The husband of one of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors has claimed he earns up to £42million a year in Russia and has business dealings with now-sanctioned oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska.
Vladimir Chernukhin, 53, husband of conservative donor Lubov Chernukhin, used his position in Russia’s elite to cultivate influential business contacts while investing in private companies, according to court documents.
Chernukhin, who served as deputy finance minister at the start of Vladimir Putin’s first presidency, shifted assets west after falling out of favor with the Russian regime.
Chernukhin’s wife Lubov, 49, has donated nearly £2.2million to the Conservative party. Labor has called on the Tories to donate any Russia-related 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 the richest oligarchs of his country.
He reveals he has built a personal investment portfolio while holding ‘official roles’, including chairman of the now-sanctioned Russian state development company VEB.RF.
Chernukhin said in the statement: “During the relevant period up to 2004, it was widely believed that those in public positions like mine would also be interested in projects in the private sector. Some discretion was necessary… but the reality was that I (along with many other people at my level in the Russian Federation) had many private interests…
“My time at VEB and in government elevated me into the inner circles of the Russian establishment, opened up a range of high-level relationships for me, and deepened my knowledge of the Russian economy.”
He said he has invested in projects in various sectors, often as a co-shareholder with “prominent members of the Russian economic establishment”.
In evidence before the High Court in December 2018, he confirmed that he “did business with people like Abramovich, Deripaska, [Andrey] Melnichenko. He said: “We were like friends. And we knew everything about each other, especially because we all came from the Soviet Union with zero money in our pockets.
Abramovich, Deripaska and Melnichenko have all been sanctioned by the British government. Melnichenko was worth an estimated £11billion before the invasion of Ukraine and his €530m (£441m) super yacht was seized by Italian authorities this month.
According to Chernukhin’s statement, when he left VEB in 2004 after being fired by Putin, his annual income for that year was $55m (£42m), on which he paid a tax of around $1.5m (£1.1m). Trustees were required to oversee his investments while he was in cabinet.
The case concerned a dispute over the ownership of valuable land in Moscow. The judge concluded that Chernukhin was a legitimate investor and joint venture partner with Deripaska. There is no evidence that Chernukhin acted illegally in his business dealings in Russia.
Chernukhin amassed his fortune in a career that saw him work for trading houses run by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and the VEB. He served as Deputy Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation for two years from April 2000, then became Chairman of the VEB. He was also a member of the board of directors of major Russian companies, including the state-owned airline Aeroflot.
He left for England in 2004, fearing false accusations and political persecution. He said he was close to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, now a Putin critic and opposition figure. It was previously reported that financial documents suggest Chernukhin left the country with assets of around $500m (£366m).
Chernukhin married Lubov, a former banking consultant, in 2007. His Tory donations include a successful tennis auction with Boris Johnson and a dinner with Theresa May. Her large donations have helped her become a member of a Conservative Party ‘advisory committee’ for major donors, which gives her regular access to the prime minister and chancellor.
The leaked Pandora Papers, which exposed the finances of the super-rich, suggested that Lubov Chernukhin’s money came, at least in part, from her husband’s corporate structures. A document sent in 2017 for financial compliance purposes reportedly described her as “financially supported by her husband”.
Newspapers also revealed the couple owned a £30million townhouse overlooking Regent Park in London and a £10million country house in Oxfordshire. He also revealed that the couple regularly charter their own superyacht to sail around southern France and the Caribbean. They also chartered their own private jet, registered in the Isle of Man. The couple both have British nationality.
A spokesman for the Chernukhins said Lubov’s donations came from his own money and any suggestion to the contrary was false.
The spokesperson said: ‘Ms. Chernukhin’s gifts… have never been tainted by the Kremlin or any other influence. All donations were made and reported in accordance with Election Commission rules.
Ms Chernukhin condemned the “truly horrific” invasion of Ukraine and said Putin’s “despotic rule” had degraded into “Stalinist persecution” of the Russian people.
The spokesperson said that Mr. Chernukhin was not a state employee when he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Trade or VEB trading house and had the right to engage in activities. private entrepreneurs. No authority in any jurisdiction has ever suggested or alleged wrongdoing on his part. The spokesman 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 an organized opposition to President Putin.
Lawyers for the Chernukhins have previously said they believe the documents contained in Pandora’s documents were obtained illegally and dispute the accuracy of the information about them.
A Conservative spokesman said the party “only accepts donations from authorized sources, i.e. people registered to vote in the UK or companies registered in the UK”. Donations are properly…reported to the Election Commission, openly published by it, and fully compliant with the law.