Ex-banker Lubov Chernukhin, a top Conservative Party donor whose husband is President Putin’s former deputy finance minister, has paid £160,000 for a match with David Cameron and Boris Johnson – in 2014
Image: Fulham Chronicle)
David Cameron has defended letting a Russian donor pay to play tennis with him because they “didn’t talk about Putin”.
Ex-banker Lubov Chernukhin, a top Conservative Party donor whose husband is President Putin’s former deputy finance minister, paid £160,000 for a match with the then PM in 2014.
Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, also took part in the game – an auction prize at the party’s Summer Ball.
Days after the party’s fundraiser, on July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
And a few months earlier, Putin had been condemned by the international community for the annexation of Crimea.
But speaking to LBC Radio’s Andrew Marr today, the former prime minister insisted Ms Chernukhin had attempted ‘absolutely no influence’ over UK policy on Russia.
When asked if he remembered the match, he replied: “I remember it, I remember it – and there was absolutely no conversation about Russia, finance, Putin or anything else.”
“We had a very careful system of checking who could and could not donate money to the Conservative Party.
“A small handful of people had ties to Russia, and as far as I was concerned, most of them were dissidents, often Ukrainians.”
Ms Chernukhin was born in Russia, educated in the United States and became a British citizen in 2012.
She is legally entitled to vote and donate to UK political parties, and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing on her part.
Ms Chernukhin has repeatedly paid for access to successive Prime Minister’s ministers at Party fundraising auctions, including a ‘girls night out’ with Theresa May and Liz Truss, dinner with the Defense Secretary of the time, Gavin Williamson, and a second tennis match with Boris Johnson, after he became prime minister.
In total, Ms Chernukhin has given nearly £2m to the Tories – and is the biggest political donor in British history.
Mr Cameron continued: “But above all, this point – Britain had the strongest anti-Putin policy of any country in Europe.
“Who kicked him out of the G8? Who insisted on the sanctions? Who adopted the beneficial ownership rules?
“So I think it’s a giant red herring to somehow suggest that Russian money somehow influenced policy against Putin and Russia.”
He added that he was “the strongest ally in building a really strong case in holding Putin to account.”
When asked what Ms Chernukhin and other Russian expat donors were paying when they donated money to the party, he said: “Like many people who come to live in this country and call it their home , they get involved in politics because they care about this country, and make sure it is an open, tolerant and democratic country.
He said there was ‘absolutely no influence’ on Russia policy from the UK, adding: ‘If they were trying to buy something they didn’t really understand it, did they? not it?”
On Tuesday evening, Ms Chernukhin received the Saint Agnes Prize, one of the most prestigious honors bestowed by the Republic of San Marino at a ceremony in London.
The event brought together a high-level government delegation from the micro-country, including Captains Regent Francesco Mussoni and Giacomo Simoncini, the two heads of state.
Conservative MP Andrew Rossindell, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on San Marino, attended the event and delivered a speech.
And on Wednesday morning, the delegation met Boris Johnson, whom they described as “friendly”.
Earlier, Mr Cameron called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “phenomenal liar”.
The Tory told LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr that in welcoming the Russian President to Number 10 in 2013, Mr Putin “let his guard down and said, ‘Fundamentally I’m not a Democrat and I does not share your interests “.”
Mr Cameron added: “He was also a phenomenal liar. I remember confronting him with evidence that Russian troops were in the Donbass, he lied, I remember confronting him with evidence of the downing of a Malaysian airline – there was no naivety.”
The former lawmaker said the attack on a hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday was a “war crime”.