Two months ago the Intelligence and Security Committee revealed to us all that successive Conservative Governments have sat on the problem of Russian interference in UK democracy.
One of the problems they highlighted was the amount of foreign money that could be making its way into the UK.
Now, leaked FinCEN documents from Deutsche Bank allegedly shows us that the partner of one of the Conservative Party’s largest private donors seems to have a very close financial relationship with Suleyman Kerimov, a billionaire Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin.
Lubov Chernukhin, a British citizen and the donor in question, has donated £1.7 million to the Conservative Party over the last eight years. The leaked FinCen documents suggest that her husband, Vladimir Chernukhin, who is not a British citizen, was sent £6.1 million by Kerimov.
This is yet more evidence that we need a proper inquiry into the question of foreign interference – both financial and digital – in UK democracy.
The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report pointed to the fact that UK electoral regulators lacked the teeth to pursue these matters adequately.
All of Chernukhin’s donations were properly reported to the Electoral Commission but the EC needs the authority to investigate the true source of such a large contribution.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s announcement in July that the UK would be implementing its own version of the Magnitsky Act – whereby foreign nationals suspected of human rights abuses are banned from visiting or spending money in this country – is a welcome step in the right direction.
Yet as openDemocracy highlighted at the time, we need to go further. Surely a place to start would be cleaning up political donations?
This state of affairs not only undermines UK democracy, it makes our attempts to promote better governance around the world (such as the Magnitsky Act) seem hypocritical, especially when it comes on the back of controversial plans to break international law.
We can be better than this.