”.
In evidence in the high court in December 2018, he confirmed that he “was doing business with people like Abramovich, Deripaska, [Andrey] Melnichenko.” He said: “We were like friends. And we knew everything about each other, especially because all of us came from Soviet Union with zero money in the pocket.”
Abramovich, Deripaska and Melnichenko have all been sanctioned by the UK government. Melnichenko was worth an estimated £11bn before the Ukraine invasion and his €530m (£441m) super yacht was seized this month by the Italian authorities.
According to Chernukhin’s statement, when he left VEB in 2004 after being dismissed by Putin, his annual income for that year was $55m (£42m), on which he paid tax of about $1.5m (£1.1m). Trustees were required to oversee his investments when he was in ministerial office.
The case involved a dispute over the ownership of a valuable piece of land in Moscow. The judge found Chernukhin was a legitimate investor and a joint venture partner with Deripaska. There is no suggestion Chernukhin acted unlawfully in his business dealings in Russia.
Chernukhin amassed his fortune in a career that included working for trade houses run by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and VEB. He was deputy finance minister of the Russian Federation for two years from April 2000, then became chairman of VEB. He was also a board member of major Russian companies, including the state-owned airline Aeroflot.
He left for England in 2004, fearing he might be the victim of bogus charges and political persecution. He said he was close to former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, now a Putin critic and opposition figure. It has been previously reported that financial documents suggest Chernukhin left the country with assets of about $500m (£366m).
Chernukhin married Lubov, a former banking consultant, in 2007. Her donations to the Conservatives include successful auction bids for tennis with Boris Johnson and a dinner party with Theresa May. Her large donations helped secure her membership of a Conservative party “advisory board” for major donors which provides regular access to the prime minister and chancellor.
The Pandora papers leak, which exposed the finances of the super-rich, suggested Lubov Chernukhin’s money flowed, at least in part, from her husband’s corporate structures. A document sent in 2017 for financial compliance purposes is said to have described her as “financially supported by her husband”.
The papers also revealed the couple owned a £30m townhouse overlooking London’s Regent Park and a £10m Oxfordshire country house. It also revealed the couple regularly chartered their own superyacht to sail around the south of France and the Caribbean. They also rented their own private jet, registered in the Isle of Man. The couple both have British citizenship.
A spokesperson for the Chernukhins said Lubov’s donations were from her own money, and any suggestion to the contrary was false.
The spokesperson said: “Mrs Chernukhin’s donations … have never been tainted by Kremlin or any other influence. All donations have been made and declared in accordance with Electoral Commission rules.”
Mrs Chernukhin has condemned the “truly horrifying” invasion of Ukraine and has said Putin’s “despotic regime” has degraded to “Stalinist persecution” of the Russian people.
The spokesperson said Mr Chernukhin was not a state employee while at the trade house of the Ministry of Foreign Trade or VEB, and was entitled to engage in private entrepreneurial activities. No authority in any jurisdiction has ever suggested or alleged wrongdoing on his part. The spokesperson said: “Mr Chernukhin served as deputy finance minister under Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Mr Chernukhin fled Russia … when it became known that Mr Kasyanov was forming organised opposition to President Putin.”
Lawyers for the Chernukhins have previous said they consider documents in the Pandora papers were obtained unlawfully and dispute the accuracy of the reporting on them.
A Conservative spokesperson said the party “only accepts donations from permissible sources, namely individuals registered on the UK’s electoral roll or UK-registered companies. Donations are properly … declared to the Electoral Commission, openly published by them and comply fully with the law.”