Ex-banker Lubov Chernukhin, a major donor to the Conservative Party, whose husband is President Putin’s former deputy finance minister, 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 major donor to the Conservative Party, whose husband is President Putin’s former deputy finance minister, paid £ 160,000 for a match with the then-Prime Minister 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 fundraiser, on July 17, 2014, the passenger jet Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down by a surface to air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine.
And just months earlier, Putin had faced international condemnation over the annexation of Crimea.
But speaking to LBC Radio’s Andrew Marr today, the former PM insisted Mrs Chernukhin had attempted “absolutely no influence” on UK policies on Russia.
Asked if he remembered the game, he said: “I do, I remember – and there was absolutely no conversation about Russia, finance, Putin or anything else.”
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“We had a very careful system for vetting who could and could not give money to the Conservative Party.
“A small handful of people had any connections with Russia, and as I’m concerned most of them were dissidents, often Ukrainians.”
Mrs Chernukhin was born in Russia, studied in the United States and became a British citizen in 2012.
She is legally eligible to vote and make donations to UK political parties, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on her part.
Ms Chernukhin has repeatedly paid for access to successive Prime Ministers ministers in Party fundraising auctions, including a ‘girl’s night out’ with Theresa May and Liz Truss, dinner with then-Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson and a second tennis match with Boris Johnson, after he became Prime Minister.
In total Ms Chernukhin has given almost £ 2 million to the Conservatives – and is the biggest female political donor in British history.
Mr Cameron went on: “But crucially, this point – Britain had the strongest anti-Putin policy of any country in Europe.
“Who threw him out of the G8? Who insisted on the sanctions? Who passed the rules on beneficial ownership?
“So I think it’s a giant red herring to suggest in some way that Russian money somehow influenced policy against Putin and Russia.”
He added he was the “strongest ally in building a really robust case in holding Putin to account.”
Asked what Mrs Chernukhin and other Russian expat donors were paying for when they gave money to the party, he replied: “Like many people who come and live in this country and make it their home, they get involved in politics because they care about this country, and making sure it’s an open, tolerant and democratic country. “
He said there was “absolutely no influence” on the UK’s Russia policies adding: “If they were trying to buy something, they didn’t really get it, did they?”
On Tuesday evening, Mrs Chernukhin was given the Award of St Agnes, one of most prestigious honors handed out by the Republic of San Marino at a ceremony in London.
The event was attended by a high-level government delegation from the micro-country, including Captains Regent Francesco Mussoni and Giacomo Simoncini, the dual heads of state.
Tory MP Andrew Rossindell, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on San Marino, attended the event and gave a speech.
And on Wednesday morning, the delegation met with Boris Johnson, which they described as “friendly”.
Earlier Mr Cameron called Russian president Vladimir Putin a “phenomenal liar”.
The Conservative told LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr that when hosting the Russian president in No 10 in 2013 Mr Putin “let his guard down and said, ‘Fundamentally I’m not a democrat and I don’t share your interests’.”
Mr Cameron added: “He was also a phenomenal liar. I remember confronting him with evidence that Russian troops were in the Donbas, he flat out lied, I remember confronting him with evidence about the shooting down of a Malaysia Airline – there was no naivety . “
The former MP said the attacking of a hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday is a “war crime”.